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Author  Simon Kent

Quantum Twenty One and member of the 2023 revision team – ITIL 4: Continual Improvement Practice

November 1, 2023 |

 8 min read

  • Blog
  • ITIL4

Isn’t continual improvement in an organization an obvious approach to keeping employees, customers and other stakeholders happy? You’d think so, wouldn’t you?

Having gone through what I have – surviving a stroke, writing a book about it and rethinking my life and work – one of many “awakenings” has been the question: what is this all about?

And the same question applies to organizations: what are they all about and what is the business they’re in? One answer to that is: they must continually improve and evolve.

No matter where you look in life and business you will find problems. Human beings – by default – tend to be problem focused and, because of that focus, end up repeating the problems over and over. Additionally, we humans are often resistant to and fearful of change. To transcend these conditions of being problem focused and resistant to change, we need to recognize that problems are in fact opportunities for new solutions and change is inevitable. This is all a matter of perspective. How I see it is simplistic; both people and organizations are continually transforming. Furthermore, it is our nature to be continually transforming.

However, for some, it’s often possible to think of themselves a victim of change rather than a creator of change. Instead, it’s possible to take control of that continual evolution and transformation; deciding to move and play an active part in creating positive change.

And this brings me to ITIL 4’s Continual Improvement Practice.

Bringing form to continual improvement

As previously stated, people can be afraid of transformation and so, in that sense, continual improvement – being a form of transformation – can result in being challenged to step out of one’s comfort zone into something that can be perceived as fearful.

I can empathize with that – it’s scary when you come face-to-face with the fire-breathing “dragon” of change. I’ve been there in a very personal way.

However, if we can accept that transformation and continual improvement will happen anyway, then why not get ahead and make it happen to our advantage? And, in systemizing and embracing it, we can become masters of our destiny and that of our organizations.

If ITIL 4 is going to include a practice called continual improvement, then it needs to practice what it preaches – which is why the guidance has been updated for 2023.

In the four years since ITIL 4 was launched, the world has moved on: in technology, for example, AI has become the latest talking point and “must have” technology and we need to know how to apply it from a continual improvement standpoint.

That’s just one aspect. Overall, ITIL must show it has the capacity to continually evolve and improve, without necessarily turning everything on its head.

ITIL 4 Continual Improvement Practice – core competencies

What are the core competencies professionals can gain from this updated ITIL 4 practice?

You’ll understand how value streams, processes, and components of the value chain weave together; how your relationship with suppliers and partners will work better; understanding more about individual processes that are current best practice; gain inspiration to use an existing technology for an unexpected purpose or approach in the organization to achieve new value. There is the critical factor of cultural impact through the dimension of organization and people, so what does it mean to introduce a culture of continual improvement?

And this, like each of the ITIL 4 practice guides, follows a uniform structure. So, when attending a training course, it mimics the structure of the guide and is backed up by an exam to test what you’ve learned.

The possible reasons for studying the course and taking the exam cover a broad spectrum: at one end, people might see it as “another part of the job”; further along it will be treated as a step on the career path. And, at the opposite pole, people will consider continual improvement as a deeper exploration of themselves and what personal and professional transformation means for them, their team and organization.

Practice success factors: going way beyond IT

Within the ITIL 4: Continual Improvement Practice are two practice success factors:

  • Establishing and maintaining an effective approach to continual improvement
  • Ensuring effective and efficient improvement across the organization

These represent our application of the practice and should be understood carefully.

Let’s consider and understand the first of these PSF’s. I do this by exploring and interpreting the words:

To “establish” asks us to think about the systems, processes, culture, operating model, and stakeholder agreements we need. An “effective approach” challenges us to think about what that means in our organizations and to devise a definition that puts everyone on the “same page”, knowing what’s suitable (or “effective”) for the purpose and direction of the organization and all its stakeholders.

And, in addition, what do we need to do to maintain and sustain this effective approach that we’ve established?

The training in continual improvement and the practice guide leads you towards these ideas and the decisions you need to make; to absorb the concept of continual improvement, embody it and become it, rather than being told prescriptively what to do. This requires that people transform and grow in the context of a team and in alignment with the vision and purpose of the organization.

And there is no doubt about it: ITIL 4 takes these concepts beyond IT. As the definition of ITIL 4’s service value system says, it is how the various components and activities of the organization work together to facilitate value creation through IT-enabled services.

Therefore, it’s a given. We are talking not just about IT but the entire organization that must continue to improve and transform.