Seven Key Ingredients for Successful Continual Improvement

Continual Improvement

The ITIL 4 update changed continual service improvement (CSI) to simply “continual improvement,” and has hopefully raised its profile too. Whether you prefer the term “continual” or “continuous” improvement, they both represent a management approach and ongoing commitment to improving products, services, and supporting operations.

This article explains how to get the most from ITIL‘s continual improvement methods. Starting with a little of its long history.

This article by @Joe_the_IT_Guy explains how to get the most from continual improvement methods. #ITSM #ITIL Click To Tweet

Continuous improvement is far from new

Its lineage spans the Egyptian pyramid builders, Eli Whitney and the cotton gin, Walter Shewhart’s “cycle of learning,” Edward Deming’s programmatic approach, and contemporary lean thinking.

In World War II, the US Government formalized continuous improvement methods to enhance industrial output on a national scale, placing them at the core of the Training Within Industry (TWI) program. As Japan rebuilt itself post-war, TWI formed the basis for the kaizen culture, later popularized by the successes of the Toyota Motor Company, and leading to the lean thinking movement.

Why the history lesson?

Because continuous (or continual) improvement is something that every IT organization should have embedded in its practices.

Continuous (or continual) improvement is something that every IT organization should have embedded in its practices – @Joe_the_IT_Guy #ITSM #ITIL Click To Tweet

The seven key ingredients for continual improvement success

There is an extensive continual improvement toolbox available outside of IT service management (ITSM), and history has identified the most important elements – or ingredients – needed for the successful establishment and operation of a continual improvement program. Here are a few of the most important ones:

From getting leadership commitment to being customer-centric, here @Joe_the_IT_Guy looks at the seven key ingredients to continual improvement success. #ITSM #ITIL Click To Tweet
  1. Get leadership commitment.Even if only at the outset. This is easier when able to express a problem and its impact in terms that resonate with leadership. Ideally, linked to one or more management objectives, especially when also in the interests of customers.
  2. Include cultural transformation.Subtly changing the attitude, behavior, and culture (ABC) of the workforce as part of each change is key. Importantly, not preparing staff for a change, involving them in the reasons for change, or explaining the consequences of change has consistently been found to be the primary cause of failure, lack of acceptance, or unsustainability of change.
  3. Be customer-centric.There’s a need to view everything from the perspective of the customer. “Walk a mile in the shoes” of your customers. Place yourself in their situation. Try to understand what they value, and the true impact of a potential improvement opportunity to them and their interests.
  4. Socialize the continual improvement program within your organization.For example, in the context of ITSM, ensure that the continual improvement program is integrated with service and product development life cycles.
  5. Focus on incremental change. Ensuring that each change (and improvement) is scoped to be as small as possible. The Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) method insists that you change something on a small scale, study the result, and keep or discard the change before changing anything else.
  6. Define the problem.Not everything is a problem but, from the earliest days of continuous improvement, those involved realized that they needed a means of persuading others to help. “Define the problem” is included as part of the first stage of what we now know as the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle. Additionally, personalizing the impact of what might be a common problem better engages all the parties you need to address the problem.
  7. Have checks and balances.These are needed to review the reasoning for the change, the risks and benefits, and to approve the resources required. Post-change, they help to review whether the expected benefits are realized and the costs incurred. For ITSM, this responsibility might sit within an organization’s change enablement capability.

Hopefully, history has provided us with a few helpful lessons for continual improvement, shown in the seven essential ingredients listed above.  If you have others to add, or points to make, then please use the comments section below.

Joe The IT Guy
IT Guy at SysAid Technologies

Joe The IT Guy is a native New Yorker who loves everything connected to IT service management (ITSM). He's a passionate blogger and twitter addict, and is also the resident IT guy at SysAid Technologies.

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