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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Troubleshooting Techniques: Knowledge, Access, and Creativity

Before specific steps can be discussed, there are a few aspects of a successful troubleshooting session that need to be in place. As demonstrated in the anecdote, the most fundamental aspect to troubleshooting is knowledge. You, or collectively the team of people working on the issue, need to completely understand the components, their interactions, and the sequencing of the equipment that is failing. Otherwise, there is potential for the solution to go undiscovered because its root cause lies in the gap of knowledge that the people involved possess. If you do not have all the knowledge you need, make sure those who do are ready to help you assess the situation.

Just as important is access to the environment where error is occurring. In order to verify the various execution steps of whatever is broken, you will need to be able to make measurements at multiple points in the processing. If you have to rely on an intermediary to interpret those results and relay them to you, information can potentially get lost in the translation leading you to draw incorrect conclusions.

An example of this is the children’s party game “Telephone”. Line up a number of people side by side. Have the first person in the line whisper a phrase to the second person, who then tries to repeat it to the third person, and so on. By the time the last person tries to repeat the phrase for the group, it has changed dramatically. Each person in the line filtered what they heard and interpreted it for the next person. This illustrates that information gets lost, or changed entirely, when even well-intentioned intermediaries are involved. While direct access is not always possible, it is the best way to guarantee reliable data throughout the troubleshooting process.

Finally, your device is supposed to work a certain way and for some reason it does not. In some cases the reasons for this will be obvious, but creativity comes into play when factors not previously considered are influencing the outcome. Based on your knowledge of the situation and of your more general domain expertise, you may need to apply creative thinking in order to “see” aspects affecting your result that you may not have thought of in earlier phases of your project. When stumped, try to think “outside the box” and reconsider things you may have assumed away previously.

Knowledge. Access. Creativity. Taking these three elements into consideration, the remainder of this chapter takes you through steps that will help you uncover solutions to most troubleshooting problems and what you should do with the results.

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posted by Pete Johnson @ 9:12 PM   0 comments links to this post

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