Tricks For Technical Troubleshooting

How to identify, diagnose, and repair hardware, software and wetware.

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Jason Maxham's "The Art Of Troubleshooting" is the most comprehensive text on troubleshooting, I've read over the last 40 years.

Jason's recipes provides a roadmap for mechanical, electrical plumbing, HVAC and stakeholders. time-tested, practical approaches for dealing with disasters. These techniques help work through the processes of triage, isolate, diagnose, troubleshoot, repairs and improve hardware, software, and ultimately wetware.

The Order Of Things

Changing the sequence of a machine’s startup or workflow can make a big difference.

Skillful Questioning

When interviewing people about breakdowns, learn how to find clarity and uncover hidden information in their statements.

Put It Down And Come Back To It Later

The need to step away from a project–you can’t always force a solution.

Follow The Chain

Tracing a problem through a workflow. Bare Bones: paring it back to the bare essentials.

Does It Need To Be Fixed?

Making sure a repair is necessary

The Phone Is Ringing, So Answer It

Listening to what a machine is saying.

Duplicate The Problem

If you can make the failure happen at will, you’ll also know when it’s fixed. Also, Black Boxes and intermittent problems.

Defaults And Reboots

The advantages of taking a machine back to a more primitive state.

Change Just One Thing

The need for minimalism so that information can be derived from your actions.

The Way It Is And The Way It Was

Keep track of things as you make a repair.

Is It Plugged In?

Prerequisites for operation. The first question a troubleshooter might ask.

A Different Point Of View

Seeking other perspectives to help you out of a rut.

Same Symptom, Different Causes

When problems look the same, but they’re really not.

Improving The Environment

Managing when and where you troubleshoot.

Copy One That Works

A working model can be as good as a manual. Let’s Be Reasonable: logical principles and the law of simplicity.

Know Your Limits

When to call in a pro.

Where Do I Begin?

Starting points for the troubleshooting process.

What’s Changed?

Recent modifications or additions often point the way to the cause.

Dedicated And Shared Resources

Getting your machines to play nicely together.

A Common Problem

Paying attention to context. Pinpoint causes by noticing shared symptoms.

Clear Up To Here

Use the half-splitting method to quickly pinpoint the cause.

Team Spirit

How to organize a team during a crisis. Plus, the benefits of teamwork for everyday problem-solving, with lessons from the world of “pair programming.”


Pinpointing why a system is slow, and making it go faster.

Release The Chaos Monkeys

Learning important things about machines through stress testing and seeing them “at their worst.”

How Is It Supposed To Work?

Knowing how a machine is supposed to function allows you to plot a course between “broken” and “working.”

Repair Or Replace?

Things to consider when deciding whether to fix or replace a broken machine.

The 50 Percent Rule

Problems with a popular rule of thumb used to make the repair or replace decision, along with my suggestion of a better way to resolve the dilemma.

Talking About Your Problems

How to interact with other troubleshooters. Unexpected upsides when dealing with Customer Service behaviors and mindset of a great troubleshooter.


Not getting sucked into other people’s false beliefs.

Listen Up

Using all your senses.


Become interested in the world around you.

Out Of Your Vulcan Mind

The importance of being organized, systematic, detail-oriented, and logical.


Recognizing the difference between machines and the purposes they serve. The many paths you can take to a repair.

Be Present

Keeping yourself externally focused is critical, especially at the beginning of a troubleshooting exercise.

Setting Boundaries

Deliberately choosing your commitments, setting expectations. Is This Normal?: an ode to data collection.

Zen And The Art of Routine Maintenance

Eliminate trouble before it arises.

Storm’s A-comin

Averting disasters.

Troubleshooting Trees

A method to document and communicate your hard-won repair knowledge.

Is It Really Fixed?

How to know when you’ve nailed it for good.

Down To The Roots

Using root cause analysis and the 5 Whys method to prevent failures from recurring.

Moral Authority

Using the emotion of a disaster to make meaningful changes.

Making A List, Checking It Off 

The checklist is a simple, yet powerful, way to guide the fix-it process. As a means to prevent trouble, it puts the best way of doing something in the hands of machine operators and designers.

Failure Most Foul

The unfortunate reality of failures caused by fraud and sabotage.

Release The Chaos Monkeys

How to interact with other troubleshooters. Unexpected upsides when dealing with Customer Service behaviors and mindset of a great troubleshooter

You’re Not Done Until You Tell Someone Else

The final step is communicating what was learned.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Improperly tuned alerting systems will eventually be ignored.

Did It Ever Work?

Questioning a machine’s past performance.