Simplified Troubleshooting Overview

This post is part of a series describing the generic, high-level troubleshooting process.

In this series I will be attempting to give a very high-level explanation of the troubleshooting process. This will be generic and can be applied to almost any equipment, although it is geared toward electrical/electronic troubleshooting.

Previous Posts:
What is Troubleshooting?

Effective troubleshooting is 60% science, 40% art, and 50% luck. You will need to draw from your training, experience, and gut feeling.

  • Your training will give you an understanding of how things are supposed to work, and the basis of where to look within the system for possible causes.
  • Experience is the second best teacher. It will give you an understanding of how things work in the real world, and past troubleshooting may lead you to the problem more quickly.
  • Sometimes your gut will tell you to try something that does not make logical sense, but somehow, it corrects the issue. I have learned to listen to these feelings and to stop asking “Why?” once the problem is solved. Usually I am never able to figure out how that could have been the problem.

If you noticed, I said that experience is the second best teacher, I know that everyone says that experience is the best teacher, but I disagree. It is much better to learn from other people’s experiences. You can gain the knowledge without having to go through the time, mistakes and pain of learning it for yourself. Learn everything that you can from anyone who knows more than you on a specific topic, even if they are half your age.

Troubleshooting is a process of trying and failing over and over again, until you find the solution. You can’t be afraid of being wrong, if you’re afraid of failing, you will never solve the issue. This is made easier when the equipment is completely non-functional, because how could you possibly make it worse?

I have put together eleven steps to troubleshooting that I feel capture this process at a generic level. These steps are mostly in order, but you will find yourself jumping around, going back up the list, or possibly skipping steps. The next posts will break down each of these steps in more detail.

Step 1. Understand the correct inputs and outputs of the “black box.”
Step 2. Determine which output(s) are incorrect.
Step 3. Figure out which input(s) affect that output(s).
Step 4. Verify that those inputs are as expected.
Step 5. Analyze the path(s) from input(s) to output(s).
Step 6. Check all connections.
Step 7. What are the devices in those path(s) that change the data?
Step 8. Eliminate the devices that could not cause this output.
Step 9. Test the remaining devices.
Step 10. Repair/Replace faulty device(s).
Step 11. Fully test the system.

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