ll the technical knowledge in the world is useless ifyou don’t know how to apply that knowledge in afocused troubleshooting effort.In this article,I’m offering a simple,easy-to-remember lesson in Problem-Solving 101:SOAP.I don’t mean the Simple Object AccessProtocol.I’m talking about the “SOAP”method used by many medical professionals to“troubleshoot,”or diagnose,their patients.
The shotgun approach
Recently,a consulting client hired me to createa PC-based database for tracking help desk calls.While on the job,I witnessed firsthandthe problems that can result when an overzeal-ous,newly minted A+ technician tries his handat troubleshooting. To give the tech credit,he was first in his A+ class and obviously eager to do a good job. An end user had called to report that she wasgetting an error message when she tried tolaunch an application.He asked the user a cou-ple ofquestions and then announced,“I’ll beright there.”“Do you want to create a trouble ticket forthis one?”I asked.“I’m not sure what happened,”the techreplied,“but I’m probably going to have toreinstall Windows or reimage the machine.”Even though I didn’t have all the facts,hissolution seemed like using a shotgun to kill aflea.
The SOAP approach
“Maybe you need to try SOAP first,”I sug-gested.The technician at first thought I wasjoking.Then I explained that SOAP meansbreaking a problem down into four sections:subjective,objective,assessment,and plan.Here’s what each piece ofthis problem-solving method means:
—This part is what the customersaid.The doctor asks,“Where does it hurt?” The tech-support professional asks,“Whathappened?”Even ifthe customer’s report isimprecise or even downright wrong,thesubjective report frequently will give you astrong clue as to the problem’s cause.
—This part is what the techni-cian observes.Whether you connect to themachine through remote-access software oryou show up in person at the user’s work-station,the objective part ofthe reportshould,to the best ofyour ability,reflectthe facts.
—This part is your diagnosisabout what went wrong.You base yourassessment on a thorough review ofthesubjective and objective reports.
—This part is what you’re going to doto resolve the problem. The technician liked this approach somuch that we incorporated SOAP into thehelp desk database.Our fields included ItemNumber,Date OfCall,User Name,Techni-cian Name,Subjective,Objective,Assess-ment,and Plan.Here are the SOAP entries we added to therecord in the help desk database:
—Client tries to launch applica-tion and nothing happens.
—Visited workstation andobserved that client is double-clicking adesktop shortcut,and nothing happens.Right-clicked shortcut to confirm target.Searched local drive and determined thatthe file does not exist.
—File is missing.The client isaccustomed to launching the application by clicking a shortcut to a specific file.Whenthat file was deleted or renamed,the short-cut was orphaned.
—At client’s request,restored themissing file from backups,which madeshortcut work again.Explained to client
A problem-solving method for supportprofessionals
Feb. 26, 2002 By Jeff Davis
PC Troubleshooting Basics