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Troubleshooting: Asking The Right Questions

Asking the right question

In this post, I want to present some simple questions on how to start any troubleshooting session. The main goal is to gather enough information to narrow down the root cause of the problem, let you grasp the impact of this incident and set a priority, and decide what the next steps of the actual troubleshooting work will look like.

It should be clear that not all questions are needed for every session, but it can give you some ideas, and you can modify them to your needs. I bet I forgot some essential questions, so please let me know, and I'd be happy to add them to the post.

The primary motivation for this post is work-related. I've just celebrated the 100th ticket with "It doesn't work" with no further information that was forwarded to me, and I decided to write this post as a reference for the minimum of information any ticket should contain before it gets sent to the next level (besides restarting the device or checking DNS).

'W'-Questions

From my experience, you can sort many questions into categories of 'w'-questions:

  • What?
  • Where?
  • Who?
  • When?

To provide you with a quick example with one follow-up question each.

What is the issue?
    Do you see any error messages?

From where are you working right now?
    Have you encountered this issue at other locations too?

Who is this issue affecting besides you?
    Only the colleagues in the office or those working from home too?

When did it start?
    Does the issue occur consistently or intermittently?

This is a basic example, but it can already provide enough information for your next steps. As mentioned before, there won't be a perfect template, the order of questions can be changed at any point, and the questions should be based on the already known information. Quick example: if the whole location can't access an internal service all of a sudden, you might not need to ask for the current version of the application of this single device.

The following questions are examples and can serve as a basis for your pool of questions. I've decided not to explain to them since those are fairly self-explanatory.

Side note: Some questions could be in multiple categories, but I've listed them once.

WHAT / ISSUE & IMPACT

  • What is the issue? What are you trying to do? What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Has it ever worked before? Is this a new issue for you?
  • Are there any error messages? Could you please provide us with a screenshot?
  • Is it reproducible, or is it random?
  • How does the issue affect your work? Can you continue at all? Is there a workaround available?

WHERE / ENVIRONMENT

  • Where are you working right now? Home office, location, office, etc.
  • Has anything changed before the issue? Location? Network Updates? Hardware/Software?
  • How are your devices connected to the network? Wifi/Cable? Guest network? Hotspot?

WHEN / TIMELINE

  • Since when exists the problem? Is it the first occurrence?
  • Does the issue occur consistently or intermittently?
  • Does the issue occur sporadically or at a specific time?

Side note: Timezones are your friend, please remember them. Please.

WHO / IMPACT

  • Is this issue affecting anyone else besides you? Are the involved at the same or different locations?

Remarks

  • Try to avoid assumptions and instead ask if you are not sure. This can save you some headaches later on.
  • Document along the session and share your findings with the team.

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