As good a place to start as any is: what is continual service improvement (CSI)? Many IT service management (ITSM) professionals, they will know the term from ITIL – the popular ITSM best practice framework – with it being the part of the IT-service lifecycle that looks at the continuous improvement of both IT service delivery and support (it’s the fifth book of the core ITIL publication suite).
And it can relate to the improvement of ITIL processes and other IT operations, the quality of available IT services, the levels performance (including support), or any other aspect of IT service delivery and support.
Examples of Continual Service Improvement Scope
CSI encircles every other stage of the ITIL-framework lifecycle, from strategy to operations. And thus, CSI potentially has a broad scope that can include:
● The overall health of ITSM as a discipline – with CSI acting as a health check for your IT department.
● The continual alignment of the portfolio of offered IT services with both current and future business needs. The business is continually changing, so the IT department needs to be able to flex and adapt in order to provide the best possible levels of service and support.
● The maturity and capability of the organization, management, processes, people, and technology employed in the delivery of IT services.
In short, CSI is the part of ITIL ITSM best practice that helps to ensure that IT services are aligned, and stay aligned, to business needs.
Why is CSI important?
The short answer is: because it’s all about making things better, in a logical, sequential manner.
CSI is also about making (potentially many) small changes, effectively, within the status quo (and day-to-day operations) rather than trying to conduct a big-bang-style change project.
If you’ve ever learned about, and used, the Deming PDCA (plan–do–check–act or plan–do–check–adjust) cycle, then you’ll know that small, bite-sized chunks is often the best way to go with improvement rather than large projects that could lose focus, manpower, and funding. With it much easier to get funding for something small with a quick return on investment (ROI) than, say, requesting millions of dollars to spend on a new product or tool with no clear benefit pathway.
How to Best Stay Focused with CSI
When formalizing CSI within your organization (and it doesn’t have to be limited to ITSM and the IT department), use a simple structure to keep you focused and motivated.
Here are some things to consider in question form:
● What is our vision (for CSI)? For instance, what do we want our overall service to look like?
● Where are we now? Before you start to improve, you’ll need to carry out a baselining exercise so that you’ve a snapshot of what things look like now. It’s tempting to jump straight in to “fix mode” but by taking the time to look at what the current situation looks like (as well as identifying any limitations or blockers) you can get a much better handle on what needs to be improved too. Plus, how will you know how far you’ve come if you don’t take the time to baseline first?
● Where do we want/need to be? In other words, figure out “what good looks like” for your IT department and how to measure it. From this, create some high-level critical success factors (CSFs) so that you can ensure that your CSI efforts stay on track.
● How do we get there? Create a CSI action plan for reaching the next level of maturity, or level of accomplishment, broken down into small achievable targets.
● Did we get there? Constantly refer back to your baseline, CSFs, and supporting metrics. Check that you’re hitting all your CSFs through your monthly CSI activities.
● How do we keep the CSI momentum going? CSI is something that will never end. As existing targets are met, new targets can be added in. So: What do we want to do next? Where/what is the business focusing on now? What do the next round of business requirements/improvements look like?
How Best to Get Started with CSI
If you’re in a large organization, with the ability to have dedicated people in place to fill specific roles, then “resource up.” By having a dedicated CSI Manager – if not a role, then someone with the responsibility for CSI – then you immediately have someone who is accountable for driving CSI and is its chief advocate and cheerleader.
If you’re in a smaller organization, then you may not have a dedicated CSI Manager, but you can still make someone responsible and then start small and build up over time.
Importantly, if you’re not sure what to do first – or if CSI seems daunting – just start with “the little things” and keep going. Just do something to start with, because anything’s better than standing still. With that “something” identified through the canvassing of key business and IT stakeholders – i.e. what will most improve things for people?
As with the above bullet points, formalizing CSI activities is a key step in ensuring that things get done (rather than being lost in the melee of day-to-day operations). And the following tips should be employed in helping you to get started:
- Create a CSI register – a document that records, prioritizes, and tracks your improvement initiatives over time.
- Act on existing feedback – if you already have a customer satisfaction survey then listen to what your business is already telling you.
- Start with the biggest pain points. Is email always slow on Friday afternoons? Does it take forever to log onto the network first thing on a Monday morning? Get proactive. Work with problem management staff (if your IT department has them) or service desk staff to understand what workarounds can be put in place to lessen the impact of current issues and then agree an improvement plan to make things better over time.
- Encourage your teams, partners, and suppliers to participate in CSI – increase focus by building provision for CSI in SLAs, OLAs, and underpinning contracts.
- Use CSFs instead of key performance indicators (KPIs) to demonstrate performance in customer service reviews – and you can have a real conversation about what is and isn’t working rather than arguing over numbers.
- Build white space into your processes to empower your people – while your processes need to be consistent, ensure that they're not too prescriptive and your people are able to innovate “on the job.”
- Share knowledge effectively to help with your improvements – for instance, look to benefit from the “shift-left” principle, empowering those the next technical level down to both drive efficiency and upskill your people.
What do you think about how best to “do” CSI? How do you successfully use CSI in your company?