Reminder: Identify and confirm a problem before fixing it

“Sometimes the biggest value is in defining the problem, not solving it”.

The quote above is from the Pluralsight course “Practical Networking” by Ben Piper. I watched it recently, and liked something said in relation to troubleshooting in general.

Ben Piper talks about the need to confirm that a problem really exists, and to identify it as much as possible before trying to fix it. This is hardly a new idea, but I thought some of the points he makes are particularly useful to keep in mind:

  • Confirm there really is a problem to before wasting time on what might otherwise be a non-issue. How often have you spent time looking for a bug in your code just to realize later that it was just a misunderstanding, or that the problem resided elsewhere?
  • Defining the problem will not only make it easier to fix, but also provide a baseline measurement for verifying later that the problem really has been fixed.
  • Additionally, defining a problem beforehand will help you learn more from the process than you would if you just randomly mess around until you somehow solve the problem.

This last point is important: How many times have you not come across a problem and thought “Hey, I’ve seen this exact problem before! Now if I could only remember how we fixed it last time..“.

For me, this ties back to an experience I had working together with a consultant a few years ago. We were working on a challenging problem for some time. When we finally solved it, the consultant sat back in his chair and said “OK, now let’s go over this again. This was the problem, these were the premises, and this is how we solved it. Now let’s remember that for the next time“. It was a trivial thing, but at the time, it was sort of an eye-opener for me: Going very consciously over a problem this way after solving it is a simple, yet surprisingly effective thing to do.

All in all, this is just a reminder of something I’m sure you already know: After solving a problem, spend a little extra time making sure your really understand it and it’s solution, and focusing on what you can learn from them. Make this a habit, and over time, your experience will be a lot more worth.

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