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CSI and Agile – What Lessons Can We Learn?

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agileContinual Service Improvement (CSI) is one of the key aims for all service desks. Everyone wants to improve their performance either quickly or over time, and CSI is one of the key areas of the ITIL® framework that can be used to create business value. However, there are other approaches aligned to the ethos of CSI that also look at how to improve the performance of IT. What can service desks learn from them as well?

The most popular approach of recent years has been agile. Originally developed in the software development sector, agile was aimed at breaking the traditional mold of the waterfall development method. The objective was simple – to focus on what the customer wanted and to meet this need even if the requirements change during the project or design/build. During the past couple of years, agile has become a term companies have started to apply across operations.

Agile has grown from its initial manifesto published in 2001. Agile development management approaches like Scrum and Kanban are evolving in response to the greater role that IT plays within businesses. DevOps has developed from its initial launch five years ago, with the aim of bringing IT Operations and developers closer together.

The focus for agile has always been on meeting the expectations that customers have and improving their perception on the flexibility of IT and its ability to deliver what’s need. CSI has the same ultimate aim as well, but teams involved in different parts of the business around these projects have often been at loggerheads. The service desk and IT operations teams have put the emphasis on process improvement, while software teams have lead on functionality.

DevOps aims to bridge this gap by getting both camps to talk, understand and agree each team’s objectives; however, this is very much led by the development side and focuses on the use of automation and iteration to speed up response to business requirements.

The issue of requirements is very much at the heart of things here. For many line of business teams, expressing what they want to achieve seems to come down to “I’ll know it when I see it” rather than specific objectives. Whether it is on the development side or the service desk team, the ability to translate business requests into defined software, functional, procedural or process improvements is essential.

So how can service desk teams look at improving their approach to CSI? I think there are several principles that can be taken from agile, such as the need for collaboration between business team members and IT professionals on a more regular basis, as well as the need for reflection on how to become more effective and adjust behavior accordingly.

The key here is to talk to and collaborate with the business around what it wants to see from IT service and support and where things can be improved. Getting data here is important – it can be quantitative data around how calls are handled and routed, or more qualitative or anecdotal information. This can then be used for planning ahead and translating that information into long-term improvements.

The real key is in the name “agile”. That’s what we all want to be, and if we can retain control and structure whilst achieving this agility, we will be well on the way to becoming a true partner to the business.

This can include very simple things. For example, I once managed a service desk team that was working well but not receiving the recognition (in terms survey scores) I felt the team deserved and which the SLA stats suggested it should be achieving. I decided to proactively ask some key customer stakeholders how our service could be improved. The majority answered with something very straightforward but to them powerful. It was the simple step of ensuring service desk staff gave their name every time they answered a call. This led to an eight per cent improvement in customer satisfaction. The cost to implement this change was zero, but the value to our customer base was huge.

Improving your approach around CSI can involve learning from agile – its emphasis on customer satisfaction provides a great reminder to focus on what results the service team can deliver and how they can be improved. However, the ability to streamline processes so they can deliver greater results is where service desk teams can see the greatest improvement.

ITIL® is a Registered Trade Mark of AXELOS Limited

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