Grey problem
Grey problem is a term for an IT
Information technology
Information technology is the acquisition, processing, storage and dissemination of vocal, pictorial, textual and numerical information by a microelectronics-based combination of computing and telecommunications...

 problem where the causing technology is unknown or unconfirmed. Common grey problems are:
  • Intermittent errors;
  • Intermittent incorrect output, or;
  • Transient performance problems.

Because the causing technology is not clear IT departments often find it difficult to allocate the problem to a Technical Support Group (platform team).


Combining frequency and causing technology information can provide a view of the complexity of a problem and so indicate how difficult it will be to investigate (see Figure 1).

The problems in each quadrant have certain characteristics:

Q1 - In a typical IT department 80 to 90% of problems are solid faults that are easily tracked down to a causing technology. The appropriate technical or platform support team efficiently deals with these problems every day.

Q2 - Some recurring problems are due to a Known Error, or are obviously being caused by a particular hardware or software component. These problems are handled by technical support people working with suppliers.

Q3 - Every so often a one-off problem occurs, and the cause of these may never be found.

Q4 – The technical ownership of these issues is unclear and so they are referred to as “grey problems” i.e. not black and white.


Grey problems have a significant impact on IT service, and:
  • Form the bulk of ongoing recurring problems
  • Create a disproportionately high IT support workload
  • Give a pointer to more serious problems to come
  • Cause the business to adjust practices around the problem

ITIL perspective

ITIL Service Operations implies that grey problems should be handled through a Problem Solving Group under the direction of the Problem Management function. In practice, even those IT organisations that have adopted ITIL rarely have a procedure to handle a grey problem, leaving it to bounce between Technical Support Teams as each denies that their technology is to blame.

See also

  • ITIL v3 Problem Management
  • ITIL v3 Incident Management
    Incident Management (ITSM)
    Incident Management is an IT service management process area. The first goal of the incident management process is to restore a normal service operation as quickly as possible and to minimize the impact on business operations, thus ensuring that the best possible levels of service quality and...

    COBIT is a framework created by ISACA for information technology management and IT Governance. It is a supporting toolset that allows managers to bridge the gap between control requirements, technical issues and business risks.-Overview:...

  • RPR Problem Diagnosis
    RPR Problem Diagnosis
    RPR is a problem diagnosis method specifically designed to determine the root cause of IT problems.- Overview :RPR deals with failures, incorrect output and performance issues, and its particular strengths are in the diagnosis of ongoing & recurring grey problems...

  • Kepner-Tregoe
    Kepner-Tregoe, Inc. is a multinational management consulting and training services company. It provides consultation and training to companies in industries such as manufacturing, electronics, chemical, pharmaceuticals, and financial services....

Further reading

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