ITIL CSI 7-step improvement process: What is it all about?

The core purpose of IT Service Management (ITSM) is to provide the best possible services for the lowest possible cost, while providing value to customers. But, while ITSM-oriented organizations generally can cope with the concept of the “best possible services” and “lowest possible cost,” “value” is still the elusive term shrouded with mystery. Because the Continual Service Improvement (CSI) part of the Service Lifecycle is all about (re)aligning services with the business – thus, value improvement – it’s often neglected or even skipped when implementing ITSM principles.

In order to expand the CSI topic and hopefully spark your interest in this exciting part of the service lifecycle, we will be covering the 7-step improvement process, one step at a time, starting with a general introduction, as the topic of this week’s article.

Improve or bust

Service Management-oriented organizations are constantly challenged to improve, increase efficiency, and maximize effectiveness with respect to both customer satisfaction and service cost. Without a structured approach, most IT organizations start to think about improvements only after major events that had an impact on either service availability/performance or customer satisfaction, which are often related.

On the other hand, CSI offers mechanisms for continual improvement, even preventing catastrophic events that may affect customer satisfaction, service (un)availability, and negative financial impacts. It’s important to understand that CSI is not tied to the management organization only, or any specific part of the Service Lifecycle; CSI covers every aspect of the ITSM organization and the whole Service Lifecycle, and the 7-step improvement process is the cornerstone of CSI.

7-Step Improvement Process

ITIL CSI 7-Step Improvement ProcessFigure 1 – ITIL CSI 7-Step Improvement Process

While casually looking at Figure 1, it may appear that the 7-step improvement process is a circular one; however, by following this practice, you form a so-called knowledge spiral in which each cycle builds upon the previous one, and outputs of the previous cycle become data inputs for the next.

Let’s look into the individual steps of the 7-step improvement process.

1. What should you measure?

With strong interconnections with every part of the Service Lifecycle, Service Strategy and Service Design should already have the answers to those questions, and should have already identified starting points. In such case, the role of the CSI is to ask the question: “Where are we now?” – before starting the cycle all over again.

2. What can you measure?

Every organization may find that they have limitations on what can actually be measured. If you cannot measure something, then it should not appear in an SLA. By identifying the new service level requirements of the business, the IT capabilities (identified through Service Design and implemented via Service Transition) and the available budgets, CSI can conduct a gap analysis to identify the opportunities for improvement, as well as answer the question: “How do we get there?”

3. Gather the data.

In order to properly answer the “Did we get there?” question, data must first be gathered (usually through Service Operations). Gathering data requires having some form of monitoring in place. Monitoring could be executed using technology such as an application, system and component monitoring tools, or even a manual process for certain tasks. Data is gathered based on the goals and objectives identified. At this point, the data is raw and no conclusions are drawn.

4. Process the data.

Now the data is processed in alignment with the CSFs (Critical Success Factors) and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) specified. This means that timeframes are coordinated, unaligned data is rationalized and made consistent, and gaps in the data are identified. The simple goal of this step is to process data from multiple disparate sources into an “apples to apples” comparison. Once we have rationalized the data, we can then begin analysis.

5. Analyze the data.

The data becomes information as it is analyzed to identify service gaps, trends, and the impact on the business. It is the analyzing step that is often overlooked or forgotten in the rush to present data to management.

6. Present the information.

The answer to “Did we get there?” is shaped and communicated in whatever way necessary to various stakeholders. The presentation should paint an accurate picture of the results of the improvement efforts. Knowledge is presented to the business in a form and manner that reflects their needs and assists them in determining the next steps.

7. Implement corrective action.

The knowledge gained is used to optimize, improve, and correct services. Managers identify issues and present solutions. The corrective actions that need to be taken to improve the service are communicated and explained to the organization. Following this step, the organization establishes a new baseline and the cycle begins again…

But wait, there is more…

We already have several articles regarding the Continual Service Improvement (CSI) part of the service lifecycle, most notably Service Improvement Plan – For the sake of improvements. But, after writing the post ITIL Continual Service Improvement – Don’t lose the momentum, I believe that there is so much more to say regarding CSI. That is why in upcoming articles we’ll break down individual steps, and hopefully highlight the overall significance and, most importantly, the value of the CSI 7-step improvement process, so stay tuned!

Before defining any improvement steps, you have to assess your compliance with ITIL recommendations. Use this free  ITIL Gap Analysis Tool to perform the assessment.