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Little ITIL®, Big Results

Step 6 of 10: Talk About improvements

by Alan S. Koch, PMP

Success! At last we have made our IT services better in a way that people will recognize and appreciate!

Step 5 in our "Little ITIL®, Big Results" series was the culmination of all of the foundation laying that went before it. We bought the time to do it; we talked about doing it; we figured out how to measure it; we talked in quantitative terms about it; and then we picked the low-hanging fruit, making things a bit better. Listen to our webinar on this 10-step process!

And Step 6 is what? "Talk"?… Again?

Yes, we must talk about the Improvements we have made. This talking is aimed at ensuring that each improvement we have made (and the benefits that people have enjoyed because of them) are recognized and appreciated. The purpose of this is far more than to get pats on the back. The big purpose is to build process improvement momentum that will allow us to attack those bigger problems that aren’t "low-hanging fruit".

Ensure the Improvement Is Recognized

How could people not notice the improvement?

Most IT Services are like utilities (think electricity). When they work, we tend not to think about them at all. (Then, when the bill arrives, we wonder why they cost so much!) But when they don’t work or are unreliable, they are top of mind for us. If the problem is repeated over the long term, we may become obsessed with it.

In other words, there is a very real danger that the work we have put into making the improvement and the benefits our customers have reaped will be mostly invisible to them unless we point them out. Every win must be advertised both within IT and to our customers. This is no time for false modesty! If we don’t highlight the gains we are making, other people may not notice or remember.

The good news is that we have objective measures. Remember Steps 3 and 4? We figured out how to measure what is important, and we used those metrics to reframe complaints about our service into a quantitative fact-based discussion. Here we will continue that fact-based discussion by contrasting the prior poor performance with the new better performance. We will show, using those same metrics that the things they care about have in fact improved.

Ensure Things Really Are Better

Of course, that assumes that we actually have made things better. The fact that the metrics we were focusing on have improved is good, but it may not be paired with a commiserate change in our customers’ opinions. If they are all smiles and high-fives, then we can breathe a sigh of relief. But if they are still unhappy in some way, we must learn from this, because our first analysis must have been insufficient, resulting in metrics that don’t measure the important things.

Hopefully our stakeholders will agree that we made an improvement, though possibly in something that is less important to them. But in the worst case, we may have had no visible positive impact on them at all, or may have even made things worse. Either way, we will need to cycle back to Steps 2, 3 and 4 to gain a new understanding of the problems that need to be addressed and identify a more appropriate way to measure our performance on those topics.

Adapt to New Improvement Priorities

Whether we got it right or wrong with the improvement we just made, we will also want to engage our stakeholders in revisiting the list of potential improvements we could make and reassessing priorities. Having been through one round of improvements and being in the position of anticipating the next, our stakeholders are likely to have new ideas about improvements. They may want to add things to the list, remove things from the list, or rearrange priorities.

Some of these changes will be due to what they and we have learned so far. But some changes will be due to the fact that the world has continued to turn while we were working on the last improvement. Context may have changed, the organization may have changed, the business environment may be different, and people may have moved on or changed positions.

There are many valid reasons why what had been a perfectly balanced priority list a few months ago may need significant rework now. And doing that rework is critical to ensuring that the next project we work on is as important as the last one was.

Keep the Improvement Momentum Going

Past successes do not guarantee future momentum. We must constantly be adjusting not only our improvement priorities, but also our approach to continuous improvement. We must keep our work aligned with what is important to our organization, and keep getting better at how we do it. This is where talking about the improvements within IT comes into play.

Our first priority is to ensure that each team member that expended effort to make the improvement a success is recognized for that effort. We at least want to make that recognition "public" within IT. But depending on our company culture and situation, we may chose to recognize the contributions in a fully public way, in front of all of the key stakeholders. People will work that much harder when they know their efforts are appreciated!

But again, the talking is not just a matter of back patting. We also want to discuss how the improvement project went and how we can get better at making things better. Yes, continual improvement of our continual improvement efforts is absolutely necessary if we are to maintain momentum toward our goals.

What does momentum look like? It is mainly a continuous cycle of Steps 5 & 6. Make an Improvement, then talk again, then repeat. This is a cycle that we can repeat for many years. And indeed, we should plan to keep this cycle going.

But of course, Step 6 is not the end of our 10-Step process. There is more we can do once we have the basics of this improvement cycle going. And that will be our topic next time as we go beyond merely improving what we do!

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