The Lost Art of Troubleshooting


Troubleshooting:  a logical, systematic search for the source of a problem. We troubleshoot so the problem can be solved and we are operational again.

There is something to be said about the ability to take a problem, break it apart into its pieces and step-by-step work out a solution. It’s a skill that I daily use as a programmer, but I suggest that it is more than that. This same process can and should be applied to many of life’s problems as well. This is a life skill. An important life skill, in fact.

Some feel troubleshooting, a form of problem solving, is not a strength they possess. And I find women in particular question their logical abilities and are too embarrassed or frustrated to try. Let me offer a few steps to becoming a troubleshooting ninja, in all areas of life.

Step 1: Believe there is a logical answer.

We women are notorious for this. We get all emotionally involved and start speculating about a grand conspiracy that keeps changing the problem so I’ll never find that answer. But troubleshooting isn’t emotional at it. Whether you’re wondering why your dinner was a flop or you don’t have the mythological green thumb, or why your computer just “hates you”, remember that most things truly do have method behind the madness. You are the grand master approaching the puzzle with calm resolve and trusting an answer can be found.

Step 2: Isolate the exact, reproducible symptoms.

What is exactly going wrong? Starting with “it just doesn’t work” will never end well. (Picture me on the phone with a client banging my head into the wall when I hear that line.) WHAT doesn’t work? What would it look like if it DID work? Did it used to work for you but now it doesn’t? What changed? How will you know when you’ve fixed it?

Clearly defined goals will guide the steps to take to fix the problem.


Step 3: Only change one thing at a time.

When looking for the needle in the haystack of your problem, it is tempting to keep changing many things to see what works. But if you change more than one thing each time around, you’ll never be able to isolate the one thing that’s messing things up.

This is an exercise in patience. If in an effort to make things work, you start making wide sweeping changes, you’ll never know what worked. What was the key to your success this time around? I don’t know. I changed 3 things, any one of them could have worked! Congratulations, your successful result is now not repeatable and therefore, useless.

Step 4: Start with the easiest, most probable cause first.

Troubleshooting is needed in complex situations, where the symptoms of a problem can have many possible causes. So let’s not get too crazy. Start with the obvious. As cliche as it is, if you were my client, I’d have you start by restarting the computer.

Recently I began noticing a new “smell” around the house. It was not obvious to me where it was coming from so I’ve been on a 3 month search. I rewashed all the laundry. I washed it again with a stronger detergent. I went through all the personal products in the bathroom and smelled everything. I bleached out the trash cans. I mopped the wooden floors. Point is, I started with the obvious and then got more complex from there. (By the way, I’m still hunting that smell.)

Step 5: Practice meticulous patience.

The biggest hindrance to logical troubleshooting is frustration. I’ve already hinted on this but the point bears repeating. Frustration causes us to rush, cut corners and miss the most obvious route. Patience settles and centers us. It causes great focus and resolve.

Step 6: Walk away.

My greatest breakthroughs have come when I “gave up” and did something else. I recently read an article that explained the science behind the sleeping brain and it’s ability to re-process the days problems. Great understanding that previously eluded us is revealed by the sleeping mind. The moral of the story is walk away, let you mind breathe, it might just surprise you with a breakthrough.

Step 7: Get a touchdown dance.

Troubleshooting is hard work. Your little brain just put out a lot of power. Time to do a happy dance, jump up and down, give yourself a high five… or a piece of chocolate cake. Whatever victory looks like to you – celebrate it! It makes this a whole lot more fun.

Let’s learn the art of troubleshooting. It will serve well as a “soft skill” in all areas of life. And yes, you can learn it, even if it’s not something that comes to you naturally.

Is it just me or is this a dying art?


Photo Credits: Tina Urdiales, Stig MadsenWebtreats,



Preparing-MeThis post is part of my series 31 Days of Preparing Me: forward preparations for life’s next season

To see the rest of the posts in this series, please click here.
To follow this series by email, please click here to enter your email address.

It is pure joy to me knowing you are reading what I am writing. Thank you.

The Next & Previous Posts

2 thoughts on “The Lost Art of Troubleshooting”

  1. I liked it, good job KK… Now I just have to figure out in which area of my life I can apply this and I’m not sure it will be an easy find…

  2. Until recently, my job was to troubleshoot for a software company every day and honestly, I’ve used every one of those steps. The elated feeling after you have fixed someone’s problem is sometimes the best part of the job. It’s nice to be a hero.


Leave a Comment