An introduction to ITIL (part 5/5) – Continual service improvement

Hi all ! In this article I’ll finish the résumé I wrote as a preparation for my ITIL Foundation exam.

Catching up

In the previous posts I described 4 stages of  service lifecycle. These stages were

  • Service Strategy –  where service value is modeled
  • Service Design and Service Transition – where the cost of the service is designed, predicted and validated
  • Service Operation – where the plans and designs from previous stages are optimized, executed and measured

In the  ITIL service lifecycle, the continual service improvement comes immediately after the service operation. Just as a reminder, the ITIL service lifecycle comprises the  following stages:

  • Service Strategy
  • Service Design
  • Service Transition
  • Service Operation
  • Continual service improvement (you are here!)

Continual Service Improvement

Purpose & Objectives

The purpose of the continual service improvement(CSI) stage is to align IT services with changing business needs. The main objectives of this stage include :

  • to review and analyse service level achievement
  • to improve cost effectiveness
  • to ensure applicable quality management methods are used

Scope & value to the business

This stage provides guidance not only in the continual alignment of the service portfolio with current and future business needs but also as well as guidance on the continual improvement of all aspects of the IT service.

Key principles

The CSI approach

The picture below depicts the continual cycle of improvement.


This strategy can be followed to improve not only existing services but also new services to be created. It can help on the design of new services, by bringing the knowledge and experiences from improving existing services.

The CSI register

To keep a track of all improvement opportunities, a CSI register should be kept. Each opportunity in the register would be categorized according to its size and time needed to be implemented. In addition, the benefits associated with the implementation of each opportunity would also be registered.

This CSI register would thus allow a prioritization of improvement opportunities and their respective benefits. Typically this register should be created and maintained by the CSI manager as part of a service knowledge management system(SKMS).

The Plan-Do-Check-Act(PDCA) cycle

The deming cyle also referred to as the PDCA cycle is the foundation for quality improvement activities. This cycle is not only part of ITIL but also part of other standards like ISO/IEC 20000.

Each step on this cycle refers to the following activities :


The PDCA is critical in the implementation and application of the CSI services and service management process.

Measurement and metrics

An important starting point for any improvement activity is establishing a baseline. Establishing baselines is an important point to measure the effect of service improvement or service performance plans.

After establishing the appropriate baselines we can use the following three types of metrics to support the CSI process:

  • Technology metrics – Metrics associated with performance and availability.
  • Process metrics These metrics include critical success factors(CSF), knowledge perfomance indicators(KPI) and activity metrics for service management processes.
  • Service metrics – These metrics are a measure of end-to-end service performance.

Metrics are also used in several business models like CMMI, COBIT and Six-Sigma.

CSF and KPI are different concepts. Let’s look at their definition.



KPI can be of two types : qualitative that relate to quality of something or quantitative that relates to size of quantity.

KPI should be chosen carefully. ITIL recommends that only two to five KPI should be defined per CSF.

The chosen KPI must be fit for use and fit for purpose. When choosing/defining the KPI go through some of the questions below and see if you can get a satisfactory answer. If you don’t, than maybe you shouldn’t use the KPI you are analyzing :

  • Is it easy to interpret the KPI  ? Does it help defining a course of action ?
  • Is the KPI stable and not sensitive to external and uncontrollable influences ?
  • What does the KPI tells us about goal achievement ? What is the relation between failing and achieving a goal and failing/achieving a KPI ? 

Service reporting

Service reporting is a set of activities that produce and deliver reports of achievement against service levels. The style, content and frequency of the reports should be agreed with customers. It is important to make the right content available to the right audience.

The service level agreement monitoring chart also known by the SLAM acronym, provides a visual representation of the organization’s ability to meet defined targets over a period of months. A chart  example can be found in the picture below.



The seven-step improvement

The purpose of the seven step improvement process is to define and manage the steps needed to implement improvements. The objectives of the this process include:

  • identification of opportunities for improving services, processes and tools
  • reduce costs
  • identify what needs to be measured, analysed and reported to establish improvement opportunities
  • continually review achievements to make sure they remain aligned with business requirements

The seven steps of the seven-step improvement process and its relationship with the PDCA cycle are depicted in the picture below. Despite the circular representation these set of activities constitute a knowledge spiral, where knowledge and wisdom gathered at one step are passed as inputs to the next step :


To finalize, the inputs and outputs of this process are resumed on the diagram below:


Technology Considerations

When implementing service management processes we must look first at the way current processes work. While IT tools are important assets they are means not an end in themselves. Each organization’s  unique need for management information should be our starting point.

Final thoughts

The continual service improvement stage, marks the end of the “Introduction to ITIL” article series.  It is also a stage which you can and should come back to when implementing ITIL in an organization for the first time. Although there are no quick receipts for adopting ITIL, starting will the 7 steps improvement process can be a way to get things going.


[1] ITIL Home; The Official ITIL Website ;

[2] Engineering And Computing 3 with Self at St. Petersburg College ; Studyblue ;m

[3] International Journal of Operations & Production Management ; Emerald;

[4] ITIL, Foundations Exam Study Notes ; The network guru ;

[5] ITIL Continual Service Improvement ; ITIL SERVICE MANAGEMENT;