Posted by: tonywilburn | May 23, 2010

Real World Troubleshooting

So, the other day I was standing in line waiting to add money to my METRO card when I saw one of the best examples of the wrong way to troubleshoot.  There was a woman in front of me adding money to her card.  She was trying to rush things, so with credit card in hand, she hit the button to pay with a DEBIT card.  She then inserted her credit card and looked at the machine like it was crazy when it asked for her PIN.  She then canceled the transaction and tried again.  This time she correctly chose credit and when asked to insert and remove her card quickly, she did this at lightning speed.  She removed her card so quickly that the machine didn’t have time to register the card.  So when she saw the message saying to insert her card, instead of slowing down and inserting the card at a normal speed, she threw her hands in the air and canceled the transaction.  She still wasn’t giving up however and this is where things got comical.  She put the credit card back in her purse and took out a dollar bill.  Now every machine in America that takes dollar bills has a picture on the mechanism that accepts the bill showing the correct way to insert the bill.  Of course she didn’t look at this and inserted the dollar bill incorrectly.  When the machine spit her bill back out, she instantly dug out another bill and inserted it the wrong way as well.  When the machine promptly spit this bill out she again threw her hands up in the air and squatted down on the ground, and started searching through her purse for quarters.  She found four quarters and as there was absolutely no way she could screw this up, she was finally able to add the money to her card.  Now, I’m sure there are some of you that would ask, if I saw all of this, why didn’t I step in and tell her what she was doing wrong.  Well, she never slowed down when moving from task to task.  She never stopped to take a breathe, ask for help, or read the many instructions on the machine.  Maybe she was one of the many tourists in the D.C. area some would say and couldn’t read the instructions.  The thought crossed my mind, but as she walked away she apologized in perfect English, so I don’t think that was the case either.

So what does this have to do with technology?  Well, I think it’s the perfect example of what not to do when faced with a problem, technological or otherwise.  Many times I’ve seen colleagues fail to correctly troubleshoot an issue because they hadn’t looked at any documentation beforehand.  RTFM as they say.  Her second mistake, another classic, she blamed the computer for her failings.  People seem to believe that computers have a mind of thier own or able to things other than what they were told.  She gave the computer the wrong instructions and expected it to do what she wanted, not what she told it.  Third, she paniced.  Instead of slowing down and trying to figure out why what she had been doing hadn’t worked, she immediately tried another solution.  Fourth, why didn’t she try the most obvious “fix” first.  If she had a dollar bill or four quarters, why didn’t she use them to begin with?  Instead she tried the most expedient solution, even if it wasn’t the best solution.

So what should she should have done?  What should you do when you are troubleshooting an issue?

1.  Make sure you know what you should be doing before you do it.  RTFM.

2.  Take your time.  When you panic, when you rush things, you make mistakes that cost you more time than it would if you had slowed down and done things properly the first time.  I know that no one can work, the phones are ringing off the hook and the CIO is screaming to know who is at fault.  Don’t worry about all that, take a deep breath and concentrate on the task at hand.  You can fix this.  You know you can.

3.  Ask questions.  Don’t be afraid of looking stupid.  Face it, if she had asked me for help the first or second time she had an issue, I would never have written this blog entry.

4.  The easiest fix, isn’t always the best.  Take the time to look at all available solutions before choosing your course of action.

Four simple steps, I’m sure you could add more, but if you follow these rules, your endeavors have a much greater chance of being successful.

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