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Author  Richard Josey – lead service management consultant, Thebes Group

March 31, 2017 |

 4 min read

  • Blog
  • Behaviour
  • IT Services
  • Leadership
  • Processes
  • ITIL

There are a couple of ITIL® processes that you really can’t avoid. Continual service improvement (CSI) is one. If you’re not improving, you’re stagnating.

And though you might not yet have a strongly-developed CSI concept or framework, you must assume that most people are actively trying to make things better; the alternative is making things worse! So, the challenge is how to take the basic human desire to improve and make it more directed.


I believe that people in IT create things which are useful to others, for example by automating a process. Nevertheless, CSI remains – culturally – a big challenge.

The typical cultural reward system which motivates people in organizations is financially-based; in a sales organization, if you hit target you get paid a bonus. Most IT people don’t operate within such schemes, and certainly not as individuals. In IT, for example, reducing a backlog of incidents and seeing the metrics that prove it provide a form of cultural reward and increase personal motivation (even though it’s not rewarded in cash!).

However, the challenge for the CSI manager is managing a fire-fighting culture: while you might be clearing an incident backlog, there isn’t enough time to make the necessary improvements that would reduce incidents or help solve them more quickly. Metaphorically, you might be happy carrying buckets to the river for water when there’s a fire, but wouldn’t a fire engine be better?

So, you need to be creating a culture in which people are trying to improve IT processes as well as “putting out the fires”.

Creating a CSI culture

How do you create a CSI culture in which the reward system recognizes the work that goes into solving frequently-occurring incidents? There are a number of steps and actions that organizations can take:

  1. Assign a CSI manager:
    This is not purely about the role but the “bandwidth”. Create space for the activity with particular focus on the problems. This may be a full time role or a part of a leadership role, but it needs to be taken by someone who can actually focus on the initiative. Realize that CSI is not something that one person can achieve and find people in each team who are inclined to make improvements – champions to champion your cause.
  2. Form a coalition
    The existing culture might be resistant to the idea of CSI. So, form a coalition including senior leadership and get some changes and improvement working. This declares that the organization is serious about this and considers it strategically important.
  3. Have a knowledge base
    And measure how the use of this knowledge is having an effect on improvements.
  4. Have a structure
    It’s important to make time for people to think about how to make improvements. But this can also result in people talking but not actually improving anything. A structure helps to take ideas from a session, coordinate what the priorities are and actually do them. After that, the organization gets into a tempo of achieving things and allocating the right resources.
  5. Leadership leading by example
    Leaders must make it clear that making improvements is the behaviour they expect from their teams. Reiterating this message and having people lead by example means that team members will feel the freedom to apply themselves to these ‘non-urgent’ improvements. This forms an intrinsic motivation to perform CSI as the act becomes the reward.

    When new people come into the organization, they start copying those around them. This is how to sustain the CSI approach long term.
  6. ITIL certification and CSI
    CSI Manager is one of the roles within ITIL, just as CSI is one of the five ITIL books.

    Gaining an ITIL certification helps to see the value in a formalized structure for change and improvement, although people might instinctively strive for that anyway.

Embedding CSI

So why is it important to have CSI embedded in your organization? It’s good for staff motivation and retention (jobs are more rewarding); it produces efficiencies and makes you more responsive and nurtures a better relationship with customers.

You need to work hard to build a change culture, but it’s achievable when you tap into people’s intrinsic desire to make things better.

See our ITIL and Continual Service Improvement sections for more information.

Read Richard's previous AXELOS Blog Post, What is configuration management and what we can learn from a fridge freezer?