Building a CSI culture

Melbourne Skyline (Wikipedia): the 17th National LEADit Conference to be held Wednesday 13 to Friday 15 August 2014.
Melbourne Skyline (Wikipedia): the 17th National LEADit Conference to be held Wednesday 13 to Friday 15 August 2014.

I’ll be delivering a presentation on Continual Service Improvement (CSI) at the LeadIT conference run by itSMF Australia in August. I wanted to talk about CSI because I think it’s one of the biggest opportunities we have to create value for our customers, and most organizations I work with don’t even try to implement it.

The key thing to remember about CSI is that it’s NOT a process, and despite what the ITIL books say it’s not a stage in the service lifecycle either. CSI is a combination of attitudes, behaviour and culture. It’s a belief that we can always do better, and that we should always do better – even if we’re already meeting every commitment we have signed up to.  It’s a constant striving for excellence, it’s a culture that says we can and will do better next time.

The ITIL CSI publication describes lots of great techniques. The best of these are the CSI register, and the CSI approach.

CSI Register

A CSI register is very simple, it’s just a place to record all the improvement suggestions that anyone brings to you, so that you can

  • Remember them, even if you aren’t yet ready to act on the suggestion
  • Prioritize them in terms of cost, benefits and urgency
  • Discuss them with stakeholders and agree which ones you will invest in
  • Manage and track the ones you decide to implement to ensure they deliver what you expect
  • Measure the cost and benefit that you actually create with CSI so you can report this to your customers and encourage further investment in more improvements

A CSI register doesn’t have to be complex, it is typically based on a fairly simple spreadsheet.

I often hear people explain that they don’t need CSI because they can do all of this with their risk management, or change management or quality management process. This is of course true, you could log all of these improvement suggestions as change requests and use the change management process to manage CSI, or log them all on a risk register and use the risk management process. Either of these would probably work to some extent, but there are differences between these things and you are likely to overload the change management or risk management process if you try doing this.

I’ve worked with CSI registers at many customers for more than 10 years, and I can assure you that they are a very low overhead way of helping to manage continual improvement. During my session at LeadIT, I’ll talk about some of my experiences with customers and how we have created success using CSI registers.

The CSI Approach

The CSI approach is a very simple approach to an ITSM improvement project based on six steps. It was first described in the ITIL V2 publication “Planning to Implement Service Management” published in 2002.  It has since been updated and now forms one of the components of ITIL CSI. The six steps are:

  1. What is the vision?  Ensure that you understand the vision and mission, goals and objectives for the improvement project. You need this to ensure that your decision making is consistent and leads to desired outcomes. Otherwise there will be lack of clarity about what you’re trying to achieve, and there will almost certainly be conflict between the different stakeholders.
  2. Where are we now? Understand the current situation. This is needed because CSI is based on improving what you have, not throwing everything away and starting again.
  3. Where do we want to be? Set measureable targets for the improvement project, and short term goals for the first stage of the project. Ideally you will use an agile approach for the whole project in which case this is where you define your first sprint.
  4. How do we get there? This is the bit where you create a detailed plan, invest in the improvement activities, and actually make the improvements
  5. Did we get there? Make the measurements that you defined in step 3 and make sure you achieved your goals.
  6. How do we keep the momentum going? CSI is not a one-off project like activity, it is a constant activity that results in ongoing improvements. This is why an agile approach works so well. As you make each improvement (or complete each sprint) you should verify that you are still working towards the vision, mission, goals and objectives that you set out, and report your successes to both IT and business staff – this will help to ensure support for the next iteration (or the next sprint if you’re using agile).

That’s all there is to it. If you come to my LeadIT presentation in August then I’ll tell you some stories about how my customers have used the CSI approach, what worked, what didn’t, what we learned. I’ll also ask you to share your experiences so maybe I’ll learn something from you too.

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