I have often said that, in our rapidly changing business and technical environment, continual service improvement (CSI) is the most important service management process. If you don’t keep improving what you do, then you don’t just stay still, you gradually fall behind. This happens because:
There are many well-publicized examples of organizations that failed to adapt to a changing environment and so went out of business. Here are some ideas of how your IT staff can contribute to help ensure your company doesn’t join them.
Before you can prioritize improvements, you need to identify what improvements you could make. It’s surprisingly easy. Create a CSI register for logging and tracking improvement suggestions, and then:
Make sure that you log and track all the improvement suggestions you identify.
When you first create a CSI register, you will almost certainly find you have identified a very large number of things that need to be improved. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, and to be uncertain about where to start. Here are some suggestions to help you prioritize your improvement opportunities and feel confident that you are starting with the right things.
The first thing to think about is how much capacity you have for making improvements. There’s no point in starting work on 20 different improvements, and then running out of time, money, or other resources so that nothing gets finished. Assess how much improvement work is realistic, given your circumstances, and help yourself succeed by making sure you don’t start too much.
If your team uses a Kanban board, showing all the work you have outstanding and how much work you currently have in progress, then it’s easy to add the improvement opportunities to your board and use this to help you manage WIP. In any case, decide how much improvement work you can do, and don’t take on more than you can finish.
You can read more about Kanban boards in my blog Using Kanban boards to support IT operations.
If you need an improvement that will take a long time to complete, think about how you could break it down into smaller steps, while making sure that each increment delivers real value. I have seen IT organizations start improvement projects that are intended to replace many tools and processes, but won’t deliver any value for the first 12 months. This is never appropriate. If you make use of some Agile ideas to help you plan, you can always find ways to create value in short sprints. Aim to complete each sprint in less than four weeks, so that everyone can see real improvements and you can keep the continual improvement momentum going.
You can read more thoughts on this topic in my blog Major ITSM Improvements Should Start with Small Steps.
Once you have identified several possible sprints, and you know your capacity for delivering them, you need to pick a small number to start on. I suggest that you evaluate each possible improvement in terms of how much value it will create for end customers. Since everything you do is ultimately funded by end customers of the business you work for, this will give you the clearest possible indication of which improvements to work on first. Creating better value for the end customers who keep you in business is always going to be important.
I have sometimes worked with organizations that tell me they can’t do continual improvement because there is no money, or time, for making improvements. For these organizations, I always recommend that they focus on zero-cost improvements. There are always improvements you can make that have no significant cost, and use very little time. By starting with these zero-cost improvements you can begin to establish a culture of continual improvement, particularly if your zero-cost improvements free up some resources that could be used to start on other improvements (see next tip).
Some improvements can result in a long term reduction in the number of people or other resources you need, which can in turn enable you to carry out further improvements. For example, if you start doing problem management, you may identify a few frequently recurring incidents and permanently fix them. This could free up service desk personnel who can be assigned to do some more problem management work. Eventually a ‘virtuous cycle’ like this can result in enormous improvement in customer experience for a very small investment.
If you’ve been putting off continual improvement because you don’t have enough resources, then maybe you should think again. You can start improving with very little effort and the impact can be enormous. The best time to start is right now!
Follow the 5 tips in this blog to ensure you are focusing on the improvements that will create the most value, in the shortest time, for the lowest cost.