Continual Service Improvement

1Introduction 2Serv. Mgmt. 3Principles 4Process 5Methods 6Organization 7Consideration 8Implementation 9Issues AAppendeces

Continual Service Management Principles


Service improvement must focus on increasing the efficiency, maximizing the effectiveness and optimizing the cost of services and the underlying ITSM processes. The only way to do this is to ensure that improvement opportunities are identified throughout the entire service lifecycle.


Improving service management is to embark upon an organizational change programme. Many organizational change programmes fail to achieve the desired results. Successful ITSM requires understanding the way in which work is done and putting in place a programme of change within the IT organization. This type of change is, by its very nature, prone to difficulties. It involves people and the way they work. People generally do not like to change; the benefits must be explained to everyone to gain their support and to ensure that they break out of old working practices.

Those responsible for managing and steering organizational change should consciously address these softer issues. Using an approach such as John P. Kotter's Eight Steps To Transforming Your Organization, coupled with formalized project management skills and practices, will significantly increase the chance of success. Kotter, Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School investigated more than 100 companies involved in, or having attempted a complex organizational change programme and identified eight main reasons why transformation efforts fail. Organizational change and these eight steps are discussed in detail later in the publication.

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The principle of ownership is fundamental to any improvement strategy. CSI is a best practice and one of the keys to successful implementation is to ensure that a specific manager, a CSI manager, is responsible for ensuring the best practice is adopted and sustained throughout the organization. The CSI manager becomes the CSI owner and chief advocate. The CSI owner is accountable for the success of Continual Service Improvement in the organization. This ownership responsibility extends beyond ensuring the CSI practices are embedded in the organization but also to ensuring there are adequate resources (including people and technology) to support and enable CSI. Also included are ongoing CSI activities such as monitoring, analysing, evaluating trends and reporting as well as project-based service improvement activities - activities that are fundamental to the ITIL framework. Without clear and unambiguous accountability there will be no improvement.

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It is important to identify and differentiate between two basic role groupings within CSI: production vs. project. Production roles focus on CSI as a way of life within an organization. These are permanent roles that deal with ongoing service improvement efforts. Typical roles are CSI manager, service manager, service owner, process owner, operations analyst, measurement analyst, reporting analyst and quality assurance analyst among many others. These roles can range from having responsibility for the day-today operations of the IT infrastructure through to defining strategies, designing and transitioning new or changed services to the production environment. Project roles reflect the more traditional approach to improvement efforts based on formal programmes and projects. Taking a leadership position in the creation and adoption of processes and services, this group includes roles such as executive sponsor, process owners, process design/implementation/re-engineering team members, process adviser and project manager among others.

The following key activities require clearly defined roles and responsibilities:

Key activitiesKey roles
Collect data and analyse trends compared to baselines, targets, SLAs and benchmarks. This would include output from services and service management processesCSI Manager, Service Manager, Service Owner, IT Process Owner
Set targets for improvement in efficiency and cost effectiveness throughout the entire service lifecycleCSI Manager, Service Manager
Set targets for improvements in service quality and resource utilizationCSI Manager, Service Manager, Service Owner, Business Process Owner
Consider new business and security requirementsCSI Manager, Service Manager, Business Process Owner
Consider new external drivers such as regulatory requirementsCSI Manager, Service Manager, Business Process Owner
Create a plan and implement improvementsCSI Manager, Service Manager, Service Owner, Process Owner
Provide a means for staff members to recommend improvement opportunitiesCSI Manager, Service Manager
Measure, report and communicate on service improvement initiativesCSI Manager, Service Manager
Revise policies, processes, procedures and plans where necessaryCSI Manager, Service Manager
Ensure that all approved actions are completed and that they achieve the desired results.CSI Manager, Service Manage, Business Manageer, IT Process owner, Business Process Owner
Table 3.1 Key activities and roles assigned


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There are two major areas within every organization driving improvement: aspects which are external to the organization such as regulation, legislation, competition, external customer requirements, market pressures and economics; and, secondly, aspects which are internal to the organization such as organizational structures, culture, capacity to accept change, existing and projected staffing levels, unions rules, etc. In some cases these aspects may serve to hinder improvement rather than drive it forward. A SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), discussed later in this publication, may be helpful in illuminating significant opportunities for improvement. The strengths and weaknesses focus on the internal aspects of the organization while the opportunities and threats focus on aspects external to the organization.

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Adopting the Service Level Management (SLM) process is a key principle of CSI. While in the past many IT organizations viewed SLM as merely a smattering of isolated agreements around system availability or help desk calls this is no longer true. SLM is no longer optional. Today's business demands that IT be driven by the service model. This service orientation of IT toward the business becomes the foundation for the trusted partnership that IT CSI Manager, Service Manager, Business Manager, IT Process Owner, Business Process Owner must endeavour to create. Today IT is a core enabler of every critical business process. IT can no longer afford to operate as the 'geeks in the basement' but rather must strive to be included in every channel of communication and level of decision making all the way to the boardroom.

SLM involves a number of steps:

Once the IT organization and the business begin working together through Service Level Management, IT management soon realizes that the old definitions of 'successful IT' are beginning to fall by the wayside. A high network availability percentage or great ratings in a customer satisfaction survey are no longer the end goal but merely positive metrics rolling towards the achievement of a service level. IT management understands that with the adoption of Service Level Management a fundamental shift has taken place. The definition of success in IT is now crystal clear. It has become the service level - a set of expectations mutually agreed to by IT and the business. IT is then structured, managed, staffed, funded, and operated to meet or exceed the service levels. The service level rules and everything else is just details. A complete SLM process is defined in the ITIL Service Design publication.

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Figure 3.1 The Deming Cycle
Figure 3.1 The Deming Cycle

W. Edwards Deming is best known for his management philosophy leading to higher quality, increased productivity, and a more competitive position. As part of this philosophy he formulated 14 points of attention for managers. Some of these points are more appropriate to service management than others. For quality improvement he proposed the Deming Cycle or Circle. This cycle is particularly applicable in CSI. The four key stages of the cycle are Plan, Do, Check and Act, after which a phase of consolidation prevents the circle from rolling back down the hill. Our goal in using the Deming Cycle is steady, ongoing improvement. It is a fundamental tenet of Continual Service Improvement.

The Deming Cycle is critical at two points in CSI: implementation of CSIs, and for the application of CSI to services and service management processes. At implementation, all four stages of the Deming Cycle are used. With ongoing improvement, CSI draws on the check and act stages to monitor, measure, review and implement initiatives.

The cycle is underpinned by a process-led approach to management where defined processes are in place, the activities are measured for compliance to expected values and outputs are audited to validate and improve the process.

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3.7.1 Baselines
An important beginning point for highlighting improvement is to establish baselines as markers or starting points for later comparison. Baselines are also used to establish an initial data point to determine if a service or process needs to be improved. As a result, it is important that baselines are documented, recognized and accepted throughout the organization. Baselines must be established at each level: strategic goals and objectives, tactical process maturity, and operational metrics and KPIs.

If a baseline is not initially established the first measurement efforts will become the baseline. That is why it is essential to collect data at the outset, even if the integrity of the data is in question. It is better to have data to question than to have no data at all. Figure 3.2 defines the improvement model.

Figure 3.2 Continual Service Improvement model
Figure 3.2 Continual Service Improvement model

3.7.2 Value To Business
Figure 3.3 Why do we measure?
Figure 3.3 Why do we measure?

Basically, there are four reasons to monitor and measure:

The four basic reasons to monitor and measure lead to three key questions: 'Why are we monitoring and measuring?', 'When do we stop?' and 'Is anyone using the data?' To answer these questions, it is important to identify which of the above reasons is driving the measurement effort. Too often, we continue to measure long after the need has passed. Every time you produce a report you should ask: 'Do we still need this?'

3.7.3 The 7-Step Improvement Process
Fundamental to CSI is the concept of measurement. CSI uses the 7-Step Improvement Process shown in Figure 3.4. Which steps support CSI?

It is obvious that all the activities of the improvement process will assist CSI in some way. It is relatively simple to identify what takes places but the difficulty lies in understanding exactly how this will happen. The improvement process spans not only the management organization but the entire service lifecycle. This is a cornerstone of CSI.

Figure 3.4 The 7-Step Improvement Process
Figure 3.4 The 7-Step Improvement Process

  1. Define what you should measure
    At the onset of the service lifecycle, Service Strategy and Service Design should have identified this information. CSI can then start its cycle all over again at 'Where are we now?' This identifies the ideal situation for both the Business and IT.
  2. Define what you can measure
    This activity related to the CSI activities of 'Where do we want to be?' 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 answering the question 'How will we get there?'
  3. Gathering the data
    In order to properly answer the 'Did we get there?' question, data must first be gathered (usually through Service Operations). Data is gathered based on goals and objectives identified. At this point the data is raw and no conclusions are drawn.
  4. Processing the data
    Here the data is processed in alignment with the CSFs and KPIs specified. This means that timeframes are coordinated, unaligned data is rationalized and made consistent, and gaps in 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. Analyzing the data
    Here the data becomes information as it is analysed to identify service gaps, trends and the impact on business. It is the analysing step that is most often overlooked or forgotten in the rush to present data to management.
  6. Presenting and using the information
    Here the answer to 'Did we get there?' is formatted and communicated in whatever way necessary to present to the various stakeholders 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. Implementing 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 anew.
While these seven steps of measurement appear to form a circular set of activities, in fact, they constitute a knowledge spiral (see Figure 3.5). In actual practice, knowledge gathered and wisdom derived from that knowledge at one level of the organization becomes a data input to the next.

People often believe data, information, knowledge and wisdom to be synonymous or at least broadly similar in meaning. This view is incorrect. There is a significant difference between each of the four items. Data is quantitative. Data is defined as numbers, characters, images or other outputs from devices to convert physical quantities into symbols, in a very broad sense. Essentially it can be defined as a collection of facts, whereas information is the result of processing and organizing data in a way that adds to the knowledge of the person receiving it. Raw data is a relative term; data processing commonly occurs by stages, and the 'processed data' from one stage may be considered the 'raw data' of the next. Example: The Service Desk and Incident Management collect data on an average of 12,000 incident tickets per month.

Information is defined as a message received and understood. In terms of data, it can be defined as a collection of facts from which conclusions may be drawn. Information is the result of processing and organizing data in a way that adds to the knowledge of the person receiving it. Data can also be qualitative such as comments in a customer satisfaction survey.

By processing data into information it is possible to know the breakdown of which customers are using the Service Desk and the specific issues that are incidents or Service Requests. Example: Further processing of the data into information shows that 32% of all contacts to the Service Desk are 'How to' questions, and that 18% of all contacts are true incidents with the organization's e-mail system.

Knowledge can be defined as information combined with experience, context, interpretation and reflection. Example: based on the data and information, and an understanding of who uses the service, and their reasons for using the service, the impact to the business can be determined.

Figure 3.5 Knowledge spiral - a gathering activity
Figure 3.5 Knowledge spiral - a gathering activity

Wisdom is defined as the ability to make correct judgements and decisions. It consists of making the best use of available knowledge. Example: knowledge about the customer impact of incidents can lead to identifying improvement opportunities such as training programmes or initiating a SIP for improving the e-mail service.

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Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

Figure 3.6 Knowledge Management leads to better IT decisions
Figure 3.6 Knowledge Management leads to better IT decisions

Knowledge Management plays a key role in CSI. Within each service lifecycle phase, data should be captured to enable knowledge gain and an understanding of what is actually happening, thus enabling wisdom. This is often referred to as the DIKW (Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom) model. See Figure 3.6. All too often an organization will capture the appropriate data but fail to process the data into information, synthesize the information into knowledge and then combine that knowledge with others to bring us wisdom. Wisdom will lead us to better decisions around improvement.

This applies both when looking at the IT services themselves and when drilling down into each individual IT process. Knowledge Management is a mainstay of any improvement process.

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Benchmarking (also known as 'best practice benchmarking' or 'process benchmarking') is a process used in management, particularly strategic management, in which organizations evaluate various aspects of their processes in relation to best practice, usually within their own sector. This then allows organizations to develop plans on how to adopt such best practice, usually with the aim of increasing some aspect of performance. Benchmarking may be a one-time event, but is often treated as a continual process in which organizations continually seek to challenge their practices.

Organizations have a growing need to get a clear view on their own level of quality and performance with regard to their competitors and in the eye of their customers. It isn't sufficient any more to have internal self-assessment reports on the status of IT performance; it is equally important to test and compare it with the view the market has on the performance of the organization. A positive result of this test and comparison can give a competitive edge to the organization in the marketplace and generates trust with its customers. The results of benchmarking and self-assessments lead to identification of gaps in terms of people, process and technology.

A benchmark can be the catalyst to initiating prioritization of where to begin formal process improvement. The results of benchmarking must clearly display the gaps, identify the risks of not closing the gaps, facilitate prioritization of development activities and facilitate communication of this information.

3.9.1 Benchmarking As A Lever
Consider the following 'paradigm blindness':

'The way we do it is the best because this is the way we've always done it.'

Benchmarking is sometimes the only way to open an organization to new methods, ideas and tools to improve their effectiveness. It helps crack through resistance to change by demonstrating other methods of solving problems than the one currently employed, and demonstrating that they are irrefutably better, because they are being used successfully by others.

3.9.2 Benchmarking As A Steering Instrument
Benchmarking is a management technique to improve performance. It is used to compare performance between different organizations - or different units within a single organization - undertaking similar processes. Benchmarking is an ongoing method of measuring and improving products, services and practices against the best that can be identified in any industry anywhere. It has been defined as 'the search for industry best practices which lead to superior performance'.

3.9.3 Benchmarking Categories
Benchmarking is a great tool to identify improvement opportunities as well as to verify the outcome of improvement activities. Organizations can conduct internal or external benchmark studies. Improving service management can be as simple as: 'Are we better today than we were yesterday?' These are incremental improvements.

3.9.4 Benefits
Benchmarking often reveals quick wins - opportunities for improvement that are relatively easy and inexpensive to implement while providing substantial benefits in terms of process effectiveness, cost reduction, or staff synergy. The costs are clearly repaid through the improvements realized when organizations use benchmarking successfully.

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Governance has been around the IT arena for decades. The mainframe had significant controls built around its day-today operations. With the advent of distributed processing in the early 90s, then n-tier processing, the internet, and increasing virtualization, governance and controls simply went out of fashion; just when they were the most desperately needed. With the exposure of high-level corporate fraud in the early years of this century, IT was thrust, without warning, into a completely unfamiliar game with incredibly high stakes. Governance is back with a vengeance. IT is now forced to comply with sweeping legislation and an ever-increasing number of external regulations. External auditors are commonplace in large IT shops. IT can no longer mask their operations behind a veil of secrecy or a cloud of obfuscation but rather they must run an organization which prides itself on its transparency.

Before specifically discussing IT governance, there is a need to understand what governance, in general, is. See Figure 3.7 for a depiction of enterprise governance.

3.10.1 Enterprise Governance
Enterprise governance is an emerging term ... to describe a framework that covers both the corporate governance and the business management aspects of the organization. Achieving a panacea of good corporate governance that is linked strategically with performance metrics will enable companies to focus all their energies on the key drivers that move their business forward.

This is a huge challenge as well as a huge opportunity. Much work has been carried out recently on corporate governance. But the performance aspects of governance have not received so much attention. Enterprise governance considers the whole picture to ensure that strategic goals are aligned and good management is achieved. (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants - CIMA.)

3.10.2 Corporate Governance
Corporate governance is about promoting corporate fairness, transparency and accountability. (J. Wolfensohn, President, World Bank, Financial Times, 21 June 1999.)

The most recent and highly visible example of a renewed emphasis on corporate governance is the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) of 2002 in the United States. Created in the aftermath of fraudulent behaviour by corporate giants, SOX demands corporate fairness mandates complete transparency of transactions and holds executives accountable for any material deficiencies. The accountability provisions in SOX include criminal charges and incarceration for non-compliance.

3.10.3 It Governance
Figure 3.7 Enterprise governance (source: CIMA)
Figure 3.7 Enterprise governance (source: CIMA)

IT governance is the responsibility of the board of directors and executive management. It is an integral part of enterprise governance and consists of the leadership, organizational structures and processes that ensure that the organization's IT sustains and extends the organization's strategies and objectives.R

IT governance touches nearly every area detailed in the figure above. On one hand, IT must now comply with new rules and legislation and continually demonstrate their compliance through successful independent audits by external organizations. On the other hand, IT is increasingly being called upon to do more with less and create additional value while maximizing the use of existing resources.

These increasing pressures dovetail perfectly with the basic premise of ITIL: IT is a service business. Existing internal IT organizations must transform themselves into effective and efficient IT service providers or they will cease to be relevant to the business and, soon after, cease to exist. This continual and unceasing drive toward greater business value with greater internal efficiency is at the heart of CSI.

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At this point a discussion is warranted to increase our understanding of where CSI fits into the larger ITSM landscape. Each of the following frameworks, models, standards and quality systems fully supports the concepts embodied in CSI.

3.11.1 Frameworks
ITIL, created in 1989, provides detailed guidance on the structure, integration and improvement of IT services and processes. It has been updated and revised and is governed by the Office of Government Commerce, UK. It is the most widely adopted set of principles for IT Service Management worldwide.

COBIT (Control OBjectives for Information and related Technology), originally created in 1995 as an information systems audit framework, has matured to become an overall IT management framework. COBIT processes and principles are often used by IT and SOX auditors. COBIT is governed by the IT Governance Institute. PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) is owned and authored by the Project Management Institute (PMI).

The Project Management Body of Knowledge is the sum of knowledge within the profession of project management. As with other professions such as law, medicine and accounting, the body of knowledge rests with the practitioners and academics who apply and advance it. The complete Project Management Body of Knowledge includes proven traditional practices that are widely applied, as well as innovative practices that are emerging in the profession, including published and unpublished material. As a result, the Project Management Body of Knowledge is constantly evolving.R

PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments, v2) is a structured project management method owned by the OGC. Structured project management means managing the project in a logical, organized way following defined steps. A structured project management method is the written description of this logical, organized approach. Individuals can receive certifications verifying their knowledge of each framework. Organizations may be assessed against a framework. In many cases the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) scale is used for these organizational assessments.

3.11.2 Models
CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration): Created by SEI (Software Engineering Institute) at Carnegie Mellon University in 1991. In the beginning CMM was a model for demonstrating the maturity of software development processes in the belief that more mature development processes led to better software. The basic software CMM model has grown and been revised. CMMI is now the de facto standard for measuring the maturity of any process. Organizations can be assessed against the CMMI model using SCAMPI (Standard CMMI Appraisal Method for Process Improvement).

3.11.3 Standards
Standards exist because a widely recognized governing body, in most cases a governing body with worldwide scope, has agreed on a specific set of principles or protocols and published them for everyone to use. Standards are usually set by committees working under various trade and international organizations. Some standards govern technical specifications that profoundly impact our daily lives. Without standards we would be unable to plug in appliances, make phone calls, send faxes, connect computers together, or even buy groceries in most developed countries. Examples of these international technical governing bodies are the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) and the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). Other less technical standards define what activities should be implemented and often add a code of practice to determine what level these activities should achieve. The most prevalent and highly visible international standards body in this area is the ISO (International Standards Organization) which boasts member organizations in every developed country in the world. In the world of ITSM it is the ISO that creates the standards. The ISO operates in Europe in conjunction with the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission), therefore, the correct nomenclature for the international standards is: ISO/IEC xxxxx. This standard number is often followed by the year it was issued. This serves as the version of the standard. The most important standards applying to the world of ITSM are:

An individual can be accredited as an ISO auditor. Organizations can be audited against an ISO standard. If the audit is passed successfully, that organization is 'ISO xxxxx Certified'

3.11.4 Quality Systems
'Six Sigma' was pioneered at Motorola in 1986 and was originally defined as a metric for measuring defects and improving quality, and a methodology to reduce defect levels below six standard deviations or six sigma. In 1995 it was implemented at GE and has since become the most widely recognized and accepted quality system in the world.

From a process perspective the statistical representation of Six Sigma describes quantitatively how a process is performing. To achieve Six Sigma, a process must not produce more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities or, looking at it another way, a process would need to be 99.99966% error-free. A Six Sigma defect is defined as anything outside of customer specifications. A Six Sigma opportunity is then the total quantity of chances for a defect.

The fundamental objective of the Six Sigma methodology is the implementation of a measurement-based strategy that focuses on process improvement and variation reduction through the application of Six Sigma improvement projects. This is accomplished through the use of two Six Sigma sub-methodologies: DMAIC and DMADV. The Six Sigma DMAIC process (define, measure, analyse, improve, control) is an improvement system for existing processes falling below specification and looking for incremental improvement. The Six Sigma DMADV process (define, measure, analyse, design, verify) is an improvement system used to develop new processes or products at Six Sigma quality levels. It can also be employed if a current process requires more than just incremental improvement. Both Six Sigma processes are executed by individuals who are certified as Six Sigma Green Belts and Six Sigma Black Belts, and are overseen by Six Sigma Master Black Belts. The CSI model described in this publication is very close to the DMAIC methodology in Six Sigma.

'Lean manufacturing' or 'lean production' was pioneered by Toyota in the mid-1980s. It is a quality systems built around these five principles:

Which one of these should I choose?
Field experience has shown that while each may be complete unto itself, none provides a total answer for IT management. Indeed, there is a good deal of overlap between them but, for the most part, they are not competitive or exclusive. In fact, many organizations use a combination to more effectively manage and improve IT.

IBM Global Business Services recommends a combination of ITIL, CMMI, Lean and Six Sigma as the best approach to transform organizations. The Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), in conjunction with OGC, created a briefing paper entitled 'Aligning COBIT, ITIL and ISO17799 for Business Benefit'. Other organizations have combined ITIL, CMMI and Six Sigma as their formula for success. Confusion reigns.

Many organizations become paralyzed when faced with this basic decision. After all, no one wants to go down the wrong path. Experience tells us that the best way to break the 'which framework' logjam is the bottom-up approach. While the arguments continue in the conference room, IT management can implement and mature Change Management, Service Desk, Incident Management and Problem Management all the while continue to align with every framework or standard mentioned above and prepare for their corporate governance audit to boot. The decision is not 'Which one should I choose?' but rather 'What should I improve first?'

An effective CSI practice will be integrated within all phases of the service lifecycle. The greatest value to the business and IT will be realized by having a continuous monitoring and feedback loop as the service and ITSM processes move through the service lifecycle. Look for improvement opportunities within Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition as well as Service Operation. It is imperative that the concept of continual improvement be woven into the day-to-day fabric of the organization.

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