ISO 20000 & ITIL® Blog

ITIL Continual Service Improvement – don’t lose the momentum

Almost a year ago, Branimir wrote an article about approaching the ITIL CSI process ITIL Continual Service Improvement – the never-ending story, and I believe this is a good time for a follow-up focusing on an overview of CSI, challenges regarding CSI implementation, and finding value beyond simple ROI calculation.

Continual Service Improvement is not a project

Only when some catastrophic event strikes the delivery of services does everyone start to think, plan and talk about some sort of improvements, which will either:

  • Help prevent or detect such an event up front
  • Help by improving response time and communication procedures during a crisis
  • And, help maintain up-to-date documentation and information about systems we manage

Once those improvements are discussed, agreed and implemented, we all get back to our normal daily routine, until our data becomes obsolete and disaster strikes again. One could argue that this is a continuous process as well, but it’s not considered to be the best practice.

Sometimes, imperfections and shortcomings are so obvious that you don’t have to wait for a disaster in order to detect them. In such cases, people tend to develop a one-time improvement project, which will hopefully fix everything so they can go back to their operational routine.

On the other hand, Continual Service Improvement is a live and continuously ongoing process involved with every phase of the service lifecycle, and it addresses three main areas within it:

  1. A birds-eye view of IT service management as an implemented discipline
  2. The continuous alignment of the IT service portfolio with both current and future business needs
  3. Providing a CSI model for each service, thereby enabling continual growth of process maturity.

As with any other fundamental change, CSI implementation requires not only strong management commitment, but everyone within the organization must embrace the CSI as well. CSI heavily depends on existing information flows, monitoring systems and measurements performed, but might need even a few more things in order to be effective and useful.

Business management involvement and support are extremely important, as well. Lack of corporate objectives, strategies and policies will render CSI useless, as it will be unable to map, align and re-align IT goals and objectives with those of the business as a whole.

Define > Measure > Control > Manage

7_step_improvement_processFigure 1 – 7-step improvement process; what can’t be defined can’t be measured. What can’t be measured can’t be controlled. What can’t be controlled can’t be managed.

CSI is interested in the ongoing improvement and effectiveness of both services delivered and processes implemented, by using four main sub-processes:

  • Service review has, as its objectives, the performance of regular business services and infrastructure reviews, and the improvement of quality where necessary. Service review is also responsible for finding more cost-effective ways of providing services.
  • Process evaluation is responsible for identifying areas where target metrics are not reached by performing regular audits, reviews and assessments.
  • CSI initiatives definition is a process that defines specific initiatives aimed at service and process improvements, based on output generated by process evaluation or service review.
  • CSI initiatives monitoring verifies that all initiatives are executed according to plan, and performs corrective measures within them if necessary.

The 7-step improvement process as displayed in Figure 1 is the cornerstone of the concept of measurement, which allows you to collect, interpret and use actual data based on which future corrective plans will be made, based on which you’ll measure performance against the previous state… etc.

Continual Service Improvement outcomes

CSI initiatives can have both tangible and intangible outcomes, with tangible outcomes summarized as:

  • Improvements – outcomes that show measurable increase in a desirable metriccompared to the previous state
  • Benefits – gains achieved through realization of improvements
  • ROI – the difference between benefit (e.g. savings) and investment required in order to achieve it
  • VOI – extra value created by benefits that may not be expressed in monetary value

While tangible CSI outcomes are easy to collect and express, there may be many intangible benefits that are hard to express and present to the business, as they can’t be expressed in monetary value, or their impact is hard to measure (e.g. brand recognition), and consequently, they can’t be used to drive the CSI initiative. But, intangible benefits are very useful to tell the story in the Business Case, and you are encouraged to use them as added motivation toward the overall CSI initiative.

CSI should be efficient itself, and you should use CSI to improve the CSI process as well. CSI shouldn’t be a burden on staff, existing procedures or processes; rather, it should supplement existing processes to produce unambiguous results that will later on be used to improve them.

Once CSI starts to provide its first concrete results, you can use that momentum to expand to other areas as well.  You might think that with time there would be less and less need for improvement, but that is not the case. It might get harder to find ways to improve, but the need for improvement never stops.

You can download a free sample of the Continual Service Improvement process.