November 18, 2015
Written by Ilkka Puikkonen

CSI (Continual Service Improvement) is fast becoming one of the most important ITIL® process in today’s IT department.

Learning to analyse your strengths and weaknesses in your services; then quickly identifying what other processes you need to call on to help make improvements is the key to quicker, easier and simpler change. In this article I will explain to you my 5 favourite tips for bringing about better improvements in your IT services and enterprise integrations.



1. Set your objectives and make them stick

Most of us will be guilty of setting ourselves goals, which we never reach. Most of the time this comes down to either creating too many goals, setting our sights too high, or perhaps taking too much of a ‘scatter gun’ approach to choosing which objectives work on.

The key to success when setting and reaching objectives lies within two things; context and focus. Context is probably the most widely misunderstood factor when it comes to the practicalities of work. Managers often forget to, or poorly explain the business context behind a person’s objectives.

It is very hard to feel motivated to achieve something if you cannot easily connect the dots between a piece of work and a real outcome.

So when setting objectives, it is very important to explain to yourself and your colleagues how and why the work they are doing is important.

Focus is the second killer when it comes to both meeting objectives and just general productivity. Many people strive towards simplifying their working day by creating mechanisms for themselves, which allow them to focus on monotasking (or micro tasking). There are many different techniques you can use to improve focus, however the overarching aim is to significantly reduce the amount of distractions and interruptions you have in your work. Ensuring each piece of work you do has a protected amount of time in day to be worked on, and having a clear idea of how that work contributes to goals is the key.


2. Rank changes based on their contribution to your objectives

Take a step back from your change processes. How often do you look at a change - either as you authorise it, or as your push it through to release - and ask yourself “How does this contribute the changes we want to see in our business?”

The famous seminar from Olympic rower Ben Hunt-Davis entitled ‘Will it make the boat go faster’ sums this up best. The story goes; every time Ben’s rowing team struggled to make a decision, they would ask themselves that very question.  If the answer then led towards improving the speed of the boat, the decision was approved. Service and business change management should be treated no differently.

Many teams fall into the trap of prioritising and approving changes based on the wants and needs of the few. We often react too quickly to the loudest voices in the room, and procrastinating over the changes that create the most work and anxiety.

It is vital to challenge your changes and ask whether they ‘make your boat go faster’. In order to understand what that means your business, you must have your objectives in place and ensure they align well to the goals of your customers. When you start questioning your changes like this, it enables you to view and prioritise your improvements in a completely different way.


3. VisualiZe your progress, and take it offline

Toby Moore, AXELOS: "A few years ago, I was working with a team to upgrade multiple office sites to Windows 7. We had some plans, lots of big spreadsheets, and some long conference calls. Work was getting done but mostly by the same 3 people and in very short, sharp bursts of time with big gaps in between.

The first few offices we worked on were smaller offices, and the 3 key people would just visit those offices over a weekend of their choosing to roll out the upgrade. Come Monday morning they would wait with baited breath to see what did and didn’t work. One weekend the 3 guys actually forgot to tell the service desk about the particular upgrade they had been working on, the Monday morning after was certainly one for history books!

My service desk was based in the head office, which was last on the list for the upgrade. The 3 key people took a bit of step back and left the upgrading in the capable hands of the service desk. Though to everyone’s surprise, 3 or 4 weeks passed and not much had happened. I decided to flip our big spreadsheets and weekly email updates plan on its head and try something new. We had two big yellow notice boards in the service desk, which was taken up with Star Wars memes, best practice documents that no-one read and funny photos we had taken of each other. So, one of these boards was sacrificed for the good fo upgrade.

We split the board up into about ten, week-long sprints. Each upgrade we wanted to do was then allocated to a unit within a sprint. Each sprint only contained 8 units, no more, no less and complex migrations were allowed to take up two units. Two people would then be assigned to one sprint, but they would then rotate for the next sprint.

The project suddenly became quite simple, the deadlines were smaller and all the work they needed to do in that short space of time, was on the wall right in front of them, 24 hours a day.

Any changes were discussed and made in real-time and knock-on effects were spotted instantly. As soon as an upgrade was complete, the service desk guys would come back to the wall and put a very satisfying red sticker over the units they had done.


Having work visualised in front of them changed everything. Committing to a piece of work by physically selecting a sprint to add it, then placing a card on the wall to represent it, made the importance of completing that work so much higher. Physical acts of confirmation are in fact psychologically proven to improve the likely hood of that work getting done, think of it like a handshake with yourself!"


4. Celebrate your wins


This is a quick and easy one, but all too often missed. We need to shake of this very ‘IT’ perspective of ‘you are paid to do a job, so just get on with it’. When a change or improvement has either taken a long time to do, required a great demonstration of team work, or delivered something really valuable to a customer… this is worth celebrating. A celebration can be as simple as a trip to the pub, a team lunch, a new gadget for the office or just a round of tea. You just need to recognise what makes your team enjoy their time together and use that as your carrot.

If your end goal is to simplify how you work; all you need to do understand the things that motivate that good work, then just do more of it.

Then of course vice-versa, understand the things that frustrate people into doing bad work, and do less of that!


None of this has to be complex, you just have to want to do it and accept the fact that people need to be motivated. Building a positive environment that provides real-time rewards for delivering genuine benefits to the business, will quickly enable people to see more clearly where new value can be created.


5. Stop starting and start finishing

For every project you complete, how many are left sitting on your (never)-to-do list?
Every IT team has this. Projects are always started with the best intentions, but priorities change, staff leave, people forget and the rest is history… literally.

In order to create more focussed and lean behaviour in your improvement activities, it is important to be more selective in the work you undertake, and then act with far greater conviction for getting that work done.

The first step towards this is to take a step back from all your current ‘work in progress’ and making an honest assessment of what work is actually going get done. Give yourself a time frame such as six months, and then ask yourself and your business, which if these projects would make a real difference if they were completed in that time. Anything else just gets ditched.

Next, using all the techniques laid out in the four points above; prioritise the work, visualise the work and incentivise the work.  Once as a team you start to nail down completing projects more consistently, your confidence in taking on bigger work and knowing you can see it through will grow enormously.


So what’s next for you?

CSI is all about improving not just your services, but your ability to change and develop too. For every goal you set to improve a service, try setting parallel goal alongside it to help the team improve how they work too.

If the two goals can support it each other’s success, then you’re really winning!

If you want to take anything from this piece of writing that you can start using tomorrow morning, it is get your work out of spreadsheets and emails and on to the walls of your office. Once you have these things visualised in a way that is easy to use and share, defining better objectives and methods of improvements becomes simpler than you could ever imagine.


Read this first: A business leaders introduction to next generation enterprise integration


Business Leaders Guide eBook Mockup