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Troubleshooting – Make Sure You Have a Clear Goal and a Concise Plan


Successful troubleshooting isn’t always about knowing the detailed specifications of a device, or understanding the nuances of a particular PLC.

Sometimes, it is simply about being able to see the big picture.

This is a story I think all of us can relate to.

Any successful troubleshooting operation, not matter how large or small, always has two components; a clear goal and a concise plan.

Let’s take a very simple example. Your wife calls you from the living room and tells you that the light bulb in her favorite lamp has burned out and she wants you to replace it. Being a seasoned troubleshooter, you immediately visualize a clear goal and develop a concise plan.

Even though she said she wants you to replace the bulb, the real goal is to get the light to work. Simply replacing the bulb may not achieve the goal.

In the interest of domestic harmony, there is really no reason to discuss that part with her. You are using discretion, but also realizing that the light bulb may actually be fine, and that the real problem may lie elsewhere.

You might be thinking right now that I am stating the obvious, and in this case, that may be true. On a factory floor, however, be aware that people sometimes develop a plan for you that might not be the best approach.

On your way to the living room, you are thinking of possible causes for the malfunction.

–    Is the lamp plugged in?

–    Is the switch turned to the correct position?

–    Is the bulb secure in the lamp socket?

–    Is there a wall switch that switches power to the outlet that the lamp uses?

–    Could the switch in the lamp be broken?

–    When was that bulb replaced?

–    Do you have a new bulb of the same wattage?

Your first step it to verify that the lamp is plugged in. Given that it is, you operate the switch, yet the bulb still does not illuminate. You reach into the lamp to verify that the bulb is secure and find that it is tight in the socket. Looking across the room, you see a wall switch and remember that this is a switched outlet. Turning on the switch now causes the bulb to be illuminated.

Your wife is happy and domestic bliss is maintained, even though her stated goal of having you replace the bulb was not met (let’s not make a big deal out of that, though).

Suppose, instead of using good troubleshooting techniques, you simply followed her instructions.

You open your utility room door and dig around until you find a package of light bulbs. You grab one and walk out to the living room. As you unscrew the bulb from the lamp, you realize that it is a 75-watt bulb, and that the bulb you brought from the utility room is a 40-watt bulb. You replace it anyway, only to find that it still does not work.

Your wife is still not happy, even though you did what she asked you to do. Domestic harmony is threatened as patience is wearing thin.

Finally, you realize that the real goal is to get the light to work.

As a last resort, you begrudgingly follow proper troubleshooting techniques. You discover that the wall switch had been mistakenly turned off. The lamp now works, but since you already replaced the original 75-watt bulb with a 40-watt bulb, the light is insufficient and your wife is still not happy.

You turn off the lamp, and wait until the bulb is cool enough to change without burning your fingers. Finally, you are able to change out the bulb and your wife is reasonably happy.

You, though, feel a little frustrated in realizing that you spent 5 minutes to fix a problem that should have taken 30 seconds. You show the greatest wisdom, however, by not questioning your wife’s ability to operate the wall switch that would have powered the lamp in the first place . . .

This is a very simple illustration, but it is important that you understand the importance of having a clear goal and a concise plan.