Take a moment to think about continual improvement (or continual service improvement (CSI) if you’re still using ITIL v3). You could think about the ongoing need, the concepts behind it, or you could just start with the words themselves – continual, improvement, and service for good measure. You don’t need to be Einstein to know that the point of continual improvement is to deliver improvement, so let’s start here.
In my experience, our own preconceptions of what improvement is can limit the scale and scope of what can be delivered through continual (service) improvement. Especially when service providers or third-party suppliers think that they know what the customer, users, and other stakeholders deem to be “better.”
If you’re not with me on this (yet), then please let me explain using one of my favorite things – cake. What could “improvement” mean in the context of cream cakes? Feel free to talk to your screen (and I don’t know about you but I’m now feeling hungry).
We can quickly go through a number of cake attributes:
- The size – but this could be larger for hungry people or smaller for those who are dieting
- The price – with individual pricing for people who only want one or multi-buy offers for those who want several
- The taste – this could be an endless list dependent on, pardon the pun, people’s individual tastes
- Packaging – which could be smarter (or simple to reduce the price), easier to open, less to throw away, or how many cakes can fit in one box.
I could keep going with attributes such as calories, shelf life, visual appeal, ease of eating, availability to buy (i.e. where you can buy it), ingredient sourcing, etc.
Hopefully, my cake improvement list reinforces the point that there will be many ways to please customers. And, importantly, some are contradictory in that they’d please some customers but displease others – don’t even mention ‘carrot cake’ to me!
I know ITIL 4 has dispensed with the S in CSI but for the purpose of this article it’s good to have a context for the continual improvement.
Cakes are products, so I need to use a service-based example that includes cakes. For example, a bakery supplying cakes to supermarkets.
Many of the improvements above still apply to this example because they’re improvements that the supermarkets can pass on. However, there are now also service-based improvements such as:
- Payment term options
- Delivery options
- Bulk discounts and promotions
- Advertising materials
There are of course many more potential improvement opportunities here, but to create a complete and prioritized list there’s a need to know your customers, their needs, and their preferences.
It works for cakes but what about ITSM?
We can run the same exercise for an IT service. For example, an online travel booking system. So, what are the potential improvements?
- From a consumer perspective, improvements include that it’s quicker to book travel, a wider range of travel options, fewer restrictions on bookings, and recommendations of the best travel options.
- From a company finance department’s perspective, improvements include that it’s harder for employees to book travel (for instance, without the right approvals), recommendations of the cheapest travel options, and the categorization of spend for accounting purposes.
- From a company operations perspective, improvements include that software is more stable, easily upgradeable, and resilient.
Other stakeholders that could be impacted by improvements include suppliers, administrators, staff induction trainers, managers who approve travel, etc.
Most of these improvements relate to the service but are delivered by improvements to processes, technology, and the people capabilities that the service employs.
Hopefully, this has made my point – that there’s probably a wider range of possible “improvements” than you can immediately think of when looking through an internally-focused ITSM lens.
There’s a reason I left this one until last – there’s not much to say here. Well other than that “continual” doesn’t mean “continuous” and intermittent improvement is perfectly OK. Because this is how real-life improvement happens – in steps.
ITIL uses the term continual to mean “unending” given that there’s likely no situation where you can do an improvement and then assume that everything is good ad infinitum. Even if something is optimal now, external factors will change that necessitate additional improvements.
What all this wordplay and the cakes mean
Continual (service) improvement relates to:
- Anything that a customer (or any other stakeholder) thinks is an improvement
- Every aspect of your ITSM capabilities, not just delivered services, plus not just the elements that you’re most familiar with
- Doing more improvements over time.
You can also take the “Cake Test” with your organization, where you and your colleagues brainstorm cake improvements. Notice the contradictions in particular, and use the test to identify how you can use your learning to improve your approaches, services, products, and more.
For more help with continual improvement, I recommend that you read Stuart Rance’s blog: The Help You Need to Adopt Continual Service Improvement.