Troubleshooting Problems Study Guide (page 3)
What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expected generally happens.
Benjamin Disraeli, British statesman and author (1804–1881)
Sometimes things can go wrong as you follow your plan for reaching a goal or solving a problem. Small, or even large, stumbling blocks may appear and try to stall your forward progress. This lesson is about anticipating and dealing with any pesky obstacles that get in your way.
Troubleshooting involves thinking ahead, spotting problems even before they surface, or preparing to take care of them if they do. You anticipate what might go wrong and keep it from happening or, if something does pop up, keep it from growing into a major problem by resolving it while it's a manageable size. By doing so, you deal with any setbacks that might block the path to your goal. You have to learn to handle everything from small annoyances to major obstructions in order to get where you want to be. So troubleshooting is kind of like building bridges over troubled waters!
Identifying Problems That Interfere with Goals
After you set a goal and begin working toward it, you will inevitably be faced with a roadblock or two. You learned in Lesson 1 that you can't solve problems without first recognizing and accepting them, and that holds true for troubleshooting problems that interfere with your goals. Some of these problems are foreseeable; that is, you can anticipate them before you even begin to work toward your goal. Others are unexpected and must be dealt with as they arise.
Identifying foreseeable problems takes work. You have to honestly assess your goal and think critically about what might need to be overcome so you can achieve it. You saw an example of this in Lesson 5 when Fran set a goal to get better grades. She noted that her habits of "too much socializing" and "poor study skills" stood in her way. So, even before she began to work toward getting better grades, she knew what she had to overcome in order to be successful. Both obstacles were not simple for her to overcome because they required breaking troublesome habits and acquiring new skills.
Strange as it may seem, unexpected problems are usually easier to spot, and often easier to solve. For example, you're doing research and need a particular book from your local library. When you go to get it, you discover all copies have been checked out. Or you run into an unforeseeable technology problem, such as a computer crash or a printer breakdown as you're trying to finish a report for a deadline. All these problems are relatively easy to solve. In the first case, you can ask the librarian to check other libraries for the book, or even pick one up in a bookstore, if the price is reasonable. For the technology problems, you could find temporary solutions like working from a backup disk on someone else's equipment.
Unexpected problems, by their nature, can't be planned for. You must simply figure out the best way to solve them quickly and thoroughly, and then get back on your path. The rest of this lesson focuses on troubleshooting forseeable problems.
Troubleshooting Problems That Interfere with Goals
Troubleshooting foreseeable and potential problems can be difficult. It requires critical thinking skills to examine the path to your goal, and imagine or note all of the things that might go wrong as you work toward achieving it. For example, Dylan had minor outpatient surgery and received a bill for $8,500. He can submit it to his insurance company, which will cover 80% of the cost. However, the company has rules for filing claims, including that they be submitted no later than 30 days after treatment. If he waits two months before trying to get reimbursed, he will lose $6,880.
Let's look at Dylan's problem in terms of troubleshooting. He has a very expensive bill to pay and can solve that problem by filing an insurance claim because it's a covered expense. How could he determine the potential problems that might prevent him from being reimbursed $6,800? The best way is to read over the terms of his insurance policy. Does the company require preapproval before he goes to the hospital? Does the hospital bill the insurance company directly or does he have to file the claim? Is there a time limit for filing a claim? Once he understands exactly what's expected of him, his doctor, and the hospital, he can follow the terms of the policy to get the money. The potential problems are defined in this case in the policy terms for reimbursement. If Dylan doesn't follow all of them, the insurance company is not obligated to pay 80% of the bill.
As an old proverb says, "Forewarned is forearmed." Another says, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Wishing a problem hadn't happened does no good, but if you learn from the experience, you can try to head it off in the future if it comes up again.
Prevention Versus Cure
Another kind of troubleshooting involves looking for patterns and trends. If you're frequently faced with the same kind of problem, your best defense is to figure out what causes it and what you need to change so it doesn't happen again. You may need to change your own habits, but by doing so, you are preventing the problem rather than always trying to solve it!
Here's an example: Ned's boss meets with her supervisor every Friday morning to give an update of the department's progress. Ned starts to notice a trend. At 4:00 p.m. every Thursday, his boss begins to become irritable. And for the past few weeks, she's asked Ned to summarize what he and his colleagues have accomplished during the week. She always needs the summary in one hour, no matter what other urgent business Ned has to attend to. Some weeks, he's had to stop important work to write the summary, making his coworkers late with materials that needed his input. There are several ways Ned might prevent another such Thursday afternoon problem, rather than simply dealing with it the same way week after week. First, he should ask his boss if the summary will be his responsibility every week. If it will be, Ned could troubleshoot to prevent it from becoming a crisis by:
- asking his boss to alert the others in the department that every Thursday he'll be busy from 4:00–5:00 p.m., so everyone is clear about what he's doing.
- clearing his schedule on Thursday afternoons, or even begin work on the summary on Thursday morning or even earlier in the week.
- asking each coworker to give him a list on Thursday morning of all work done since the previous Thursday and any problems that arose, so he can easily compile the summary.
Following is a diagram you might want to use to explore possible troubleshooting methods. It can work for preventative troubleshooting or for anticipated problems that will occur whether you are prepared for them or not.
Here is a diagram that shows what might happen if someone's goal was to graduate one semester early.
Keep a journal. When you do have a problem, write a complete, accurate description of what caused it and note the root cause. Make a damage control plan to prevent future repetitions of that problem.
Troubleshooting begins with identifying problems that will or may get in the way of you achieving your goals. You might know about them ahead of time, and even be able to prevent them, or keep minor problems from becoming major. Or, you may encounter them as they arise without warning. Either way, knowing how to find solutions and move forward will ensure that you reach your destination.
Skill Building Until Next Time
- Practice troubleshooting someone else's problems. When a friend tells you about his or her current dilemma, think about how the person might have prevented it or how he or she can solve it.
- Practice troubleshooting a global issue. Read a few articles on an issue of international importance, such as the crisis in the Middle East or global warming. Make a troubleshooting diagram to work through possible ways to avoid or resolve the problems that may or will result from this issue.
Exercises for this concept can be found at Troubleshooting Problems Practice Exercises.
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