Top 10 Troubleshooting Tips
Are you the sort of wholesaler who knows how to add value to the stuff on your shelves?
I thought so.
You probably don't mind getting in your car now and then and meeting some befuddled contractor on a job. This guy's in a jam and you know that if you can help solve his problem he's going to love you even more, and remember you when it's time to order - even if your price is a bit higher than the other guy.
There's so much to know these days when it comes to products and systems, but the basics of troubleshooting haven't changed much in the 40 years that I've been in this business. Here's what I've learned:
1. Avoid Auto Conclusions Don’t try to solve the problem while you’re still driving to the job. This one catches many troubleshooters. They figure this problem job is a lot like some other problem job that they looked at. They make up their minds as to what’s wrong before they get to the job, and then they set out to prove to themselves, and to everyone else, that their conclusion was right - even if it wasn’t. Ego comes into to play here, and ego is something you need to leave back at the office if you want to be a good troubleshooter.
Give yourself a chance to get out of the car and poke around.
2. Don’t listen Don’t listen to some people, that is. I say this because there will nearly always be a troubled soul on the job who is incredibly frustrated. He wants the problem to go away, but he doesn’t really want you to solve it. That's because if can solve what he can’t solve you're smarter than he is (or, as he'll believe, just lucky). The poor soul will roll stones in your way. He'll hold back information. He may tell you half-truths so that at the end of the day he can smile and say, “Hey, even the big shot ‘expert’ couldn't solve this one! There’s no solution to this problem.”
But there is always an answer. You may have to get away from that person to find it, though. Think for yourself.
3. Understand the components This is so important, especially these days when so many new products are showing up. If you don’t fully understand how the parts work, you’re going to have a tough time understanding how they join together to form a system. If you feel technically weak in some areas, ask your reps to help you get up to speed. Invite them to lunch or dinner and pick their brains. They know much more about their products than you do. Use them, and give your business to the ones who do the best job of helping you.
4. Understand the system Once you get the components straight in your head, start thinking in terms of systems. How do all these parts fit together? What is the contractor trying to achieve? Always try to see the whole works in your mind’s eye when you’re troubleshooting. Don’t focus too much on just one piece of the puzzle. Get out of that boiler room and wander around. Be nosy. Be curious. See the system, not just the symptoms.
5. Speak simply If you take the time to define the problem in simple terms, you’ll always have a definite place to come back to when you’re wandering through the system. That simple statement may be something such as, "The left side of the building gets hotter than the right," or, "When all the zones call, there’s not enough heat in the upstairs bedroom." By verbalizing the problem in a definite way, you’ll stay on track and be less likely to get lost on a lot of technical tangents. A simple statement made up front keeps you focused.
6. Focus on physics High pressure goes to low pressure. Water seeks its own level. Heat moves toward cold. Hot water is lighter than cold water. You learned these things in elementary school, but you might forget them on a problem job if you don’t stay focused on basic physics. For instance, look at the location of that circulator and know for sure that the highest pressure it will produce will be at its discharge flange. As the water flows through the system, the pressure will drop until it reaches its lowest point back at the circulator’s suction flange. An understanding of a basic physical law such as that will help you figure out why water’s traveling down this branch and not the other one.
Before you make a decision as to the cause of the problem, ask yourself if it agrees with the laws of physics. If it doesn’t, think again before you speak.
7. Be methodical Once you’ve defined the trouble by making a simple statement (Step 5). Ask yourself what can cause that problem. Think in terms of basic physics and then make a written or mental checklist of the possible causes. Methodically check each potential cause, and remember, the one potential cause you decide to skip will probably be the one that’s screwing up the job. Life’s funny that way.
8. Let your mind do the walking Think like air, water and steam. Visualize your way through the job. Ask yourself what you would do if you were inside the pipes. And keep in mind that if you were the air, water or steam you have to follow those basic laws of physics. Use your imagination. What would you do when you reached that tee? Visualization is the troubleshooter’s most powerful tool.
9. Ask the janitor If you're lucky enough to find one, that is. No janitor has ever disappointed me. I always take the time to have a cup of coffee with him, and he always gives me valuable clues. I’ll ask him where and when the system bangs, clangs or knocks. I’ll have him tell me who in the building complains the most. I’ll ask him what, if anything, he does to make the problem stop temporarily. He’ll always give me the clues I need to solve the problem, yet hardly anyone ever speaks to him!
10. Be sure, or be silent It's almost certain that the contractor you're working with is going to try whatever solution you suggest, so be sure the advice you give him is solid. If you’re not sure, say so, but don’t give up. Get in touch with a rep or a factory person who may have the answers you don’t have. Be the conduit between the problem and the solution for that contractor, but whatever you do, don’t BS him or her. If you don't know, say that you'll find out. That's the best way I know to keep a friend, and to make a lifelong customer.