Continual Service Improvement: More than Process Improvement
It’s important to be good at what you do. In practice that means striving to get better and better. This is a popular attitude and behaviour in IT service management (ITSM), and there is a range of assessment products to measure ITSM process maturity – all basically built on a concept of comparing what is done in an organization with what is written in best practice frameworks. This is useful but it shouldn’t be your only focus.
There is a very real danger in focusing only on what you do and in just trying to improve that. Unless what you do is perfectly optimized to your customers’ needs and desires, you’re likely to be working your socks off to get better at doing the wrong things 🙁 .
Taking the Best Way Home
It’s not just an ITSM concern; rather it’s something to be recognized in our everyday lives. Driving faster to get to your destination quicker sounds good, but it’s worth checking first to see if there is a shorter way. Equally, it may not be wise to stick to the shortest route if you could get there earlier by using faster routes, even if that means a few more miles have to be driven.
The logic behind picking the best route home is the same as the one we see underpinning best practice initiatives like DevOps and, of course, ITIL’s Continual Service Improvement (CSI). It is all about knowing why you are doing something before committing to how you’ll do it – a mantra set out very well in Simon Sinek’s TED Talk. I highly recommend you watch that.
If you think about it sensibly, then it might be that the real aim is to get home as cheaply as possible and that maybe you shouldn’t be driving at all but sitting on the bus.
Taking the Best ITSM Way
The equivalent of this within our ITSM world is to think only of what you do and, perhaps, how you do it, while (typically) looking only at our ITSM processes and trying to improve them. For many, that means assessing a maturity level for each and every ITSM process and then trying to “improve it” by making it higher.
Well, this actually constitutes something we might call continual process improvement (CPI): looking at processes one at a time and working on making each one better in some way, without feeling the need to link that “better” process through to actual business value. While it is often helpful to an organization, sometimes it can be positively wrong, and often it will not give the best business benefit for the money and effort expended because it can’t answer the “why” question. And without knowing the “why”, we can’t do genuine service improvement, because without being clear on what the purpose of the service is, how can you be sure you are improving it?
In some cases you might find out that you don’t even need to do some of the things you’re doing. More likely you’ll discover some processes that you’re doing better than necessary. There will always be a weakest link in the chain of your service management; if that chain currently delivers acceptable performance then there’s actually no benefit in maintaining the stronger links if you could save money by relaxing performance levels.
Where to Start
Thankfully, we’re seeing more and more advice and guidance about this recently, such as the new ITIL Practitioner materials and training. But it isn’t a new idea – for example, you can find the idea of “getting worse at execution to increase value” explained in a picture at the end of an old IBM white paper, but it’s one that people find hard to remember. We all want to make things better, but before we get to the details we should be sure we understand the context of the service: why it exists, how it used, and the value delivered. None of those things actually depend on how you operate the service – but on what it is used for!
Of course to get service improvement right, you must know about your services. So the first steps to real improvement mean:
- Having an accurate and comprehensive service catalogue
- Establishing meaningful dialogue with your customers and users to know how they actually use things and why. Getting the real truth about this might mean seeing real workers doing real work, not just talking to their managers.
While those steps may look and sound simple, they often take some real effort, but effort well spent for the rewards your organization will reap.
Posted by Joe the IT Guy