How do we deal with very generic issues or problems that have multiple possible causes?
There are two ways to approach this: a master article or a resolution path. While the structure of these types of articles is the same, the intent is different.
As a general rule of thumb, we want to have an article address one issue. An article should document one cause and one resolution for a specific environment. It should include all the various, distinctly different ways the requestor has described the issue. An exception to this is the case of a generic issue that has multiple possible causes. This is where the master article or a resolution path comes into play.
A Master Article
A master article is useful when there is a simple qualifying condition that distinguishes one resolution from another. For example, for a generic symptom or problem: if this condition is true then this is the resolution. The master article lists the qualifying questions/conditions that distinguishes a specific resolution as the correct one. It is designed as a list of qualifying criteria, and if that criteria is met, it contains a link to the article with the relevant resolution. So, a master article is a list of “if this is true, then this is the resolution.” Master articles are reference articles that help the requestor get to the correct resolution as quickly as possible. Master articles do not contain the resolution, but rather point to article that contains the resolution based on the qualifying criteria.
Why have the resolution in a separate article? The master article is helpful for those who do not know the qualifying condition that would indicate the correct resolution. If the requestor, based on past experience, knows the qualifying condition and does a search that includes that condition, the article with that specific resolution should be on the top of the search results. They don’t need the master article.
A Resolution Path
However, some generic issues require elaborate, multiple steps to identify the correct resolution. In this case, a resolution path is the best approach. A resolution path is a collection of articles that are linked together. The goal is to get the requestor to the correct resolution as quickly as possible. The first article in the resolution path includes the most generic way a requestor would describe the issue and the first qualifying question that a responder would ask. Based on the answer to the first question, the article points to an article with the next qualifying question. In this way we identify all the criteria that would indicate which resolution is appropriate.
A resolution path is essentially creating a decision tree with a sequence of articles, each article representing one step in the process, and the outcome of that step pointing to the next. However, one important difference between a resolution path and a typical decision tree is that in a resolution path you can enter the process based on what is already known. In a decision tree, we have to start at the beginning regardless of what qualifying conditions we already know.
Master articles and resolution paths are built in the Evolve Loop. We distinguish experience-based articles (created in the workflow in the Solve Loop), from Evolve Loop or high-value articles which are typically created by the Knowledge Domain Expert(s), or KDEs. Resolution paths especially are best designed by a small group of stakeholders including at least one front-line knowledge worker, a subject matter expert, and a KDE who facilitates the design process. The goal of the resolution path design team is to identify the optimal way to get from a very generic issue statement that may have many different causes to the appropriate resolution as quickly as possible. They identify the sequence of qualifying questions.
This may sound a bit overwhelming, but we have found that there are significantly fewer generic questions asked than we assume! If we make a list of the various types of generic issues posed for any given domain or product area, there are usually only five to seven generic issues that require a complex, multi-step diagnostic process to arrive at the correct resolution.
Read more in the KCS v6 Practices Guide on Technique 5.4: Creating Evolve Loop Articles.