Deconstructing ITSM

19 February 2009

Start ITIL with Continual Service Improvement

People often ask which part of ITIL companies should implement first. They very often get the (correct) answer that you don’t implement ITIL, you use it to improve your service management. But that’s really just rephrasing the question: which part of ITIL should companies use first to improve their service management?

There’s no one correct answer to this. It depends on what’s hurting you now, and where efforts will give the greatest return. In practice, a lot of companies start with customer-facing processes such as request handling and incident management (and this can work well) or service level agreements (not so much). Getting control of changes is another area of high potential return, as badly controlled changes in turn cause many of the incidents and service level failures that customers experience.

But look at the words I’ve used: “to improve your service management”; “what’s hurting you now”.

I’d like to suggest that companies embarking on an ITIL journey – and companies regrouping their ITIL-based efforts – look first at Continual Service Improvement (both the ITIL v3 book, specifically the seven step improvement process, and the concept in general) and establish a basic improvement process.

  • By starting with a philosophy of identifying issues against a defined desired state, we can focus our efforts on the most valuable areas.
  • By starting with a purpose of addressing the overall value of the IT services and the effectiveness of the ITSM capability for business needs, we can support alignment and integration with the business – or perhaps, avoid putting effort into areas that reduce integration!
  • By starting with an expectation of measurement we promote an expectation of tangible results. (It’s reasonable if there is not much actual measurement initially; measurement requires planning and costs money.)

Measure now, gather data now, analyse now, begin reviews of lessons learned now, make incremental improvements now. Don’t wait! Start improving now!

– Continual Service Improvement, OGC, p24. The diagram on that page is good too.

It doesn’t need to be the full 7-Step Improvement Process (section 4.1), especially if “measurements” are initially done just via customer and internal meetings. But you should cater for all steps of the CSI Model (section 2.4, figure 2.3) – from vision, through assessments, targets, plans and implementation, measurement and keeping the momentum going.

Furthermore, don’t view the 7-Step Improvement Process and the CSI Model as cycles where you only do one of the steps at a time. There could be hundreds of issues identified from discussions, from automated service measurements, from process workflow tools, etc. These cycles do not mean that you pick one or a few issues, and take them through the cycle only to get to the next issue a few months later. Instead, view it as a production line on which many issues may be at different stages – of visioning, assessing, planning, and so on.

The list of identified issues can be seen as a statement of needs or (when qualified) requirements, functioning very much as a backlog in various Agile Software Development methods and so facilitating Agile Service Management. The issues can be prioritised jointly with customers, not by guesswork inside IT – another valuable principle from Agile methods.

Given measurement of where we are now, definition of where we want to be, and integrated planning, the list or log of issues provides a powerful means of seeing where ITIL can best be used first to improve service management, and maintaining focus and control throughout subsequent improvements.



  1. On the subject of making continual improvement a part of your culture, Glenn Whitfield at has recently posted Process Improvement – Been there, done that. Have you Really?.

    A couple of choice clips:
    “To get the full impact, it must be a continuous process. You can never think you are done improving.”

    “So how do you know you truly have a continuous improvement program? – When you stop calling it a continuous improvement program.”

    But a vital consideration is this:
    “What worries me is the “we don’t have that problem” attitude. I have dealt with his organization. He DOES have that problem. He just can’t see it.”
    No continual improvement programme is going to work if leaders are not prepared or not able to see the issues that need improving.

    Comment by Joe Pearson — 26 February 2009 @ 16:48 | Reply

  2. Excellent post Joe – and, Glenn’s website/blog is a gem too! Thanks.

    Comment by Mike Tarrani — 8 March 2009 @ 21:11 | Reply

  3. Hi Joe,

    Your post has been quite valuable to me …it is true and I have experienced on numerous engagements that the starting ITIL processes for organisations to improve their service management differs and is dependent on their pain points, objectives they want to achieve, etc…that is why IT Service Management consultants generally start with an Assessment-which is really based on / a variant of the 7-Step Improvement Process.

    Comment by Elias Moloisane — 15 July 2010 @ 11:50 | Reply

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