If You Don’t Know what it IS, Figure Out what it ISN’T

MP900385419 I'm squarely on the tech-side today and as you can probably tell by the headline, I want to discuss the value of the process of elimination in detecting – and solving – technical issues.  Unfortunately, the main ingredient needed is the one few of us possess – patience.  However, we come by that honestly, since usually, a technical meltdown is immediately followed by phone calls, emails, trouble-tickets and any one of our newfangled methods of contact.  And they all want one thing.  Fix it!  Fast!

So, naturally the one thing we need – steady, calm deliberation – is the first thing to go.  The problem?  You can panic, but it isn't going to solve the problem any faster.  I've always looked at technical support as a thankless job.  People expect systems to work all of the time.  If they do, congratulations.  It's not likely anybody will ever thank you.  However, if they don't, they're all looking for you – and some are carrying weapons (ok, it's not quite that bad…).

If you've ever received a direct call from the world-wide CEO about something like this, first, congratulations again (you must be important), however, this is an excellent opportunity – once you stop sweating.  When this happens to me, I don't delay, I don't mumble, I tell them straight exactly what I know (assuming I know anything), then I tell them exactly how I plan to address it.  My experience has consistently been that the execs become more angry when they experience an information vacuum than when you tell them the truth – even if it's bad news.

Ok, so you've leveled with the boss.  Next steps?  I don't need to lecture you on most of that because you already know.  But what if nothing is working, the vendors aren't supporting you because they blame each other, and you're at a dead end?

Then, as stated, you'd be amazed how effective it can be to start at the outside and work your way to the center.  Pick off issues one-by-one.  Try the 'wrong' devices and see if they work.  Maybe that'll isolate a hardware problem, for example.  Just remember, there are no shortcuts.  It's hard work.

I always remember a particular nightmare scenario.  At this particular company, the execs wanted the latest-and-greatest devices hot off the presses, even if we'd never had an opportunity to test them – and in one case I remember very well, Microsoft refused to certify or support a particular device because they hadn't tested it, either.  Did this stop the execs?  No.  They still insisted we swap them out anyway.  I'm sure you can guess what happened next.

How did I solve it?  I just started eliminating what couldn't be causing the issue.  Slowly, hardware and software were eliminated from the mix until finally, it was isolated down to the culprit.  Then the issue was figuring out what was wrong with it.  Eventually, we did.  But speaking of lack of shortcuts, I personally read over 200 technical documents to get from where we started to where we finished – and it took about three days.

That's why I became a lawyer.  It's such a stress-free job by comparison…

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