The case for a Continual Service Improvement (CSI) manager

The fifth phase of ITIL‘s Service Lifecycle is “Continual Service Improvement” (CSI). As services are selected, built, implemented, and maintained, Continual Service Improvement’s job is to support and improve services, processes, and functions.

However, CSI is often narrowly defined to be metrics management (understanding what a CSF vs a KPI is, for example) and focused incremental process improvement. Through this lens CSI is a nice thing to have but not necessarily a core capability.

As a former CSI manager who thought of CSI very differently, I’m going to make the case to you that CSI is arguably the first process you implement. CSI is all about getting better, so why not name someone as CSI manager and get better at getting better?

CSI’s scope

ITIL says CSI improves three things: services, processes, and functions. So what do each of those terms mean?

  • Services: What users actually use: the reason they want IT.
  • Processes: The methods by which IT delivers service.
  • Functions: How IT is organized: the organizational structure and job descriptions, for example.

In my mind, that’s pretty much everything. CSI’s job is to improve everything.

And in fact I’d argue that in most IT departments CSI’s job is not only to improve but to define. CSI can improve existing processes, for example, but it can also define new processes or identify new needed jobs.

If you had a role (or position!) of CSI manager, what would that role do?

Understand IT good practice

For one, the CSI manager could become your ITIL go-to expert. If they’re in a room and someone complains they never know when users are going to submit requests, the CSI manager can say, “If we want to get better at that, we could work on demand management.”

In my case, this included becoming a certified ITIL v3 Foundations trainer so I could train the rest of the department.

CSI managers can also be aware at a high level of other good practice, such as the PMBOK, BABOK, SFIA, ISO 27002, or COBIT. If someone complains about a data center security audit, the CSI manager could ask whether anyone on staff might be pursuing the CISSP certification (because they would probably have insight on how to improve data center security).

Eventually, the CSI manager can understand general IT management good practice. (We can coach them.)

Define new processes and identify needed functions

As mentioned above, the CSI manager can be the initial process owner for new processes. (This is a tricky spot to be in and requires a good understanding of whether the organization will truly hand off the process once its value has been proven.)

If you’re rolling out a release management process, for example, who helps design that process and test it? Until you’ve got an ongoing release manager role, CSI the “jump-start” the process and then hand it off as the process manager is assigned.

CSI managers can also, as part of improvements, realize that wholly new roles are needed. For example, all the systems administrators might be sharing data center administration duties that could be consolidated into a data center manager. (An added benefit is a more clearly defined zone of control for the data center.)

Understand organizational change and politics

The CSI manager can learn how change works in your department. This includes understanding organizational politics, who is listened to, who needs special attention, and to what extent your culture needs revolutionary vs evolutionary change.

They also can understand any organizational incentives and how they may support (or hinder) improvements. For example, if a department is rewarded on how many times a form is filled out (e.g. in their reviews they are praised for processing 100s of forms), they may not want that form to go away.

They can then advise on how IT management can better foster improvements: anything from ensuring that improvements have sponsors to including a section on improvement in everyone’s performance reviews.

Facilitate and negotiate improvements

Improvements often create new pain. For example, team A may have to do an extra 10 minutes of work a month so that team B saves 10 hours a month. From a broad perspective, this is a slam-dunk win. From team A’s perspective, however, they will have more work. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a relatively impartial third party facilitate these discussions, so that team A doesn’t feel like they’re being picked on by team B.

Also, it takes some skill to understand how to document an improvement on the fly. It’s nice to have someone in the room who will ask the right questions in an objective way and be able to capture the spirit of the room. Here, the role is like a meeting facilitator that also understands IT and your organization.

Keep and share process improvement knowledge

As the CSI manager becomes good at process improvements, they learn about better ways to understand process improvements: A3’s, for example. They learn how to improve and can become the hub for others who want to conduct process improvements.

If you’re really interested in all this, please see also my presentation earlier this year about “Riding the Maturity Model Wave,” which summarizes how to conduct an organizational improvement when it feels like no one else understands the improvement. Much of what I describe about how to conduct the improvement could be the purview of a CSI manager.

PS Metrics

I would be remiss to leave out what ITIL highlights for CSI: understanding and building metrics and connecting a hierarchy of metrics to organizational goals (e.g. chaining critical success factors (CSFs) to key performance indicators (KPIs)).

However, I’m minimizing metrics here for a couple of reasons:

  1. people can become fixated on metrics and metrics development without understanding the actions that may (not) be taken as a result of those metrics, and
  2. metrics are a really big topic/set of topics and need their own posts.

(If you are a big metrics person, please see also the “Information is not knowledge” section of my The New Economics book review.)