Why the most neglected ITIL publication Continual Service Improvement, is the most important to Organizations!

Blog post   •   Jul 02, 2013 14:59 CEST

It all started during the 1950s when Dr. W. Edwards Deming, a renowned American philosopher, proposed that all industrial production processes should be analysed and measured for any deviations to the product from the actual customer requirements; this continual improvement breakthrough by Deming became revolutionary and is popularly known as ‘Deming’s Cycle’. Deming is also known for his successful quality management theories like: ‘the funnel experiment’, ‘the seven deadly diseases’, ‘the fourteen points for the transformation of management’ and many more.

Today, Deming’s cycle has been applied to areas beyond manufacturing. The majority of quality management standards and frameworks like: Six Sigma, ITIL, CMMI, ISO, etc, derive their principles from Deming’s philosophies. The Deming’s Cycle consists of 4 stages namely: plan, do, check/study and act.

The usage of terms ‘continuous improvement’ and ‘continual improvement’, have always been inconsistent and loosely defined. My understanding is that, the former talks about a constant state of driving process improvement i.e. without any interruption, whilst the latter is widely accepted and talks about process improvements in a controlled manner i.e. intervals between the journeys.

ITIL has emerged over the years, from a typical service support and delivery process framework, to a complete service lifecycle best practise, that now aligns with business needs. Continual Service Improvement (CSI) is a proactive practise that identifies opportunities to improve the entire service lifecycle, IT services as well as service management processes. In a nutshell, it’s all about increasing the efficiency, maximizing the effectiveness, and optimizing the cost.

Why is CSI the most neglected

There is an interesting saying in management that is very relevant here:

‘You cannot manage what you cannot control.
You cannot control what you cannot measure.
You cannot measure what you cannot define.’

The root of the problem here, points to how well the goals & objectives are defined, including SLAs & KPIs by the organization. If the real impact is not captured, then even a service improvement initiative would fail to address the actual issue.

Continual improvement has existed for some time now; unfortunately, this concept has not moved beyond the discussion stage. Generally, this is run as a project, during a critical business impact and another project, to address yet another critical impact. From a holistic approach, CSI will be only be proven successful in terms of Return on Investment (ROI) and Value on Investment (VOI) only when and if, this is embedded into the organizational culture, as well as considered as a routine activity within the organization.

All this revolves around top management commitment and effective participation to transform this into proactive management of IT Services. We have been witnessing enormous IT spending in large organizations, designing and implementing various ITIL processes. However, the focus on continually improving these processes are found wanting; setting up a CSI model definitely comes with a cost, but failing to implement results is a much higher cost, especially if we need to cater to ever changing customer needs. This takes me back to an example I quoted earlier, about addressing a critical business impact every single time as a reactive measure.

How do we correct the situation?

The ITIL Continual Service Improvement approach is shown in the figure below known as CSI Model.

Fig 1: Continual Service Improvement Model – Source: An Introductory overview of ITIL ® V3

The illustration of the CSI model by the Official ITIL publication is shown below:

‘The CSI Model provides a way for an organization to identify and manage appropriate improvements by contrasting their current position and the value they are providing to the business, with their long-term goals and objectives, identifying any gaps that exist. This is done on a continual basis to address changes in business requirements, technology, and to ensure high quality is maintained’

In simple terms, we need to clearly understand ever changing customer/ business needs, set short and long term goals, thereby delivering high quality IT services - eventually adding value to the customer/business every single time.

Quick wins

To make the CSI practise a routine activity, it is recommended, initially, to go for some quick wins, attracting management attention and resulting in a management buy-in, setting up a fully-fledged CSI practise, allocating the necessary funds and resources to manage this.

Quick wins are usually low cost and easy to implement initiatives, resulting in a positive outcome. The service provider will get a better understanding of the efficiency of service delivery and the gaps during this process. I have illustrated some operating areas within the IT Infrastructure that can be improved as a quick win.

¬As a service provider (internal or external), we may deliver a portfolio of services; for a quick win let’s consider the one that needs the most attention. To begin with, the smaller the scope, the bigger the chance of success.

Reporting - ITIL’s CSI publication introduces a 7 step improvement plan. Let’s consider a couple of those steps at this point:

Define what we should measure – this is the performance yard stick, identify all the measurements like SLAs, KPIs, etc. Upon validation, we add or remove metrics as per requirement.

Define what we can measure – how many of these identified metrics can be measured and have reporting capability. In the current practise, the reports may have been generated for a very long time, but it’s crucial to understand if the right ones are being measured. It’s good to approach the customer with an improvement drive, validate the reports and make changes as necessary.

Incident Management – ensure all incidents are reported and recorded, by phone/email and have alerts with the correct categorization and prioritization. This is an area in which organizations assume everything is correct, but by making this more effective, it helps in generating accurate reports. Having access to daily reports of open incidents and following-up on the ones about to breach, adds more value to the service and improves the overall customer satisfaction.

Problem Management – identifying the root cause and implementing a permanent fix is the objective of the problem management process. This is a time consuming activity, as we need to arrive at the root of the issue, eventually, the number of problems starts to grow. To keep this in check, communicate the improvement activity to all the key stakeholders, record incoming escalations and problems that are causing a serious business impact. The problem manager will now follow-up on the new list and constantly update and share the progress with the stakeholders. This builds confidence for the customer, resulting in an improved problem management process; for the service provider, it improves the synergy between the service management and the technical teams.

Continual Service Improvement as a first step to adopt ITIL best practise

ITIL is an IT service management best practise framework that follows ‘an adopt and adapt approach’. There is no hard and fast rule in ITIL to follow a particular order to adopt these processes, but it is extremely important to first identify the services that are under-performing and resulting in fire-fighting situations all the time. If we run through the CSI model and answer the questions, lots of gaps will be visible and then we can work towards adopting an appropriate process.

Another common practise in kick-starting ITIL adoption is by looking at some of the processes customers face, such as service level management, request fulfilment and incident management. Adapting to the incident management process will result in the need to adopt the problem & change management process anyway, as most of the recurring incidents will be due to the failed changes.

Finally, adopting these small steps and reaping the early rewards will result in a need and desire to develop a mature and efficient Continual Service Improvement practise. After all, management commitment and their buy-in is the key to success.

Ullas Jagadish
3gamma India

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