Frequently Asked Questions:
Universal Troubleshooting Process Troubleshooting Course
Copyright (C) 2001, 2014 by Steve Litt.
What is the Universal Troubleshooting Process?
The Universal Troubleshooting Process is a ten step process used to solve any reproducible problem in any well defined system with a reasonable number of accessible test points. The Universal Troubleshooting Process is often referred to as the UTP. This systematic troubleshooting technique is effective in automotive repair, software debugging, computer and network administration, factory machine repair, and anything else having a service manual or a known state and behavior.
What is a "well defined system"?
A well defined system is a system with a consistent, documented state and behavior. Televisions, computers, cars and well written software are examples of well defined systems, and are effectively troubleshot using the UTP. Employee groups and human behavior are not well defined systems, thus are not appropriate diagnostic targets for the Universal Troubleshooting Process.
What is a "reproducible problem"?
A reproducible problem is a problem for which there is a known sequence of steps to consistently reproduce the symptoms of the problem. The opposite of a reproducible problem is an intermittent problem.
So the Universal Troubleshooting Process is ineffective against intermittents?
The UTP is very effective against intermittents. The difference is that the UTP is mathematically certain to solve reproducible problems on a well defined system, whereas it is very helpful on intermittents.
Mathematically certain? That's pretty strong language. Can you prove it?
Yes. The underlying principle of the UTP is repeated division of the remaining problem area, until the root cause is isolated in such a small section that it becomes obvious. Each division is accomplished by performing a test, such as a voltmeter reading or a diagnostic software command, which rules out part of the system as the home of the root cause with each test. The fact that the system is well defined allows the Troubleshooter to deduce which part(s) he or she is ruling out. The fact that the problem is reproducible means the test result correlates to the location of the root cause, and not to a time, temperature or stress dependency. The fact that there are a reasonable number of test points assures that such tests can be performed.
Ideally, each division cuts the remaining area in half. With such ideal divisions, a single defective component in a system comprised of 1,048,576 components can be isolated in 20 tests. In real life it's not that simple, because for each test there's a four way tradeoff between ease, likelihood, safety and even divisions. Nevertheless, the UTP is mathematically certain to yield a solution to a reproducible problem in a well defined system containing a reasonable number of accessible test points. In practice, correct use of the UTP leads to quick, accurate solutions.
Everyone knows about diagnosis by division. That's nothing new. What else does the Universal Troubleshooting Process bring to the table?
First and foremost, the UTP brings awareness of a rigorous techniques for diagnosis by division. Diagnosis by division works only when the Troubleshooter keeps track of what he's ruled out and what he hasn't. Intuitive diagnosis by division all too often results in circular troubleshooting and skipping steps, both of which decrease effectiveness severalfold.
Additionally, the UTP augments diagnosis by division (which is step 6 of the UTP) with nine more steps:
Steps 1 and 9 help preserve the productive mental state of the person doing the troubleshooting, thus fostering continuing high productivity. Step 5 boosts productivity by "playing the odds" -- rounding up the usual suspects. In addition, step 5 is a powerful tool in the solution of intermittents. Steps 2, 3 and 4 serve as vital preparation. Such preparation is often skipped. Steps 8 and 10 prevent embarrassing "call backs".
What does the Universal Troubleshooting Process course give me that I can't get by reading Troubleshooters.Com?
Optimal organization for training. Although it's absolutely true that some of the course material has found its way onto Troubleshooters.Com, Troubleshooters.Com is organized for self learning, whereas our course is designed and optimized for use in a classroom.
How long does the Universal Troubleshooting Course take?
I like it as a 2 day course. At 2 days, roughly 60% is lecture and 40% is class exercises. Some organizations expand it to 3 days to add more hands-on. The choice depends primarily on the equipment or systems under repair, and the examples and exercises chosen. It's impossible to adequately cover this course in less than 1.5 days.
How effective is this course?
This depends on two base factors: 1) the extent to which the organization's current current Troubleshooting practices are suboptimal, and 2) the extent to which the attendees adopt the Universal Troubleshooting Process.
Obviously, if the attendees already use the UTP every day, only a few percentage points improvement would be expected from giving them this course. The improvement would be due to the fact that one can always learn more about their area of expertise. On the other hand, if the attendees currently troubleshoot non-rigorously, there's a potential to quadruple their effectiveness. IF they can be persuaded to completely adopt the UTP...
Several factors affect the degree of UTP adoption. Obviously, if this course is perceived as a "program of the month", it will fall on deaf ears. To help prevent that, the UTP course uses only standard English words. There's no need to learn a "UTP jargon" in order to learn and use the UTP. The class exercises are your chance to showcase the UTP's credibility. In-class exercises (hands on or simulation) should be constructed to solve problems on systems or equipment the attendees use on a daily basis.
Help the attendees understand they have a real stake in the UTP. Properly used, it makes their workdays much easier, with more free time and less firefighting, politics and stress. Eliminate any perception that their workload will be increased to eradicate these gains.
Be sure to assist the attendees in using the UTP in their real work the first day after the course. Nothing hurts adoption worse than a time gap between training and use. The first few days, make sure to give the attendees a little extra time on each repair so they can feel comfortable learning to perform the 10 steps in their real work environment. If they're empowered to use the UTP in their daily work, within days their performance will skyrocket.
Make the promise of a better work life real. Convey the fact that the benefits of UTP usage will be split between employer and employee. If the attendees perceive that the time saved will all be consumed by additional work thrown at them, they will have no stake in adopting a more productive troubleshooting process. No matter how loyal they are to the company, real adoption comes only when they perceive a personal benefit.
My employees know how to troubleshoot. They do it every day. Why should they take the Universal Troubleshooting Process course?
There's a difference between knowing how to troubleshoot, and knowing how to troubleshoot quickly, accurately and consistently. Troubleshooting performance is a wide spectrum. Only those on the very edge cannot troubleshoot. The vast majority can. The question is, how fast, how accurately, and how consistently. Unless your employees consistently solve technological problems quickly and accurately, they and you can derive great benefit from the UTP course.
I don't see how the Universal Troubleshooting Process gives my employees system expertise. Can you explain?
Certainly. It can't. It's not designed to. Here's why...
Effective troubleshooting requires two assets: 1) knowledge of the system under repair, and 2) knowledge of the repair process. If either is lacking, troubleshooting effectiveness plummets.
Most technologists have massive training on the system under repair, either in trade school, the military, college, vendor courses or third party courses. But have they been trained in troubleshooting process? Odds are they haven't. For most technologists, the weak link in their troubleshooting effectiveness is insufficient knowledge of troubleshooting process. Fortunately, this insufficiency can be cured by the 2 day Universal Troubleshooting Process course. Note that the process is system independent, so your employees can use that process on all well defined systems, including networks, computers, and various equipment.
Don't technologists learn troubleshooting process by experience?
Yes, to various degrees. Given enough field experience, some, but not all technologists learn enough about troubleshooting process to be reasonably proficient. But few learn enough to eliminate troubleshooting process as a bottleneck on their troubleshooting effectiveness. Add to this the fact that most new technologists are woefully ignorant of troubleshooting process.
Troubleshooting process is not rocket science, but neither is it obvious. The Universal Troubleshooting Process can greatly enhance troubleshooting productivity in most organizations.
How much does the Universal Troubleshooting Process course cost?
There are several alternatives. The least expensive, and I believe the best alternative, is to have your in-house trainers teach the course. In such a case, the license fee is between $40.00 and $60.00 per attendee, depending on quantity. The minimum courseware order is 10 attendees. Materials are included in that price. Troubleshooters.Com will supply a self-evident set of instructor notes guiding the instructor in presenting the material and creating useful examples and class exercises. Using your own trainers is usually best, because they know your personnel and the systems and equipment your personnel service. They are in a unique position to create optimal examples and exercises.
If you prefer, I can teach the course personally. The cost is $2400/day, charged for days onsite and for travel time. Additionally, you reimburse me for air and ground travel, parking, lodging, and a region-reasonable per diem.
What I do recommend is that if you're training a large number of employees (200+), you may want to bring me on site to train the trainers. The charge is the same as for regular onsite training. The train the trainer training is 3 to 4 days, because not only is the material presented, but the trainers are guided in presenting it and adapting examples and exercises to their environment.
Why are your course materials so cheap?
I'm asked this frequently. Most 2 day training courses carry much higher price tags. I priced my material so that price wouldn't be an issue for a normal business. Lacking a fleet of salesmen, I don't have time to discuss price. Because Troubleshooters.Com is a lean and mean small business, we make enough profit at our low license fees.
Why are your course materials so expensive?
I occasionally get this question from non-profit institutions. Unlike for-profit businesses, they do not have budgets capable of paying typical training costs. Once in a while, for genuine 501c3, I'll reduce the price. This is on a case by case basis. These discounts are only for those who serve the needy, such as veterans, homeless, or the poor.
How does the Universal Troubleshooting Process course compare to the Kepner-Tregoe "Analytic Trouble Shooting" course?
I can't conclusively answer this question because Kepner-Tregoe keeps their materials, including their "Analytic Trouble Shooting", a secret. Their latest (as of 8/15/2006) page on this process was long on buzzwords and short on specifics, but it did say "Analytic Trouble Shooting addresses the plant environment -- its culture, systems, work procedures, and human resources". From that I conclude that it's optimized more for logistical improvement and business processes than for the repair of technological systems. The bottom line is this: Given the scarcity of hard facts on their "Analytic Trouble Shooting" page, the only way I could learn specifics about that course is to take it myself, but by doing that I would invite accusations of "copying" or "stealing" their ideas.
Contrast that to the Universal Troubleshooting Process, which is optimized from the ground up for the repair of equipment, computers, computer networks, and other well defined systems. There's no extraneous material to slow the Troubleshooter. This topic is discussed extensively in the December 2000 issue of Troubleshooting Professional Magazine.
If you need to clean up business processes, use Kepner-Tregoe or other tools for solving problems in fuzzily defined systems. If you need to quickly and economically solve problems in equipment, computers, computer networks, or other well defined systems, use the Universal Troubleshooting Process. If you need to do both, use both tools. One size does not fit all.
How does the Universal Troubleshooting Process course compare to the Theory of Constraints?
The Theory of Constraints (TOC) is a spectacularly effective tool for finding and exploiting bottlenecks. Its optimization, and most common use, is in finding, fixing and exploiting bottlenecks in business situations and factory floors. It could be used to fix problems of degree with well defined systems, but it's certainly not optimized for that purpose.
The UTP is optimized from the ground up to solve problems with well defined systems such as equipment, computers and networks. To help the Troubleshooter solve problems of degree (car too slow, insufficient network throughput, etc), the UTP course contains a section on bottleneck analysis. This section is pretty much the subset of the Theory of Constraints necessary to solve problems of degree in well defined systems.
Much of the Theory of Constraints is contained in "The Goal" by by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox. I recommend that everyone read that book, just like I recommend reading the Troubleshooters.Com website. If you need your employees to solve problems of degree in business or the factory floor, give them Theory of Constraints training. If you need your employees to solve problems in equipment, computers and networks, give them Universal Troubleshooting Process training. If you need them to do both, give them both types of training.
How does the Universal Troubleshooting Process compare to automated diagnostic systems?
The very best of automated diagnostic systems were smart manuals and diagnostic machines whose software was built around a core troubleshooting process combined with the Mental Model of the specific model of system being repaired. Troubleshooters.Com formerly called these best of breed automated diagnostic systems "Era 4 Troubleshooting" systems. Intelliworxx, Inc. was the leader in the field, but has disappeared from the scene. Era 4 tools augmented, rather than replaced, valid troubleshooting process such as the UTP. Where implemented, Era 4 tools dramatically increased the productivity of Troubleshooter who understood troubleshooting as a process. Unfortunately, each Era 4 script set was system specific, and therefore very expensive to create. As far as I know, the companies creating Era 4 tools went out of business in the early 2000's.
Please be aware that today's so-called "troubleshooting expert systems" are not Era 4 tools, because they are not built around a valid troubleshooting process. Such tools must be viewed as service ticket accounting tools, searchable electronic manuals, tech support scripts, and/or collaborative symptom/solution documentation. They're tools, just like a voltmeter, good to have, but no substitute for troubleshooting process training. The effective employer gives its employees the Universal Troubleshooting Process Course.
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