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The Art of Troubleshooting

1 Jun, 2006 By: Eric Stavola, Witt Company imageSource

The Art of Troubleshooting

any great tech or network engineer what makes them better then their
counterparts, and all will agree it is their ability to troubleshoot. Our
industry is evolving so rapidly these days that it is no wonder that our biggest
competitor in today’s marketplace is lack of knowledge.

I once heard that the formula for Performance is: Potential minus Interference
equals Performance. As companies and personnel strive to make their quota month
in and month out, it is easy to realize that problems will occur in all aspects
of our industry that create interference for even the most talented of
individuals. What will separate the great from the good or the good to the
mediocre is the ability to troubleshoot!

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (in Geek class 101), I remember
learning five specific steps to troubleshooting. These five steps were geared so
we would not overlook anything, jump to conclusions, or even worse, go after
phantom issues. As I explain these five steps, expand your mind. As an example,
we’ll use a customer’s inability to print as the troubleshooting problem. In
regard to troubleshooting life, you’re on your own, but with a few suggestions.


Clarity is what we are looking for here; the ability to clearly define what the
real issue is. Remember the saying "knowing is half the battle"? This is never
more evident then by really digging deep to find and define the problem.

● Troubleshooting Connectivity: Is the customer unable to print at all or is the
failure to print from a specific application? For our sake, let’s assume the
customer can print and then better define the problem; the customer can not
print from a specific application.

● Troubleshooting Life: Clearly define your short, medium, and long range goals.
Have a vision of where you want to be in one month, one year and five years from


Once we have the clarity to know the real problem, we are now able to start
gathering information in an attempt to find possible solutions or fixes for the
issue. A good way to gather information is via interrogative pronouns such as
who, what, where, and how. Simply asking questions can provide valuable
information and target areas where the real fix lies.

● Troubleshooting Connectivity: When did this happen? Were you able to print
from this application before? What was going on when the problem occurred? What
has changed since you were not able to print?

● Troubleshooting Life: Gather information in an attempt to answer how you are
going to reach your goals. This will help you to realistically see where you are


Once all information has been gathered, we can now clearly implement a plan of
action as to how we are going to attack these issues.

● Troubleshooting Connectivity: Plan a specific action, fixing the issues based
on the information given in step 2 and following the OSI model from physical to
application layers.

● Troubleshooting Life: Few individuals will ever drive to a new destination
without first getting specific directions about where they are going. Yet, in
life, how many of us ever plan directions on where we want to go in life?
Implement a plan for reaching your goals based on the information you’ve gained.


Once we have a plan in place. We are now ready to execute these objectives with
the hope of resolving the defined issues. Regardless of the outcome, we need to
proceed to Step 5.

● Troubleshooting Connectivity: Execute your plan of attack. If necessary,
schedule the service call. The previous four steps should give you enough
information to be able to formulate as least a few trouble spots to look at.

● Troubleshooting Life: Once we have gained clarity and direction about your
goals and desires, all that is left is to execute your plan to achieve them.
Remember performance is simply potential minus interference.


It is critical in networking to always document your results. By doing this we
can define what has worked and what has not. If step 4 did not resolve the
issues then we simply need to repeat the process and proceed to step 1 again.

● Troubleshooting Connectivity: Document your results of the fix so that

if the issue ever happens again you have the fix for it. (FAQ’s are frequently
derived from this process)

● Troubleshooting Life: One definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over
and over again, expecting different results. Documenting our results allows us
to make proper changes and behavior modifications to succeed.

As a whole, in connectivity as in life, there are too many individuals only
utilizing steps three and four. Implement and Execute! Take the steps to clearly
define the real issues at hand and document the results to prevent repeated
mistakes or actions. By always following the five steps of troubleshooting, you
can avoid a lot of headaches and wasted time.

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