User Participation Is Essential to Diagnosis and Problem Solving | TechWell

User Participation Is Essential to Diagnosis and Problem Solving

User Participation is Essential to Diagnosis and Problem Solving

The role of IT professionals is to help users get the most value from their systems. Information Systems are not magic. IT professionals are not wizards. IT system users are not victims. If IT systems aren’t working efficiently or correctly, it isn’t just an “IT Problem” and the nice folks in IT can’t solve it effectively without user participation.

Nothing in that introductory “teaser” is news to my IT friends, but it is surprising how many users don’t recognize their role in helping diagnose system problems they encounter.

“System X is broken.” Said the user in a terse email.

“What was the symptom? Was there an error code? What were you doing at the time you noticed the problem? What time of day did you encounter the problem?” asked the help desk tech in reply.

“I don’t have time to do your job for you! It’s broken and you need to fix it!” Replied the disgruntled user.

Exchanges like this are a sign that either your user is royalty, or the relationship is ill defined and dysfunctional. Few users would treat their auto mechanics or doctors with this disdain, yet it can be a common experience for IT support staff.

The only solution I can suggest is setting (or resetting) expectations. While they may not know it, users often understand what they need and expect a system to do better than the people who support it. Support organizations field calls about many systems, while being intimate with the operations of few of them. When it comes time to diagnose and address an issue, it’s nice when the IT specialists responsible have a hint about where to start.

Users should understand that information systems and the environments in which they operate are complex and growing more so. There are many ways systems can fail and there are many ways that changes in the environment can cause complications. If systems are to behave properly and problems are to be resolved quickly, users and IT must be partners in trying to diagnose issues to facilitate rapid identification and resolution.

A client IT group recently had a situation where a user reported significant performance degradation when performing a specific transaction that could not be replicated by the support team. After examining application, database, and network performance during the reported incident and discovering no apparent anomalies, they asked the user what data they had been giving the transaction, and the user was dismissive. When told by IT that they were just trying to diagnose the problem and had seen no degradation of the application server, the web server, the database server, nor the network during the time of the transaction, they interpreted that to mean that the truthfulness of their report was being challenged. When the user reported the same symptom the following week, IT went to the user’s office to observe the phenomenon for themselves and discovered the user had dozens of browser windows open concurrently, significantly straining the browser and the memory of the workstation being used. When the windows were closed, the system behaved normally.

Subsequently, the user complained that all the browser windows were essential to their work and that IT should address the problem “some other way.”

We are all in this together. Users usually can’t resolve their system issues without assistance and IT typically can’t resolve them without user input and cooperation. If we can get everyone to think of themselves as a team trying to keep systems working smoothly it will work out better for everyone.

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