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5 Tips to Help Prioritize Your CSI Improvements

By | April 4, 2017 in ITSM

Prioritize Your CSI Improvements
I have often said that, in our rapidly changing business and technical environment, continual service improvement (CSI) is the most important service management process. If you don’t keep improving what you do, then you don’t just stay still, you gradually fall behind. This happens because:

  • Your competitors keep improving, which causes customer expectations to keep rising even if you don’t improve.
  • Your customers’ needs evolve, hence delivering what they used to need no longer delivers the value they’re looking for; to keep up you have to deliver what they need now.

There are many well-publicized examples of organizations that failed to adapt to a changing environment and so went out of business.  Here are some ideas of how your IT staff can contribute to help ensure your company doesn’t join them.

Identify Your Improvement Opportunities

Before you can prioritize improvements, you need to identify what improvements you could make. It’s surprisingly easy. Create a CSI register for logging and tracking improvement suggestions, and then:

  • Ask IT staff what improvements are needed. The people who do the work always know what’s problematic, and what needs to be improved. When I work with IT organizations, I always ask people what needs to be improved and they invariably give me a long and accurate list.
  • Ask customers what improvements are needed. Do you really know how your customers experience your services? Do you know what they love and what they’d love you to do better? This is even more important than asking the people who do the work. Every organization should ask their customers what they like about the services they receive, what they want more of, and what they dislike; and they should do this regularly. Ideally you should have business relationship managers to do this, but even if you don’t, someone needs to talk to your customers to find out what they would like to see improved.
  • Review your metrics to identify trends that could cause future issues. If you are measuring and reporting on targets, either internal targets or customer-facing ones, then you can use trends to identify where you need to intervene to ensure that the targets are met. This is much better than waiting until a target is breached before trying to fix the issue.

Make sure that you log and track all the improvement suggestions you identify.

Prioritizing Improvements

When you first create a CSI register, you will almost certainly find you have identified a very large number of things that need to be improved. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, and to be uncertain about where to start. Here are some suggestions to help you prioritize your improvement opportunities and feel confident that you are starting with the right things.

1. Limit Work in Progress (WIP)

The first thing to think about is how much capacity you have for making improvements. There’s no point in starting work on 20 different improvements, and then running out of time, money, or other resources so that nothing gets finished. Assess how much improvement work is realistic, given your circumstances, and help yourself succeed by making sure you don’t start too much.

If your team uses a Kanban board, showing all the work you have outstanding and how much work you currently have in progress, then it’s easy to add the improvement opportunities to your board and use this to help you manage WIP. In any case, decide how much improvement work you can do, and don’t take on more than you can finish.

You can read more about Kanban boards in my blog Using Kanban boards to support IT operations.

2. Improve in Short Sprints

If you need an improvement that will take a long time to complete, think about how you could break it down into smaller steps, while making sure that each increment delivers real value. I have seen IT organizations start improvement projects that are intended to replace many tools and processes, but won’t deliver any value for the first 12 months. This is never appropriate. If you make use of some Agile ideas to help you plan, you can always find ways to create value in short sprints. Aim to complete each sprint in less than four weeks, so that everyone can see real improvements and you can keep the continual improvement momentum going.

You can read more thoughts on this topic in my blog Major ITSM Improvements Should Start with Small Steps.

3. Focus on Value for End Customers

Once you have identified several possible sprints, and you know your capacity for delivering them, you need to pick a small number to start on. I suggest that you evaluate each possible improvement in terms of how much value it will create for end customers. Since everything you do is ultimately funded by end customers of the business you work for, this will give you the clearest possible indication of which improvements to work on first. Creating better value for the end customers who keep you in business is always going to be important.

4. Look for Zero-Cost Improvements

I have sometimes worked with organizations that tell me they can’t do continual improvement because there is no money, or time, for making improvements. For these organizations, I always recommend that they focus on zero-cost improvements. There are always improvements you can make that have no significant cost, and use very little time. By starting with these zero-cost improvements you can begin to establish a culture of continual improvement, particularly if your zero-cost improvements free up some resources that could be used to start on other improvements (see next tip).

5. Free Up Resources for Future Improvements

Some improvements can result in a long term reduction in the number of people or other resources you need, which can in turn enable you to carry out further improvements. For example, if you start doing problem management, you may identify a few frequently recurring incidents and permanently fix them. This could free up service desk personnel who can be assigned to do some more problem management work. Eventually a ‘virtuous cycle’ like this can result in enormous improvement in customer experience for a very small investment.


If you’ve been putting off continual improvement because you don’t have enough resources, then maybe you should think again. You can start improving with very little effort and the impact can be enormous. The best time to start is right now!

Follow the 5 tips in this blog to ensure you are focusing on the improvements that will create the most value, in the shortest time, for the lowest cost.

Learn how SysAid helps with CSI


Stuart Rance

About Stuart Rance

Stuart is an ITSM and security consultant, working with clients all round the world. He is one of the authors of ITIL 4, as well as an author of ITIL Practitioner, ITIL Service Transition, and Resilia: Cyber Resilience Best Practice. He is also a trainer, teaching standard and custom courses in ITSM and information security management, and an examiner helping to create ITIL and other exams. Now that his children have all left home, he has plenty of time on his hands for contributing to our blog - lucky us!

5 thoughts on “5 Tips to Help Prioritize Your CSI Improvements”

  1. Avatar Ravi Velamuri

    Excellent start on CSI…more on reactive side. from the proactive point of view – focus more connects with BRM, Service Transition teams to ensure CSI is hard wired for all new services rolling into production. It is very important to have a dedicated transformation manager (no multi-tasking please).


    1. Stuart Rance Stuart Rance

      You are absolutely right. Business relationship management (BRM) should help you to understand the evolving needs of your customers, and this is a vital input to continual improvement of your service portfolio.

      I’m not sure that I agree about the need for a dedicated transformation manager, this depends on the culture and organization design. Some organizations really need this role, but for others it is not important.


  2. Avatar Balkrishna Shirgaonker

    Good post to read on CSIP. As this phase helps in reducing the cost and increasing the utilization holds a key factor in ITIL roadmap. This phase also creates a loop wherein new strategy, design , transition and service operation starts. Would suggest the subject matter experts in collaboration with Process Managers to Drive this phase.


    1. Stuart Rance Stuart Rance

      CSI depends on having the right culture in place, so that everybody takes responsibility for making improvements to things in their span of control. Senior management have a role to play, but so does the most junior of service desk staff. Every process owner needs to make sure that their process improves and every technology expert needs to understand how they can help to improve services too.


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