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Continual Service Improvement

Updated: Apr 26

Continual Service Improvement & The Quality Cycle

Before I start this, I know it will be like a college lecture, but stay with me. The quality cycle is well known, so if you aren't aware of it already, you would do well to at least grasp the basics. Also, you can nod sagely in meetings when someone mentions 'Deming's Cycle'.


Deming's Quality Cycle, also known as the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle or the Deming Cycle (named after its creator Dr W. Edwards Deming), is a fundamental framework for continuous improvement in quality management.

The PDCA cycle is a four-stage iterative process that helps identify areas for improvement, implement changes, and monitor their effectiveness. It promotes a culture of continuous learning and adaptation by encouraging teams to review and refine their processes consistently.

The cycle's simplicity makes it applicable to various industries and processes, from manufacturing and engineering to healthcare and... IT service management.

The Four Stages

plan do check act cycle diagram


The first stage involves identifying a problem, setting objectives, and formulating a plan of action. This includes assessing the current state, gathering data, analysing root causes, and developing hypotheses for potential solutions.

Establishing clear goals and measurable objectives in this stage is essential to guide the implementation of changes and evaluate their effectiveness.


The second stage focuses on executing the planned actions. This involves implementing the proposed changes on a small scale, such as a pilot project or a limited production run. By starting small, organisations can minimise potential risks and better understand the impact of the changes before scaling them up.

Communication, collaboration, and training are crucial in this stage to ensure that all stakeholders are engaged and informed.


In the third stage, organisations evaluate the results of the implemented changes by comparing them against the initial objectives. This involves collecting and analysing data, measuring performance, and assessing the outcomes to determine if the changes led to the desired improvements. If the results are positive, organisations can proceed to the next stage; otherwise, they may need to revisit the planning stage and refine their approach.


The final stage involves standardising the successful changes and incorporating them into the organisation's processes. This may include updating documentation, training staff, and implementing necessary controls to maintain improved performance. Additionally, teams should use the insights and learnings from this cycle to identify new areas for improvement and restart the PDCA cycle, fostering a culture of... continuous improvement.

So, it is helpful to remember as a tool to guide you; Plan something, do it, check how it went, and act upon the results. Pretty simple, eh?

ITIL & Continous Service Improvement

I will open the ITIL version 4 book on Continual Service Improvement (CSI) here and explore it just a little as a signpost towards other material and research if you are interested.

The CSI Model

ITIL suggests a seven-step process for continual improvement based on the following model;

The 7 Steps of the CSI

  1. Identify the strategy for improvement - This step involves identifying the overall strategy and objectives for improvement. The strategy should align with the overall business objectives and focus on areas where the most value can be gained.

  2. Define what you will measure - In this step, you identify the metrics that will be used to measure progress towards the improvement objectives. Metrics should be relevant, reliable, and measurable and provide insight into IT services' effectiveness and efficiency.

  3. Gather the data - This step involves collecting data on the current state of IT services and processes. Data can be collected through various sources such as surveys, interviews, observations, and performance metrics.

  4. Process the data - In this step, the data collected is analysed and processed to identify trends, patterns, and areas for improvement. This involves identifying areas where the performance is below expectations and determining the root causes of any issues.

  5. Analyse the information - The information collected and processed is analysed to determine the impact of the identified areas for improvement. The analysis can help determine which areas should be prioritised and the resources required for improvement.

  6. Present and use the information - This step presents the analysis results to stakeholders, including senior management, to gain support and buy-in for the improvement initiatives. The information is also used to develop an improvement plan and prioritise improvement initiatives.

  7. Implement corrective actions - The final step in the ITIL CSI model involves implementing corrective actions to address the identified areas for improvement. The improvement plan should be executed, and progress should be monitored to ensure that the desired outcomes are achieved. This step also includes identifying opportunities for further improvement and repeating the CSI cycle to continue the improvement process.

CSI Register

This is a centralised repository used to track improvement initiatives, record relevant details, and monitor the progress of each initiative. The CSI Register is essential for maintaining visibility and accountability for improvement projects.

It's not dissimilar to an Opportunities For Improvement register in ISO 9001 if you know that.

Ideas For Continual Service Improvement

Defining a continual service improvement framework cannot be explicitly laid out for you. Instead, each help desk or team needs to look at their activities, results and processes and determine what needs to be improved. However, I'll throw a few things at the wall here to see if anything resonates as a concept.

Implement a Continuous Improvement Framework

To provide a structured problem-solving and process optimisation approach, adopt a proven continuous improvements framework, such as the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle or the ITIL Continual Service Improvement model. This will help your team identify, prioritise, and address areas for improvement systematically and efficiently. We've looked at both of these briefly, but having some formalise framework and method of review can be beneficial when you are ready for it.

Encourage a Culture of Learning and Innovation

Foster a culture that values learning, innovation, and experimentation. Encourage team members to share their ideas, insights, and experiences and provide opportunities for them to learn from one another. Regularly conduct training sessions and workshops to ensure your team stays updated with industry trends, tools, and best practices.

By doing so, people will likely bring improvement ideas back into the team from outside. In addition, fresh stimulus regarding the 'art of the possible' and what others are doing can be valuable for fostering improvement.

Empower Your Help Desk Team

Empower your help desk team by giving them the autonomy and authority to make decisions, take ownership of problems, and implement changes within their scope of responsibility. Encourage collaboration, open communication, and the sharing of ideas, and recognise and reward team members for their contributions to continuous improvement efforts.

A previous manager of mine, a tech company CEO, once said to his executive team, "You are more empowered than you think you are. Let me say that again. You are more empowered than you think you are." That resonated with me, and I've carried it forward in my philosophy. We want to enable our teams to feel empowered to improve and take action, not to defer and seek consensus. If they think they've identified an area for improvement, they should feel empowered to act upon it. Act first, and seek forgiveness later!

Capture and Analyse Data

Collect data on your help desk's performance to identify trends, patterns, and areas for improvement. Monitor key metrics such as resolution time, customer satisfaction scores, and first contact resolution rates to gain insights into your team's effectiveness. Use this data to inform your improvement initiatives and track the progress of your team's performance over time.

Implement Regular Process Reviews

Regularly review your help desk processes to ensure they remain efficient, effective, and aligned with your objectives. Involve your help desk team in these reviews to gather their feedback and insights on potential improvements. Use the findings from these reviews to refine your processes and drive further enhancements in your help desk operations.

Leverage Technology

Utilise technology to streamline help desk processes and enhance the customer experience. Implement an IT service management (ITSM) tool that supports automation, knowledge management, and self-service capabilities to increase efficiency and reduce manual tasks. Continuously evaluate new technologies and tools to stay current with industry advancements and identify opportunities for further improvement.


Comparing your help desk's services and processes with industry standards, best practices, or competitors' performance can provide valuable insights for CSI.

Benchmarking can help identify gaps, set realistic targets, and prioritise improvement initiatives. It is important to benchmark against organisations of a similar size and nature as there is little point in comparing yourself to a vast corporate externally facing help desk if you a smaller not-for-profit internally facing one.

There are several places online where you can get benchmarking results;

  • Help Desk Insitute (HDI) and Service Desk Insitute (SDI)

  • Vendor reports & whitepapers

  • Consultancies, such as Gartner, offer benchmarking data as well.

Continual Service Improvement Maturity Model






  • No formal process for service improvement

  • Changes are reactive, not planned or managed

  • No measurement or monitoring of service performance



  • ​Initial establishment of service improvement processes

  • Some measurement of service performance, but not consistently

  • Improvements are sporadic and largely reactive



  • Fully defined service improvement processes

  • Regular measurement and monitoring of service performance

  • Improvement activities are planned and managed, but may not be fully integrated with other processes



  • ​Service improvement process integrated with other IT service management processes

  • Use of advanced analytics for identifying improvement opportunities

  • Regular reviews of service performance and improvement initiatives



  • ​Continual service improvement is a culture, not just a process

  • Use of predictive analytics and automation to drive improvements

  • Continuous measurement and improvement of the CSI process itself

  • Strategic alignment between CSI activities and business objectives


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