Kepner Tregoe: Is it useful for ITIL Problem Management?

I’ve recently been joined by a new colleague, who will be taken over Problem Management duties while I’m seconded to something else (improving video conferencing). In chatting with him, he mentioned that Kepner Tregoe is quite a dated model, and that it isn’t all that useful. Ever since doing my KT training in 2007, I’ve tried to find ways to apply it – to the ITIL Problem Management process itself, or to everyday rational decision making. Personally I find it quite a useful tool, and so am always interested to explore further when someone quite passionately takes the opposite stance.

One of the key tenets of Kepner Tregoe is that changes cause problems. Alterations in supplier, materials, personnel, work practices, equipment, raw materials etc can lead to a defect (or in KT terms, a ‘deviation‘). This is particularly applicable in the IT world – as configuration changes, hardware changes, script changes etc can all lead to a deviation. Although we have quite a mature Change Management process, and in most cases a clear audit trail of all Changes made to a Configuration Item, there are times when the ‘changes cause problems’ mantra, while valid, is of limited value. For instance, let’s take the principle where a problem caused by a change can first occur at any point after that change. What if the change occurred a while ago and in the interim there have been several other changes? It then becomes more difficult to try and identify how a change has contributed to a problem.

This is a downside of KT problem analysis – so the question becomes how then to avoid being unable to determine which change caused a problem. ITIL Change Management can contribute partially to this – by helping to bundle changes into change windows, and eventually reduce the rate of change. If the dependencies of a Change and the Configuration Items involved are adequately identified, this can also provide better information to link a change with a problem.

Another downside we have seen with KT in recent weeks is that it is still very dependent on specialist (subject matter expert – SME) knowledge to identify the most probable cause. Even after comparing similar objects to identify distinctions, and reviewing changes to see how these could account for the defect or deviation, in many cases there is still a great deal of technical knowledge required to formulate a probable cause. One wonders if this is a true downside – as it would be fair to assume that in a specialist technical field, it will be the specialist who undertakes root cause analysis. After all, would it be appropriate to have a dentist find out why you have a pain in the stomach?

I suspect I will have many more interesting Kepner Tregoe conversations in the coming months…

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