When something goes wrong in IT, you have two choices: You can figure out who's to blame, or you can get to work on an answer. We all know blame feels good in the short term, but it solves nothing long term. Given the constant changes and challenges in IT, problem-solving is one of the most valuable skills you can have as an IT professional.
So how do you go about tackling problems as they arise? It's not all that difficult. Here are the four main steps of effective IT problem-solving:
- Define the problem. What exactly is the problem you're dealing with? Better yet, focus on the positive and identify it as a "situation" or "challenge" instead. Keep in mind that the issues we face are not often what they seem in IT. Many people assume it's a technical issue when there are changes in employee behavior or processes that need to happen.
- Determine all possible solutions. There could be many answers. There may be no answers. Work with your team and keep asking this over and over; you'll find there are many possible answers to most IT challenges.
- Decide on the best solution. If you think creatively enough and critically enough, the best approach to resolving the issue at hand will rise to the surface. Be it a Windows administration challenge, a security threat or wrangling for more money in your IT budget, the best approach will become clear when you put your mind to it. You may have to disconnect from the problem for a few days to get the clarity you need. As I've found working in information security, any answer is better than no answer.
- Take purposeful action. Rather than continually hashing things out and worrying about what's going to happen, do something. Any sort of forward action will help build your confidence and momentum to see things through to the end.
There's an opportunity to expand your IT problem-solving skills every time you're faced with a challenge in IT. You can't change problems that have already happened. The only reasonable approach is to focus on the future and how you can make things better, minimize the damage, fix the issue and move on.
Think about answers. As issues arise, ask yourself: What is our next action? Say you experience a router failure. The best response is to remain calm and focus on the next steps. What's next? What do we need to do? Ditto for a server hard drive crash, or for something as serious as a denial of service attack. Documenting an incident response plan is a great step in the right direction.
IT professionals who can't solve problems they experience on their level always have to be supervised and monitored. Get off of that treadmill and show your peers and management that you're serious about being a valuable asset to the organization. Focus on answers to the problems that came up. You'll have the opportunity to do this on a daily basis in IT. The neat thing is that when you solve problems, you get better and better at IT problem-solving. And when you're seen as a person of value, you'll have the opportunity to solve even greater problems. That's how you get recognized and rewarded in IT.
About the author
Kevin Beaver has worked for himself for more than 11 years as an information security consultant, expert witness and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle Logic LLC. He specializes in performing independent security assessments revolving around information risk management and is the author/co-author of many books, including The Practical Guide to HIPAA Privacy and Security Compliance and Hacking For Dummies.
This was first published in March 2013