If you think of process improvement in IT Service Management (ITSM) as having a clear linear structure, you’re probably thinking about it the wrong way. With process improvement, you’re never really done.
Typically, process improvement activity happens reactively rather than proactively. Most organizations look at what’s broken before making an improvement, but process improvements should be an ongoing activity.
Just because you’ve done something one way, doesn’t mean you should continue to do so. In the words of Admiral Grace Hopper: “the most dangerous phrase in the language is ‘we’ve always done it this way’.”
We must think about process improvement as a cycle; but for those not yet in a cycle, how to begin is a good question.
A big bang or a gradual approach?
Process improvement can be either a big bang or a more gradual approach. There’s no right or wrong answer as it’s dependent on what you are improving.
A gradual approach gives you time to do due diligence and explore the “what if this doesn’t work?” line of thinking. It also allows you to roll back any changes that you might have made if things start to go wrong.
A big goal of improving is to make sure that you don’t break something else that already works. The transition process should be seamless and in certain companies – due to their size, culture and type of business – slow and steady is the only way.
Slow and steady
Within a procurement and logistics scenario, I’ve used this approach to make significant financial savings by carefully unravelling existing operating procedures.
Through this approach, we could see several wasted steps and inefficiencies. However, as this organization was a government customer transparency in sourcing was still essential. By getting the perspective of subject matter experts, we could work together to streamline the process gradually and, over time, we saved over $10m in costs.
In this instance, slow and steady was the best route, but there are instances when a big bang approach has the upper hand.
In a smaller, more agile company you can see the cradle-to-grave journey more easily and identify the impact of a change and its consequences. The ‘Just Do it’ (JDI) approach may also be right when you need to make a significant change quickly due to time pressures.
The Just Do It approach
One of the instances for JDI might be compliance. For example, as a government supplier in the United States you must have the right permits and level of training for your employees.
I’ve been in situations where firms have realized their certification has lapsed or there are inaccurate records of who’s up to date and who isn’t. Here, a big bang approach was needed to make a change, and fast.
Tips for successful process improvement
Whether you’re opting for a big bang or a more gradual change, there are universal processes that should be considered to make sure the end result meets expectations.
First, define success. What does success look like, otherwise how will you know if you’ve been successful? It’s also key to measure and benchmark: where are we now? What’s the process? How long does it take? Remember, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
Critically, and something often overlooked, is to keep it simple. When creating a process keep in mind that the next person should be able to read it without any prior knowledge and make sense of what to do.
Finally, consider service operation. While all elements of ITIL® will help, I’d focus here initially because whatever you’re changing, you need to be able to show your leadership the return on investment, otherwise they won’t support it in the future. Process improvement should be a central and proactive part of any ITSM contract, but senior management won’t allow you to spend time making changes if you don’t demonstrate the value that they bring.
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