Your Guide to Understanding ITIL Problem Management

Walid Abou-Halloun

Posted by Walid Abou-Halloun Date: Apr 27, 2021 9:00:57 AM

Organisations all around the world, from Disney to NASA, utilise ITIL to help improve their IT processes.

But what is ITIL Problem Management? If you’re unsure, you’re not alone. Many people aren’t aware of the ins and outs.

It’s important that you find out though, as managing IT issues is an important part of your day-to-day success. The right knowledge allows you to start using problem management in your organisation. This, in turn, will give your end users the IT experience they deserve.

Read on to learn more about the ITIL problem management process and how it benefits you.

What Does ITIL Stand for?

ITIL is an acronym that stands for “IT Infrastructure Library”. As the name suggests, it was originally developed in the United Kingdom as a series of books.

The books explained best practices and procedures for the IT industry to follow. The main goal of the books was to standardise the management of IT. Instead of everyone doing their own thing. The books were in place to guide users along a common set of IT standards.

ITIL Problem Management prevents incidents from occurring and ultimately aims for no incidents. Although this sounds simple, many organisations have struggled in the past with their ITIL problem management.

Luckily, today there are techniques, services, and specialist IT staff to help guide you through the ITIL Problem Management process. They’re fully equipped to understand the impact and complexity of the problem.

Keep reading to find out more about ITIL Problem Management and why its an essential part of any organisation.

ITIL Incident vs Problem

Problem management is an element of ITIL implementation that causes difficulties for many organisations.

These difficulties can, in part, be attributed to the following. The close similarity between incident and problem management. Because these two processes are very closely aligned, ITIL novices often can’t differentiate between them.

For some organisations, the two processes are so closely linked that they’re combined. Importantly, they aren’t the same and they have different objectives. Understanding what makes them different is, therefore, very useful.

A helpful metaphor when looking to understand problems vs incidents is to think of the relationship between a disease and its symptoms.

The disease is likened to the problem and the symptoms are the incidents. In the same way, a doctor uses symptoms to diagnose a disease, problem management uses incidents to diagnose a problem.

ITIL Problem Management Process

Now we understand a bit more about the difference between ITIL incidents vs problems. We can look into the process of problem management.

Firstly, when an incident occurs, it’s the role of incident management to restore service as quickly as possible. Importantly, it’s not their role to identify the cause of the incident.

If incidents happen rarely with little impact, it’s not seen as justified to assign resources to analyse the root cause.

In contrast, if incidences cause a significant impact, problem management must diagnose an underlying cause. They’re also responsible for identifying a way to remove the cause.

When the error or cause is found, the next step is to work out how to correct it. Usually, this involved the changing of one or more CIs. The output of the problem management process is to request this change.

This change is then evaluated by the change management process or included in the CSI register.

Simplified Process

We’ve compiled a nice, neat list to clearly illustrate the problem management process. It’s important to take note of this process, to truly understand why each step should occur in a certain order.

  • Identify potential Problem
  • Raise the Problem Management case
  • Log the problem
  • Categorise and prioritise
  • Systematic investigation (Root Cause Analysis)
  • Identify change(s) needed to resolve and work through Change Management
  • Verify problem has been resolved
  • Close out problem

Proactive or Reactive?

Many people see ITIL Problem management as a reactive process. In reality, there are two main types of Problem Management: Reactive and Proactive.

While the nature of its process is proactive, some instances call for Reactive Problem Management.

Simply put, Reactive Problem Management serves in response to an Incident. Organisations will have a Post Incident Review for a Major Incident. If the review shows an underlying problem, a reactive Problem Management effort begins.

In contrast, Proactive Problem Management uses historical information and trending to forecast potential problem cases. Formal Continual Service Improvement and moderate data analysis are examples of techniques used.

Regardless of the root cause, Problem Management cases should be prioritised based on potential value to the business. Business Impact analysis and Pain Value are the two options used. These techniques analyse which problem would have the highest business value if eliminated.

The goal is to ensure incidents don’t recur in the future. And if they do, to minimise their impact. 

Incident Management

When pressure is being applied to quickly ‘find a problem and return service’, this indicates that you’re not doing Problem Management.

Instead, this is Incident Management which has a very different goal. The goal of Incident Management is to restore service fast.

The goal of Problem Management is to provide the end-to-end management of problems from identification to elimination.

In contrast, Incident Management has the goal of returning service as quickly as possible. One way to illustrate this is with the analogy of a flat tire.

If your tire goes flat, you want it fixed quickly so you can go on your way. The second time you have a flat; same thing, only more annoying. This is Incident Management. It’ll speedily fix flat after flat, each time getting you back on the road with fast, efficient service.

You may ask what caused the flat.


Sucks. I wonder what caused the other one?

Many organisations will stop here. The question goes unanswered. And the problem will reoccur. Problem Management is the process used to answer the question, identify the cause, and take corrective action.

Problem Management Best Practices

The following are two techniques used to ensure best practice in ITIL Problem Management. They are just two of the available options so your organisation will find one that suits them best.


Brainstorming involves gathering all key stakeholders involved in a problem in one place and discussing possible causes. This is an ideal method for highly creative teams.

The benefits of this technique include:

  • Round robin discussion among all participants
  • High volume of ideas in a shorter time
  • Enables diverse idea generation
  • Encourages full participation as every person contributes to problem analysis

How To:

  •  Discuss and select the brainstorming question
  • Allow every person to share their idea
  • Review the list of ideas to clarify and remove any duplicate
  • Prepare an action plan for stakeholders

 Kepner Tregoe Problem Analysis

This approach involves a very logical perspective on problem-solving.

It begins with defining and then describing the problem. Possible causes are established, tested, and finally, the exact cause is finalised.

It’s a systematic four phase Root Cause Analysis (RCA) for complex problem analysis. It involves problem analysis as well as potential problem analysis. These focus on finding the root cause before solutions.

Key Questions:

  • What’s going on – Situation Appraisal
  • Why did this occur – Problem analysis
  • Actual cause for the problem and alternatives – Decision analysis
  • What is the plan of action and risk associated – Potential problem analysis

Reduce Stress

If you follow best practice in ITIL Problem Management, you’ll effectively reduce stress on your IT service desk staff

With the addition of effective problem resolutions, your desk staff will be relieved of some major burnout. It’s well-known that service desk staff suffer from burnout due to an extremely heavy workload.

A barrage of tickets coming in and out with serious urgencies is enough to stress out any employee. This has the potential to lead to a lack of incident prioritisation, as the build-up of tickets increases.

Everyone wants their ticket checked immediately. This affects both business operations and staff health.

Along with this are the added stressor of dealing with the same issues everyday and its no wonder the staff turnover on the IT service desk is sky high.

As your IT organisation begins to undertake problem management, your service desk staff will see a significant reduction in repeat tickets. Two things happen when you reduce recurring incidents. The monotony of fixing the same issues lessens and staff workload reduces.

These benefits will be seen quickly. Your staff will, therefore, enjoy a less pressurised and more enjoyable workload.

The Next Steps

Does your IT service desk keep experiencing the same incidences? Or do they feel they have a large volume of incidents coming in? If your answer is yes, then problem management may be just the ally you need to get sorted.

Your end users deserve a seamless, high-quality experience. So, what are you waiting for?

Contact us to start using ITIL problem management in your organisation. We’ll provide all the information you need to give them the experience they deserve.

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