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How to Continually Improve Your Service Portfolio – Even If You Don’t Have One!

By | September 5, 2017 in ITIL

Every IT organization has a service portfolio, even if they don’t think of their services in this way. Making improvements to your service portfolio is essential if you want to deliver services that help your customers achieve their goals.

Service Portfolio

When I sat down to write about how to apply continual improvement to a service portfolio, I realized that some IT organizations might believe that this blog is of no relevance to them, because they don’t have a service portfolio. But the fact is that every IT organization has a service portfolio, and this blog is especially relevant for those who have not yet grasped this.

What Is a Service Portfolio? And What Makes Me Certain that You’ve Got One?

ITIL, the world’s leading best practice framework for IT service management, says that a service portfolio is “The complete set of services that is managed by a service provider…”

A moment’s thought is enough to tell us that every IT organization has some services that they manage even if they don’t think of this as a service portfolio. If you deliver services of any kind to anybody then those services are your service portfolio. Even if you haven’t written them down as a list, and even if you don’t charge for them, you must have some idea of what you are supposed to be delivering. It is this set of services that I am writing about.

If you don’t yet think about the set of services you offer in this way then your first opportunity for improvement is to start! Think about the services you offer, and begin gathering the information you need to improve the way you manage them. This simple shift in perspective is the first step towards developing a formal service portfolio.

Isn’t Continual Service Improvement Just for Processes?

There is a common myth that continual service improvement is about improving processes, so you can be more efficient and effective. Organizations that take this approach are often very good at doing what they do, even when the things they do are completely wrong! Improvement of processes is just one tiny part of continual service improvement. You also need to improve:

  • Relevance and alignment of your services to the people who use and pay for them
  • Quality of the end-to-end services that you deliver
  • Skills, knowledge, and understanding of your staff
  • Relationships and communication with customers, users, and suppliers
  • Metrics and measurement that you use to understand all the above
  • AND probably many more things that I have forgotten to list here!

If you’ve only ever thought of continual improvement in relation to processes, then why not take some time to think about the things in this list, and see if you can identify other improvement opportunities.

Why Should You Improve Your Service Portfolio?

One of the areas for improvement that I listed above was:

  • Relevance and alignment of your services to the people who use and pay for them

If you haven’t focused on this in the past, then it’s possible that you’re doing a really great job of providing the wrong services, to the wrong people, for the wrong reasons. One of the best ways to ensure that you’re not guilty of doing this is to ask yourself how you can improve your service portfolio.

Here are some ideas about how you can set about doing this.

1. Document Your Services as a Service Portfolio

The first step to take is to document what services you provide, and who you provide them to. It should be fairly easy to create a basic list, so this can be your starting point. But what a service portfolio is good for is helping you to consider your services in terms of what they cost, and what value they deliver. So, the next thing to do is add any information you have that will help people to understand these things. In the early stages, your service portfolio could be quite informal, maybe at first it will just be a series of your best guesses, but once you have something written down you’ll be in a position to use the information to help you think about the next improvements you might put in place.

Here is an example of part of a service portfolio.

Service Name Status Service Owner Annual Cost Brief Description
email Live Gordon Green Email sending, delivery and storage for all staff;
Calendar management; room booking, etc.
file and print Live Polly Pink Ability to store, retrieve and print documents.
Includes backup and on demand restore of files.
Provision of office printers and supplies.
personal computer Live Anne Amber Provision of standard corporate desktop or laptop PC, with standard software packages

A real service portfolio would have more detailed information, and would include services that are specific to the business, as well as common services like those shown here.

2. Talk to Your Customers

It seems obvious that you should be talking to customers about whether the services you deliver are the ones that they actually need, but sometimes we make assumptions without checking them. Go out and talk to as many customers as you can about how technology helps them to meet their goals. Often the best way to do this is to ask questions about them and their business, rather than about IT. The following questions are taken from The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win, and they are a great way to gain an understanding of what your customers care about.

  • What do you do? What is your exact role?
  • What differentiates a good day from a bad day for you?
  • What are your goals, objectives, and measurements for this year?
  • Which of those measurements are most at risk?

Armed with this understanding of your customers, you can more easily talk to them about how technology supports them, and this will allow you to work with your customers to identify changes to existing services that would help them, or new services that they need.

3. Update Your Service Portfolio, and Document Improvement Opportunities

Use what you learn from your customers to help you work on updating your service portfolio. With better information about the value of your services to your customers and a sharp focus on helping them to meet their goals, you should be in a position to list some potential improvements to services.

Each improvement opportunity that you list should have clear information about how it would benefit your customers. Ideally this should be in financial terms, but at a minimum it should show how it will help customers to meet their goals. At this stage, you should estimate the probable cost of each improvement. You don’t need to go into great detail yet, just get a ball-park estimate that can be used to help filter and prioritize your opportunities.

Eventually this work should enable you to deliver improved services that are closely matched to your customers’ needs.

4. Select the Best Improvement Opportunities…

You now need to work with your customers, and with the people who fund your IT organization, to decide which improvement opportunities to carry forward. Don’t take on too much work, just the amount that you can achieve in a realistic time frame. I think that for most organizations it’s better to use an agile approach to improving a service portfolio, rather than embarking on long-term projects.  But this may depend on both the nature of your IT, and your customers.

5. …and Make the Improvements

Once you have a list of agreed improvements, a clear understanding of how each improvement will benefit your customers, and funding for doing them, you are ready to implement them.

As you make improvements, it’s vital to measure the impact that your improvements have on your customers’ outcomes. Don’t make the mistake of just measuring IT, look at the whole end-to-end value chain that you are part of and record the improvements. Discuss them with your customers so that they gain insight into the way that an improved IT service portfolio contributes to their success. This will help to win their support for further improvements.

6. Keep Going, Continual Improvement Is Never Finished

Even if your services were perfect (which they never are), you would need to keep improving them because, inevitably, the context keeps changing. Customers’ needs change, competitive pressures change, legal and regulatory environments change, risks change, and markets change. Continual improvement of your service portfolio facilitates keeping an eye on all these things and helps you to continually align what you do with what your customers need.


I hope I have persuaded you that every IT organization needs to continually improve their service portfolio, even if they think they don’t have one.

So, if you haven’t been making improvements to your service portfolio then why not get out and talk to some customers about what they do? It could really help you to improve the relevance and alignment of your services to the people who use and pay for them.  And as always, if you have stories to tell about your own service portfolio improvements, I’d love to hear from you!

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!

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