• Has the system ever worked before? If yes, has anything happened to it since then that could cause the problem?
  • Has this system proven itself to be prone to certain types of failure?
  • How urgent is the need for repair?
  • What are the safety concerns, before I start troubleshooting?
  • What are the process quality concerns, before I start troubleshooting (what can I do without causing interruptions in production)?

These preliminary questions are not trivial. Indeed, they are essential to expedient and safe troubleshooting. They are especially important when the system to be trouble-shot is large, dangerous, and/or expensive.

Sometimes the troubleshooter will be required to work on a system that is still in full operation (perhaps the ultimate example of this is a doctor diagnosing a live patient). Once the cause or causes are determined to a high degree of certainty, there is the step of corrective action. Correcting a system fault without significantly interrupting the operation of the system can be very challenging, and it deserves thorough planning.

When there is high risk involved in taking corrective action, such as is the case with performing surgery on a patient or making repairs to an operating process in a chemical plant, it is essential for the worker(s) to plan ahead for possible trouble. One question to ask before proceeding with repairs is, “how and at what point(s) can I abort the repairs if something goes wrong?” In risky situations, it is vital to have planned “escape routes” in your corrective action, just in case things do not go as planned. A surgeon operating on a patient knows if there are any “points of no return” in such a procedure, and stops to re-check the patient before proceeding past those points. He or she also knows how to “back out” of a surgical procedure at those points if needed.

Published under the terms and conditions of the Design Science License