Beyond20: A ServiceNow Elite Partner The Value of Proactive Problem Management - Beyond20
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The Value of Proactive Problem Management

Erika Flora
Written by Erika Flora

Only the bravest – and ultimately the most successful – of IT organizations take Incident Management one step further and spend their time and energy getting Problem Management right.  Here’s why it’s important to do so, and a few ideas to get you going in the right direction.

Proactive problem management not only prevents incidents before they happen but also minimizes the impact of those that cannot be avoided. It involves a deep analysis of the root causes of incidents and the implementation of permanent fixes. By doing so, organizations can significantly reduce downtime and improve overall service quality. This approach demands an investment in time and resources but pays off by enhancing system reliability and user satisfaction. Furthermore, it contributes to a culture of continuous improvement, where lessons learned lead to better practices and technologies.


Incident Management is important in getting customers back up and running when something breaks. Because this process is extremely visible and important to customers, most IT organizations spend a lot of time and energy making sure Incident Management is running smoothly. Problem Management, however, gives us a mechanism to understand root cause (as opposed to Incident Management where you are primarily dealing with “symptoms”) and get rid of nagging issues that continue to come back. When done well, Problem Management resolves and removes the underlying issues that result in incidents altogether.

ITIL Problem Management

Figure 1: ITIL Problem Management

Let’s look at a simple analogy: The difference between Incident and Problem Management is the difference between treating cold symptoms with Dayquil versus going to the doctor, finding out you have pneumonia, and getting a prescription for antibiotics meant to deal with the underlying cause and hopefully eradicate everything that is making you feel sick. If our sickness is persistent enough, we will finally drag ourselves to a doctor or specialist to try and understand the problem and get rid of what ails us.

By focusing on the root causes of incidents, Problem Management not only seeks to resolve current issues but also to preempt future disruptions before they impact users. This proactive approach is key for maintaining operational stability and ensuring that IT services support business process

es efficiently. With robust Problem Management, organizations can minimize the risk of recurring incidents, which often consume significant resources and lead to frustration among end-users and IT staff alike. Furthermore, it enhances the organization’s understanding of its IT infrastructure, leading to more informed decision-making and strategic planning. Ultimately, effective Problem Management contributes to higher customer satisfaction by providing a more reliable and seamless IT service experience.


When you ask people if they do Problem Management, the answer is typically a resounding yes. However, when you dig into WHEN they do Problem Management, you’ll often find it is done in a very reactive fashion. Say the organization has had a critical outage, for instance, and customers are demanding to know what caused the painful disruption. That’s when many organizations dig in to find root cause. But why wait until the damage is done? Some of the most effective organizations in the world practice proactive Problem Management and find tremendous benefit in it. Here’s what that looks like – and what you can do to become proficient at it.

Proactive Problem Management involves identifying and resolving issues before they escalate into incidents that negatively affect the business. This forward-thinking approach saves significant time and resources by avoiding the costs associated with downtime and the effort needed to resolve high-impact incidents under pressure. Implementing proactive measures, such as regular system audits, continuous monitoring, and trend analysis, enables IT teams to detect potential problems early. By doing so, organizations can plan and execute corrective actions during planned maintenance windows, minimizing the impact on business operations and user experience. Additionally, this approach contributes to a culture of continuous improvement. It encourages a deeper analysis of the IT environment, leading to insights that can drive innovation and strategic change. By investing in proactive Problem Management, businesses can enjoy more stable and robust IT services, which ultimately supports their long-term success and competitiveness.


Any process you wish to stabilize and improve must have an owner. While most ITIL processes can be owned by anyone in IT, Problem Management is an exception. Your Problem Manager should not be someone who works on the Service Desk. This is true for a couple of reasons.

First, the Problem Manager often needs deeper technical skills and must be able to pull the right people in the room to solve the problem. They don’t need to be able to solve every problem themselves, but they do need to have an understanding of who should be in the room to talk through technical issues.

Second, the Problem Manager and Service Desk roles are often contradictory; While the Service Desk works to resolve incidents as quickly as possible, Problem Management can spend hours, if not weeks, working to understand causality, then resolving, a single Problem. You will only confuse and frustrate the people at the Service Desk if you give them contradictory directives.  Keep these processes separate by finding someone outside of the Service Desk to own Problem Management.


To effectively utilize proactive problem management with ServiceNow, organizations should start by accurately logging all incidents and categorizing them to identify patterns or recurring issues. This initial step assists in pinpointing potential problems that warrant further investigation. Subsequently, it’s vital to employ ServiceNow’s analytical tools to conduct a thorough root cause analysis, harnessing the platform’s capability to integrate data from various ITSM processes. Problem managers can then devise and document resolutions or workarounds within the system, ensuring that these solutions are readily accessible for future reference. ServiceNow excels at enabling proactive problem management by offering advanced predictive analytics and machine learning capabilities. These tools can analyze vast amounts of data generated by ITSM processes to forecast potential issues before they escalate into major disruptions. By leveraging historical incident data, ServiceNow helps organizations identify patterns and anomalies that could indicate underlying problems. This foresight allows IT teams to take preemptive actions to mitigate risks, reducing the likelihood of future incidents and improving overall service reliability. Furthermore, ServiceNow’s robust integration capabilities mean it can seamlessly connect with other tools and systems, facilitating a holistic approach to problem management that is both proactive and preventive. 

In addition to its predictive capabilities, ServiceNow also offers a robust knowledge management system that empowers problem managers to continually improve and enhance their processes. Through the creation of knowledge articles and leveraging AI-powered search capabilities, organizations can easily access relevant information on known issues and resolutions. This not only enables quick resolution of incidents but also facilitates continuous improvement by identifying recurring problems and implementing long-term solutions. 

Additionally, leveraging ServiceNow’s workflow automation features streamlines the progression of a problem from identification through to resolution, significantly reducing the time and resources required to address issues. Ultimately, the key to harnessing the full power of problem management within ServiceNow lies in continuous monitoring, analysis, and the iterative improvement of processes to prevent the recurrence of known issues.


So, how exactly do you become more proactive? Once you’ve assigned a Problem Manager with adequate ITIL training to own the process, empower them to dig into reporting in an effort to identify trends that may uncover related incidents and underlying problems that may not be immediately apparent. It’s hugely important that the Problem Manager be given enough time over the course of the day/week/month to accomplish this task. Be sure your Problem Manager is enabled to carve out the time necessary to see each problem through to resolution.

The Problem Manager should also maintain a list of prioritized problems to discuss with other team members and/or leadership. One way to manage this is by establishing a Problem Management Committee, as a customer of ours does. This committee meets for an hour each week to discuss open Problems, assign ownership to each high priority Problem, drive the highest priority Problems to conclusion, and report successes to leadership and colleagues. This format is especially effective because it instills discipline with respect to regularly discussing and resolving problems, which is the very thing that keeps them proactive.

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Originally published April 04 2024, updated April 04 2024