I love problem-solving. When I was in university, I spent an entire afternoon and evening figuring out why my roommate’s computer wouldn’t connect to the internet. It was a simple issue with the Wi-Fi adapter firmware not being up-to-date; however, back then I didn’t have a solid troubleshooting methodology down, and I found the problem in a very roundabout way. I had immediately gone to some unlikely scenarios, and it cost me a lot of time getting back to the basics. Luckily, CompTIA now outlines a very solid troubleshooting theory to help us computer technicians get to the root of the problem quickly and effectively. I wanted to discuss the basics of this great 6-step theory and how to apply these steps in your everyday work and life.
To demonstrate, I’m going to use a made-up scenario to walk you through the theory.
You’re building a video editing computer for a client. You’re doing a test build of it outside the computer case first to make sure everything is working properly. After plugging in all the power cables, seating the RAM and CPU, installing the CPU cooler, and installing the graphics card, you hit the power button on the motherboard. Nothing happens.
Step 1: Identify the problem.
This is straightforward. Why are you working on the computer or mobile device? In our scenario, the PC will not turn on, even though all components are installed. In this type of situation, there are a few things to quickly check. First, make sure the power supply is turned on. If it’s not, turn it on and then try to boot up again. In our scenario, everything is properly installed, and the power supply is turned on. So now we’re going to have to come up with some theories as to what is causing the issue.
Step 2: Establish a theory of probable cause.
In this step, start with a most likely cause. If it’s a software problem, this is a great time to use those clarifying questions you’ve been brushing up on. Good clarifying questions help you learn as much as you can about the problem and what led up to it.
If at first you don’t succeed, it’s okay to repeat Steps 2 and 3 until you do. Keep calm and work through the problem carefully. Rushing won’t help when you’re troubleshooting.
For our scenario, the first theory of probable cause is that the power supply is faulty. That seems the most likely as you can generally assume that factory sealed expensive components have been tested at the factory.
Step 3: Test your theory.
Once you’ve considered a possible theory, test out the theory to see if it allows you to replicate the problem. When working with computers, being able to replicate an issue is key to determining the cause.
Let’s return to our scenario. We believe the power supply is faulty, so we’re going to unplug the power supply from the motherboard and test each of the connections we’re using with our trusty power supply tester. In doing this, we discover that the 8-pin CPU cable isn’t functioning, but all other connections are fine. So now we can see that the power supply works, but the cable is faulty.
Step 4: Establish a plan of action to resolve the problem and implement the solution.
This is the action step. It’s time to fix the problem. It may be a simple fix, or it may be something much more complex. Take your time with this step, and while you’re establishing a plan of action, try to use the least invasive option if there are multiple options that would work.
With our scenario, we’re going to switch out the 8-pin CPU cable for a replacement cable that comes with the power supply. Next, we’re going to test to make sure all the cables are now working properly and we’ve got the correct voltage output before we plug everything back into the motherboard.
Step 5: Verify full system functionality and, if applicable, implement preventative measures.
This step is sometimes overlooked, but it’s the most frustrating to the customer. Please, oh please, verify that the system is fully functional, and if possible, implement preventative measures to help avoid this problem in the future. This may be as simple as making sure the display cable is fully screwed in to avoid it being jostled, or it could be much more complex—like repeatedly attempting the steps that lead to an error message in the first place to make sure it doesn’t throw the error code again. It may seem time consuming, but verifying functionality now will cut down on headaches in the future.
Let’s go back to our build. Once we’ve connected the power supply back to the motherboard and verified that all the connections are seated properly, we turn on the system and it posts. We then turn it off and back on a few more times to ensure repeatability. It posts every time without issue. We then put everything in the case and again attempt to turn on the computer to ensure none of the connections were loosened while we transferred the system. Everything works correctly.
Step 6: Document findings, actions, and outcomes.
Many a technician has been known to skimp on this step, but it is important. By documenting this information, you can help the client take care of the problem in the future or help future technicians to be brought up to speed quickly if the issue happens again. Your employer may have a knowledge base or customer database that they want you to document this information in, or they may have physical forms that they want you to fill out. For example, the last time a technician from Xfinity had to come to my place, he filled out a physical form and then gave me a copy for my records.
Documenting your findings, actions, and outcomes can also help in case the client is unhappy and believes you did not resolve the issue. If the issue is escalated, you can show exactly what you did and that the system was functional when you returned it.
I hope this post helps you remember your 6-step CompTIA troubleshooting theory. Is there a step you get stuck on? Do you have any acronyms or helpful word associations that help you keep the steps straight in your mind? Share them in the comments below!
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