Proper Process For Troubleshooting

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the field troubleshooting systems. These days, as a distributor rep, I’m on the other end of the phone, fielding calls from dealers and helping them troubleshoot installations that use my hardware.

Mostly, how I handle those calls is to walk through and confirm what they’ve already done: the what, when, where, why and how of the installation, and ask questions about the basics. To some degree I’m qualifying the issue to determine whether it’s something I can solve or something that needs to be forwarded to the brand’s engineering support department.

I have a lot of empathy for my installing dealers, because I’ve been there. They want what I always wanted: solutions. And in order to reach a solution, you have to follow a process. Otherwise you’re just spinning your wheels, burning time and money.

And that’s the thing. Dealers need to be effective at troubleshooting, both for the initial installation shakedown, and for ongoing service and maintenance. To be otherwise makes profit margins evaporate.

The importance of having a solid set of troubleshooting skills can’t be over-emphasized. Central to being effective at troubleshooting is to work efficiently. Instead of working at random, service techs should work from a checklist, eliminating the obvious ones first and going from there.

Typically, a methodical, codified process means you’ll solve the problem sooner.

The key steps in the process are diagnose, analyze, repair, test and prevent (ask me how many times I was drilled on that back in the day).

First, diagnose, which means identify and categorize the problem. Is it intermittent or constant? Does it happen on its own, or in conjunction with something else? Answer the what, when and where, and you’re on the way to figuring out the how.

Next, analyze. Whether your checklist of potential faults is in your head or codified in a manual (and the latter is preferable to the former), eliminate each suspect until you find the culprit. One step flows into another: If you’ve correctly diagnosed the problem your analysis will be completed more quickly.

Repair is self-explanatory. The fix could be anything from replacing a cable or connector or updating firmware. Do it and proceed to the next step.

While repairing can be easy, testing can be deceptively tricky. If you’re dealing with an intermittent fault (and those are the worst faults), you may have to run your test a few times in order to definitively conclude that the fault is eliminated.

Finally, the last step: prevent. Prevention is what separates the amateur from the professional.

Since you’ve identified the circumstances that led to the failure, it’s only reasonable that once you’ve fixed it that you should take the time to ensure that it never happens again.

The solution might be complex or it might be simple. I had one installation where a pull-out shelf led to a disconnected IR plug. Future prevention meant running an IR cable with adequate slack in it and then zip tied to keep it from unplugging in the future. If only every solution was that easy!

We’ve already said that time is money. By following a consistent process you’ll make the best use of both.