The Troubleshooter Mentality

When you think about any trouble you encounter with technology, maybe with your life; but, definitely with technology, there are a few things you really want to do or ask yourself about the situation:

Have I encountered this issue before and do I have a plan of attack for it? In other words, analyze the issue in your mind\head before taking any action. Do not execute the plan until you have analyzed the situation and are certain that you have encountered it; because sometimes situations appear to be one issue when they are not, so be careful to test in a lab where you can repro the situation. That’s not so easy to do in life, because there is no lab.

Use the process of elimination. When something is wrong, start to go down your list of what might be the cause and look at each possibility from an objective lense. That means, do not be like the guy in the movie Office Space, the guy with the mean wife who drove him to suicide.

Although he did end up getting a huge settlement for the accident he was in when he backed out of the garage, and ended up creating a game called “Jump to Conclusions”, that is never a good idea. When you can rule out that the server has network connectivity, can talk to the other servers, via tools like telnet, ping, and Sql using a .udl file for example, well then you have ruled out some things using the process of elimination.

Part of the process of elimination, always includes what we like to call “low hanging fruit”. For example, let’s say a site is not rendering. Well, depending on the issue, say 404 ‘Page not found’ take a look at IIS, perhaps the bindings are not there or maybe something worse happened, query the site with powershell.

Maybe the database is just full of whitespace or its growth is limited, go ahead and pick that low hanging fruit off that tree!

When performing troubleshooting another good thing to ask yourself is, “What all could play into the issue?” Go ahead and write down your thoughts somewhere, because it will give you a nice list of things to check, aka low hanging fruit, and maybe some fruit you need a ladder for in order to harvest. Either way, though you will have some things that you can knock down and potentially lead you to troubleshooting nirvana!

Check file dates for changes, Check solutions for changes, when were things last updated, what version are all the servers on, did anything recently change, is IIS same same across farm, are timer jobs running, does procmon give any access denied when reproducing the issue, and why. etc.


Always use notepad to make sure those service account passwords are still in place, maybe even check active directory to insure the accounts are still in hyperspace.

Find out the timeline as best you can too. This is another piece of low hanging fruit, just ask the ?’s of the users who reported it e.g. “When was the last time you used it and it worked?” another way to ask that one, might be “Did it work yesterday?” This will help you when you start cracking open Windows Server logs, and in the case of my good buddy SharePoint, the ULS logs.

You see, as I like to say, “Troubleshooting is a mindset.” Please note: I didn’t come up with that phrase on my own, it’s been around for centuries.

Think about it as if you are an investigator at a crime scene and take screenshots, aka crime scene photos. Do this especially when you have “help” from other admins, in case someone accidentally changes a setting while you’re troubleshooting. You can use these crime scene photos as memory joggers and discussion material when digging deeper or comparing settings between servers in a farm type of setup.

And remember, and one final thought, what is a change that affects the system, might not seem like a change at all to a user; so, ask them stuff like “Were there any new libraries, lists, or workflows created?” Reason, is that during that creation, there may have been some deletes, too, or some delta’s that are your culprit.

Rule out those users, they like to act up in class without realizing it, so use kid gloves, and remember, you can get more flies with honey, than you can with vinegar, whatever that means!

Happy troubleshooting and have a great rest of your day or night, depending on which part of this awesome planet you’re on at the moment!