The very first of the Sherlock Holmes short stories is called A Scandal in Bohemia. When the story begins the great detective receives an anonymous note announcing that the writer will visit him that evening about a very important matter, and may well wear a mask.
The note is only a couple of sentences, but Dr Watson is fascinated and immediately wants to speculate about the situation “What do you imagine it means?” he asks – to which Holmes immediately replies “I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data”.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned over the years that most requests for technical support start out with not enough data. Someone will send you a ticket saying “my call dropped” or “sometimes my calls don’t go through”. If you’re truly inexperienced, then you will rightly shrug and think “soo… what do you expect me to do about it?”, but if you’re an expert, you may well fall into a trap!
As an expert, you’ve likely seen hundreds of problems that sound similar to these vague descriptions – so it’s very easy to start theorizing. Maybe there’s a trunk down, maybe there’s a firewall issue causing one-way audio, maybe they’re not dialing a 9 for an outside line, maybe there’s a short in the wiring. Any of these could be true, but when we have very limited information, it’s pointless to speculate – the only thing we should do is to gather more data.
If I see a request for help with basically zero information, I’ll typically ask for the following items:
- an exact description of the problem, as experienced by the person
- the time and phone numbers involved when it happened
- can it be reproduced, and if so, does it happen 100% of the time, or some fraction of the time?
- does it happen for anyone else, or just this one caller / called party.
We don’t need all of these questions answered before we can start investigating, or to start theorizing, but if the user has given you zero data, I would typically start by asking these questions – and hopefully we’ll get enough clues back to allow us to make some progress.
On July 20 (2023 – in case you’re reading this in the distant future) I’ll be hosting a webinar where we’re going to take six philosophies used by Sherlock Holmes, and apply them to our work as voice network engineers. The need for data is just one of those six ideas – I’d love for you to join us live to hear the rest, and to grow your troubleshooting skills using the methodology of the great detective.
Please register here. Also, check out this awesome video ad I made – complete with costume and everything. 🙂