One of the questions I most frequently receive when providing ITIL consultancy is: If I follow all the phases of the ITIL lifecycle to deliver an IT service in my environment, it should work perfectly for my organization’s conditions, so why do I need continual improvement?
The question actually makes a lot of sense. If through the Strategy processes we clearly identify the business needs, establish value propositions that are eventually delivered to the Design processes for their schematization and then, in Transition, we build and verify that the service aligns with the business needs, Operations should receive a fully functional service that meets the customer’s requirements. One that should not need any changes to offer timely value to the business. However, this approach fails to recognize an important point that affects businesses: they change over time.
Services, by their nature, are intimately connected to the organization where they are provided. This relationship works in two ways: What happens with the service affects the business; for example, when a service is discontinued without establishing a substitute, the business suffers. On the other hand, what happens with the business affects the service in terms of demand, capacity, funding, etc. will impact the IT service’s performance.
Businesses constantly change over time. They expand, consolidate, internationalize, reduce, and so on. All these changes must be reflected in the IT services offered to the organization. If a company is ready to expand its market, IT must propose modifications to existing services or new services that support the expansion strategy.
However, changes are not always dramatic and revolutionary. When the needs change subtly, the indicators help us verify that the services continue to serve their purpose and guide our improvement efforts where they are most needed.
Service Desk Metrics
We know that all services, processes, and functions must be subject to measurement. The Service Desk is no exception. I would even dare to say that it tends to be one of the functions or areas that is better measured and more controlled in the organization. However, I have noticed that an excess of metrics has also created fatigue and a certain degree of desensitization towards the numbers, to the point where in many organizations, actions are taken merely because they can be taken, but they are not effectively or not at all exploited.
In general terms, we can divide metrics into two main groups: Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and metrics. The difference between them is that KPIs are metrics directly associated with the fulfillment of the mission of my service, process, or function, in this case my Service Desk.
In order to determine the indicators to measure, we must first establish the mission of the Service Desk through the definition of Critical Success Factors (CSFs). CSFs are elements without which a service, strategy, process, or function could not be considered successful. CSFs may vary from one organization to another, even when referring to the same function. For example, one organization may define that the CSF of its Service Desk is to be the sole point of contact between users and IT, while for another, its involvement in early incident resolution is more important. CSFs are expressed in one or two statements, not necessarily in numbers.
Before undertaking any improvement efforts, it’s important that we define what the CSF of our Service Desk is being aware that it could change in the future according to the needs and possibilities of the organization it serves.
For illustrative purposes, we will establish that the CSF of our Service Desk is to be the single point of contact for IT users in our organization.
7-Step Improvement Process
With our CSF established, we have a clear mission for our Service Desk. Next, we need to establish a methodical, consistent, and objective way to set objectives, assess our current position, the measurement method and how we will reach them.
The 7-step improvement process will help us systematize our improvement efforts to enhance our chances of success and allocate our resources effectively.
Step 1: Define what should be measured
In this step, we will define a universe of measurements that should be taken to determine the position of our Service Desk regarding our objective. At this stage, we are not concerned about what metrics are currently obtainable but rather everything that we consider should be measured, without any restrictions. We can view it as a wish list.
Step 2: Define what can be measured
During this step, we will take the list generated in the first step and align it with our current context, which is limited by financial, technical, and human resources. From the universe defined earlier, we will decide which metrics are realistically measurable in terms of effort versus benefit. During this step, we will also distinguish between regular metrics and KPIs according to the defined CSF.
Step 3: Gather data
During this step, we will start collecting relevant information for the metrics defined in the previous step, using various monitoring and control tools. It is important to protect the quality of the data collected and be objective when deciding which information is worth collecting. If the data will not undergo subsequent analysis, it is best not to collect it to stay focused.
Step 4: Process the data
During this step, we will take the data collected in the previous exercise and work on its format according to the type of information we want to generate. Properly distinguishing between general metrics and KPIs becomes crucial at this point.
Step 5: Information analysis
In this step, we will take the data collected earlier and convert it into knowledge through trend analysis and contextualization of information. During this step, we will give meaning to the generated information and start using our experience and expertise to understand it. Normally, information analysis requires more skill than data collection itself.
Step 6: Present and use the information
During this step, we will take the knowledge developed through data collection and information analysis and communicate it clearly and effectively to all stakeholders. At this point, we want to convey the knowledge we have developed to other roles within the organization, making it vital that we know how to communicate it clearly. Additionally, we will use the acquired knowledge to formulate improvement plans that will realign the service with its original purpose.
Step 7: Implement improvement
Once the potential improvement plans are established, it is time to implement them. We know that resources in organizations are always finite, so we must prioritize which plans would bring the greatest benefit to the organization. Once decisions are made, we must undertake the improvement effort to address all areas of opportunity identified during previous analyses.
By following these 7 steps, improvement efforts will be focused where they are most needed, and resources will be used optimally for the organization. Once the 7 steps are completed, we must start again to initiate a new effort to identify areas of opportunity through information analysis and subsequent improvement through a plan.
The Service Improvement Plan (SIP) will be the vehicle that assists us in communicating and guiding our improvement efforts. It is a document where we will include all the details of the identified areas of opportunity as well as the plan to follow, as specific as possible, to address those areas. Finally, it should include the expected results and specific dates for delivering those results.
Continuous improvement lies in realigning processes, services, and functions to the ever-changing needs of the business. The Service Desk is a function that lends itself well to improvement efforts, as its measurement mechanisms are among the most robust and mature in the IT environment.
Improvement efforts can be based on ITIL’s 7-step improvement process, which is based on the Deming Cycle. Once the plan to follow is determined, it is best practice to document it in a Service Improvement Plan (SIP) to focus the efforts of those involved and align the expectations of stakeholders.