Troubleshooters.Com® Presents:

The Universal Troubleshooting Process (UTP)

Systematic Troubleshooting and Debugging


Important Note:

In 2005, the term General Maintenance was replaced with Corrective Maintenance, which better describes the purpose of the maintenance. These terms are synonomous, so you can use either term, but courseware updated in 2005 and later uses the term Corrective Maintenance.

Troubleshooting: What's in it for me?

Money, influence and reputation. Brand. Happiness and improved social and family life. Organizational success.

These are the benefits accruing to the expert Troubleshooter, or the manager whose people troubleshoot quickly and accurately.


I'm not saying that if you double your troubleshooting productivity you'll double your salary. That's not how it works unless you're on commission. Instead, a productive Troubleshooter is seen as a capable and valuable employee, receiving more promotion opportunities, better raises and avoiding layoffs.

Use Al and Bob as an example. Both make $50,000.00 in year 1. Both are quite capable, although Bob is a much more productive troubleshooter. Al receives a 4% raise per year, while Bob receives a 6% raise per year because his troubleshooting success makes him look smarter and more capable. At year 10, Al's salary is $71,165.59, while Bob gets $84,473.95. That's more than a $13,000.00 premium for excellent troubleshooting. That's some pretty good money, but it doesn't take into account layoffs and promotions...

Imagine that in year 5 there's a recession. Al gets laid off and slides back to $50,000.00 on his next job. Being able to solve problems, Bob is promoted in the leaner and meaner organization, and receives a 15% raise instead of his usual 6%. Before and after year 5, Al and Bob get their usual raises. In year 10, Al's salary is $60832.65 while Bob's making $91646.26. Over $30,000 more. Over 50% more. This is the monetary power of troubleshooting productivity.

The preceding example detailed the monetary reward for a technologist. What if you're a manager?

If your department troubleshoots effectively, they'll solve problems quickly. You'll be considered a good manager. On the other hand, if every technical problem causes your crew to twist in the wind, that will be noticed in a different way. The effects of better raises, promotions and layoffs are math that apply to any employee. Unless your team currently consistently solves technical problems quickly and accurately, it's in your financial best interest to make sure they learn troubleshooting.

As mentioned, monetary reward for enhanced troubleshooting productivity isn't instant -- it accrues over a career. Most of troubleshooting productivity's other benefits are instant. Read on...


I once saw a rather new and low level employee use bottleneck analysis to determine that the main computer's bottleneck was its processor. This computer served about 200 employees. One night when everyone was gone he borrowed a faster processor from the hardware vendor and installed it. The next day everyone raved about the computer's speed and how easy it was to work with now that it was fast. Rank and file employees noticed it. Upper management noticed it and paid for the processor immediately. A couple months later this guy was promoted to upper management and put in charge of all software development, leapfrogging six people who were ahead of him.

When you use the Universal Troubleshooting Process, you know your superior troubleshooting productivity is due to following a process. But to others, it looks like competence, ability, intelligence, and leadership. Your prowess is noticed. And rewarded.


An ex client called me. A programmer had left, and his code had several bugs. Could I come back and fix it?

When I walked in the door, the network director said "Here comes the cavalry!". I was famous as a guy who could fix anything. They thought I was a genius, but I was just an average guy who used the Universal Troubleshooting Process.


Troubleshooting productivity is a huge portion of your brand. Think of the last time your Internet provider let a problem go on for days or weeks because they sent out incompetents, they didn't listen to your symptom description or your observations, or each successive "technician" was unaware of the results obtained by previous technicians. Were you in the mood to recommend your Internet provider to others?

Your Internet provider gets away with poor troubleshooting because in most communities, it's the only game in town, or one of two equally bad games. You, your department, and your company probably don't have that crutch. Companies continually angering their customers go broke. Departments continuously failing to solve technical problems get outsourced. And individuals who continually and repeatedly can't troubleshoot join the unemployment line.

Brand is key in the value of any company, department, or individual. Corporations spend millions building their brand. Effective troubleshooting is low hanging fruit.


All those with an easy job, raise your hands...

What -- nobody raised their hands? You say your job is stressful? Long hours, tight deadlines and high expectations?

As a technologist, if you consistently follow the Universal Troubleshooting Process, you'll be replacing deep thought with easy diagnostic tests. That means much less stress.

With process oriented troubleshooting, you'll be much less likely to conduct wandering or circular searches for a root cause, and much more likely to efficiently zero in on the root cause. That means faster work, and perhaps more importantly, more consistent and predictable times to solution. This predictability reduces stress.

And then there's this simple fact: You're happier when you do a good job. When someone points to you and says "Here comes the cavalry", it feels great.

Bottom line, as a technologist, you're happier on the job and happier when you go home.

But what if you're a manager? Would your work life be easier if your team solved technical problems quickly and in a predictable manner? Would it make you happy if you could give your boss a reasonable range for the time to solution of a high profile problem? The manager with a crew using process oriented troubleshooting is a happy manager.

Improved Social and Family Life

The stress reduction previously mentioned carries through to your life outside work. How nice it is to walk into your house and greet your family knowing things are OK at work, and that you don't have to think about work, even in the back of your mind. You can pay full attention to your childrens' problems or your wife's idea for the next party.

Let's say you're single. Would your social life be better if you could go to a party knowing everything's OK at work? Would this make you a better conversationalist? Would you be less likely to drink excessively in an effort to "forget your problems"? Would you be more likely to attract a mate if you were happy and secure in your work?

Organizational Success

Today, an employee's well being is linked to that of his or her employer. With global competition, if a company isn't the best they can be, the company dies, and the employees are unemployed. Your organization's success might not make you happy, but your organization's failure will surely make you miserable. Enhanced troubleshooting productivity on your part and that of your co-workers is one key to organizational success.

Besides, if you're anything like I was when I was an employee, I took pride in working for a successful company.

The fastest way to learn (or teach) troubleshooting

Troubleshooters.Com has products to help everyone quickly learn effective troubleshooting. There's no reason you can't know what you need to know within a week or less. The learning process depends on your situation:

You're a technologist

  1. Read Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting.
  2. Then, if you want the ultimate expertise, read Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist.

Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting is an easy read taking only a few days, yet it gives you most of the information you need to become a Troubleshooting Ninja. It's a collection of short stories, each one illustrating one or more aspects of the Universal Troubleshooting Process. Its use of analogy makes a believer of the reader. You'll be inspired to dive right in using the Universal Troubleshooting Process, and your success will further your inspiration.

The self-motivated technologist wanting the ultimate in knowledge of troubleshooting process will go on to read Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist. I put most of my knowledge in that book, so upon reading it you'll know almost everything about troubleshooting that I know.

Another good resource for the technologist is The Manager's Guide to Technical Troubleshooting. It's almost as easy a read as Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting, without using short stories, so if you don't like short stories and fiction in your technical reading, substitute The Manager's Guide to Technical Troubleshooting for Twenty Eight Tales. This book is also an excellent resource if you're trying to convince your boss to provide troubleshooting training for the department.

You're an automotive tech or factory maintenance person

Do exactly the same as outlined in the section on technologists. In addition, you might find the book Troubleshooting: Tools Tips and Techniques handy because it's written for someone in a shop environment. Be aware, however, that Troubleshooting: Tools Tips and Techniques defines troubleshooting as four tools rather than ten steps.

You're a manager needing to learn

Read The Manager's Guide to Technical Troubleshooting.

The Manager's Guide to Technical Troubleshooting gives you all necessary troubleshooting info to perform your management function. If part of your job description involves taking on a technologist role, see also the technologist section.

Whether or not you perform technologist function, you might benefit from Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting. It's an easy read, and its use of analogies help you make a powerful case for a department or organization wide use of the Universal Troubleshooting Process, whether talking with your boss, co-workers or those who work for you.

You're a manager whose team needs to learn

Present the Troubleshooters.Com Universal Troubleshooting Process Courseware.

You can have your trainers present this course, in which case the courseware cost is between $40.00 and $60.00 per attendee/handout, depending on quantity, or you can have me (Steve Litt) teach the course onsite. Once again, you might want to read Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting, whose use of analogies help you powerfully state your case.

The courseware is cost effective for 8 or more people. If you have very few people to train, and those people are motivated, consider having them self-learn using the techniques outlined in the technologists section.

You're a trainer

Let's talk, you and I, trainer to trainer. Some folks say "those who can, do; those who can't, teach." You and I know it's quite the opposite. Doing usually isn't rocket science, teaching requires very special skills.

First, we need to understand the material. That's easy.

Then we need to present the material in a memorable and understandable way. That's more difficult.

Then we have to obtain buy-in from the attendees. That can be outrageously difficult.

Theoretically, you could order the courseware, read the self-explanatory Instructor Notes along with the courseware, and then teach the class. I'd recommend you take it to the next level...

  1. Read Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting.
  2. Then read Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist.
  3. Then read the Courseware and its Instructor Notes.
  4. Then teach the Course.

Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting is a lightning-quick read from which you can quickly learn Universal Troubleshooting Process essentials. More importantly, its analogy based arguments help you build a case for attendee buy-in.

Knowing considerably more than your students is essential. Reading Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist gives you that knowledge. It's a dry, difficult read, but after reading it you'll be able to answer any on-topic student question.


No matter what role you play, Troubleshooters.Com has products to help you learn and teach effective troubleshooting.

The 10 step Universal Troubleshooting Process

  1. Prepare
  2. Make damage control plan
  3. Get a complete and accurate symptom description
  4. Reproduce the symptom
  5. Do the appropriate corrective maintenance
  6. Narrow it down to the root cause
  7. Repair or replace the defective component
  8. Test
  9. Take pride in your solution
  10. Prevent future occurrence of this problem

Troubleshooting Tips and Articles

Here Are Some Other Troubleshooting Tips:

Quality Control

The quality of the solution depends on the quality put into the steps. Getting a complete and accurate symptom description, and reproducing the symptom, assures that you fix the symptom the customer wanted you to fix. A good damage control plan ensures that you won't make anything worse. Correct general maintenance shows the customer you care about quality, and often greatly reduces costs. A correct narrowing process will reduce costs, prevent further damage, and ensure that the root cause, rather than a peripheral symptom, is fixed. Proper repair or replacement of the defective component prevents further damage.

Testing is like inspection in the factory. The few defects that escape the quality controls of the earlier steps are caught here, by showing that the symptom description you recorded and reproduced has been eliminated, and that no further problems have been created. Taking pride is a periodic maintenance item that ensures the quality of you as a troubleshooter and a human being. Preventing further occurrence is the utmost in customer service. The quality of the solution depends on the quality of the steps.

Bottleneck Analysis

Use Bottleneck Analysis when the symptom can be described as "it's too (slow, fast, etc.)". Bottleneck is a special kind of Divide and Conquer (see step 6). One cool and easy bottleneck analysis test is to slow down a section of the system. If that section is the bottleneck, the system as a whole will slow down significantly. If not, it won't. The entire March 1998 Troubleshooting Professional Magazine is devoted to bottleneck analysis.

Don't skip steps

The Divide and Conquer process can be thought of as continually forcing the problem into ever smaller boxes, until it's trapped. Some of the worst troubleshooting debacles I've seen involved the problem escaping the box. In other words, the troubleshooter thought he had proved it was in one area, when it was really in another. When that happens, tests become inconclusive and the troubleshooter starts to doubt himself. Whole days can be wasted. Take every precaution to avoid this -- don't skip steps.

Troubleshooting Supplies

The following troubleshooting supplies are available here:

UTP Wall Hanger

This wall hanger lists the 10 steps of the Universal Troubleshooting Process, as well as some divide and conquer tips including the quadruple tradeoff. It also shows the Troubleshooter's Mantra and Troubleshooter's Philosophy, and URLs for Universal Troubleshooting Process resources.

This is a PDF you can download, and print paper copies for anyone in your company and/or friends and associates, assuming you do not make changes to its content or appearance. You may NOT redistribute the electronic version. Instead, give others the URL.

View or print it from here.

UTP Completion Form

This two page form provides a place for the Troubleshooter to write completion data for each of the 10 steps of the Universal Troubleshooting Process. This is valuable for any Troubleshooter, and is especially vital for the Troubleshooter who has just completed the Universal Troubleshooting Process course. It is best printed as a single two-sided sheet, but it can also be printed on two sheets and stapled. Printing on two sheets gives more writing room for those with extended/special data to record.

This is a PDF you can download, and print paper copies for anyone in your company and/or friends and associates, assuming you do not make changes to its content or appearance. You may NOT redistribute the electronic version. Instead, give others the URL.

View or print it from here.

Thought Patterns of the Troubleshooting Ninja Presentation

This is a presentation, first given by Steve Litt at Barcamp Orlando on 4/14/2012, details the fundamental thought patterns producing exceptional troubleshooting and debugging productivity.

View or print it from here.