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Getting started with Continual Service Improvement

Group of ITSM practitioners sata at table in office with laptops holding paper with improvement plan

In the world before ITIL v3 and Continual Service Improvement (CSI) it was part of a service level manager’s job to identify areas for improvement. However, this was ad hoc and happened mostly if a customer was complaining.

We used what were called service improvement plans which operated without a formal, recognized process beyond a big stick from the IT management. It was difficult to gain cooperation and this improvement approach became a background task with little resource leading to reactive-only improvements and fire-fighting.

Today, despite the importance of CSI in ITIL, my estimation is that only about 25% of companies have adopted it. IT organizations are still focusing mainly on business as usual (BAU) rather than proactive problem management. Often there is no defined CSI role, no overarching oversight and no resource; you see CSI managers only in larger organizations and it shouldn’t be that way.

IT services and business needs

Customers are ever-more demanding while IT infrastructure becomes more complex. Organizations need to focus on the end delivery of IT services and ensure there are people capable of providing overall assurance of service performance and meet business needs.

So, what steps can an organization take?

  1. Customer satisfaction survey
    Identify the level of customer satisfaction and, if it’s low, you need to make improvements. Your customer might perceive you’re not hitting your metrics so go beyond what your KPIs might be telling you.
  2. Create a business case for CSI
    If you don’t focus on customer outcomes, you will get increasing numbers of complaints, people won’t use your services and then your competitors are more likely to step in and replace you.
  3. Define and allocate ownership
    There needs to be an assurance or quality manager who is focused on CSI as a function. The right person is someone who can influence others, who is a good communicator and facilitator for improvement ideas.
  4. Adopting ITIL Guiding Principles
    In one example, we had a customer that wanted to improve a number of processes after a merger. Using improvement workshops, we enabled them to focus on their challenges and collaborate as a team to identify potential improvements and share ideas. After that, one person volunteered to be the CSI manager and take ownership of the initiative.

    The organizational change management (OCM) ways of working in ITIL also supported an ongoing culture, behaviour and attitude change among the team. And, finally, measuring whether the improvements had the desired effect ensured customers could identify service improvements and the benefits they gained from them.

  5. Finding the financial resources
    CSI needs to be built into a budget: improvements need both funding and sponsorship. Together, this kick-starts the lifecycle of improvement.

    While CSI still comes fairly near the bottom of the to-do list for IT organizations today, it should be nearer the top because it’s about how you improve the services to your customers. Providing customer satisfaction cannot be treated as an after-thought.

Read Steve Lawless' previous AXELOS Blog Post, Making ITSM agile.

Current rating: 4.5 (4 ratings)


9 Dec 2018 Steve Belgraver
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CSI has a longer history than ITILv3 of course (Deming, Kaizen, TQM, etc etc).

But to your point Steve Lawless, a key success factor to realising continuous iterative improvements is effective ownership and sponsorship. Frederick W. Taylor formulated this problem rather succinctly in his seminal 1911 book (The Principles of Scientific Management) where he states that to move away from ad hoc short term initiatives a " ... complete revolution in the mental attitude and the habits of all those engaged in the management..." is required. Actualising the broader potential of CSI requires a paradigm shift in the firm's organisational culture. An additional element to your 5 points would be for CSI to become an integral part of the firm's strategic compass to ensure the longer term focus on structural quality improvement.
19 Dec 2018 Abuwafa Muhammed
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This article has helped me in reinforcing my understanding of the concepts behind CSI
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