Driving IT operations excellence with continual improvement management


Continual improvement management: A man stands in a server room working on a laptop.

Since the early 2000s, when I was introduced to the Agile Manifesto at a small software company in Ann Arbor, I’ve appreciated how great things can be accomplished through iterative and incremental improvements.

A vision of excellence is important, but the path to realization is a disciplined approach: recognizing areas of improvement, making adjustments, measuring, and repeating the process until you’ve reached a stable and acceptable result.

The IT Service Management (ITSM) processes I oversee—incident, problem, and change—are no different than any other processes you might see in factories and need to be governed with the same mindset. This is called continual improvement management.

Embracing continual improvement

In early 2020, we began to stand up a continual improvement practice for ServiceNow IT. We had built solid processes, but our data showed room for improvement.

Increasing key ITSM metrics—such as mean time to resolve (MTTR) and root cause analysis cycle time—can boost end-user productivity by reducing incidents and employee downtime. Knowing we could do better and doing the work to improve were two different things. We needed a tool to manage these efforts.

We chose ServiceNow Continual Improvement Management (CIM) to give us a single system of action to implement and track process improvements and support rep performance. Our process is straightforward and rigorous: When a key performance indicator (KPI) is out of tolerance with the set target, a CIM manager creates a CIM record. This is typically done in ServiceNow Performance Analytics.

An improvement coordinator meets with the service owner to set an improvement objective (e.g., 50% reduction) and a plan based on a series of CIM tasks. Teams monitor their progress until the metrics are within the agreed-upon tolerance range, usually when the tasks are completed. The CIM record is then closed.

With this approach, we can track ongoing improvements in a single system with a set framework. To gain widespread adoption, we recognize each CIM success in our IT operations meeting and share it with leadership.

Pursuing operational efficiency 

Our first CIM project was to reduce the percentage of problem records that hadn’t been updated in the last 30 days, a leading indicator for problem record completion. More frequent record updates result in more problems to be resolved—a key metric for incident reduction. We set a goal to decrease this metric from 59% to less than 10% within three months. 

Using CIM, service owners were notified to update their records. The CIM team also began regularly checking progress of the issues. After three months, the percentage of problem records not updated in the last 30 days dropped to 4.92%. This signaled significant progress in the frequency of resolving problems.

The number of closed low-priority P3/P4 problems increased from 39 in 2Q20 to 50 in 1Q21, a 31% improvement. This resulted in a decrease of 105 open incidents per month, as the IT support team was able to close old incidents more quickly, focus on new incidents, and lift productivity.

CIM has helped us improve our operational efficiency in several other areas as well: 

  • Single sign-on incident service-level agreement (SLA) breaches dropped by 96% in only two months.
  • Operational level agreement (OLA) attainment increased to more than 95% in three months.
  • Abandoned changes declined by 96% in one month.
  • Incident resolution customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores increased from 90% to 95%.

Continuous Improvement Monitoring (CIM) Results: 96% customer satisfaction, 96% abandoned changes, 54% stagnant problems


Coaching human performance

Increasing CSAT scores by 5 percentage points was the result of using the CIM Coaching plug-in. Coaching drives improvement in human performance within a process by detecting when a step has been incorrectly completed. (An increase of less than 10% may not seem substantial, but in organizations with significant employee/IT interaction, even small increases can bolster productivity and satisfaction.)

For example, the CSAT improvement initiative included a task that created a coaching opportunity. It triggered an incident resolution assessment anytime a support rep received a low CSAT score. Coaching ensued, with the IT support staff providing interactive and real-time training on proper procedures for the support rep. 

Built-in, real-time coaching boosts performance by offering guidance and training at critical moments, resulting in increased satisfaction in future interactions. In the five-month period following the implementation of coaching, the CSAT rose to more than 96%.

Always improving

We attribute our success to several factors: 

  • Stakeholder visibility on the platform helped us understand where changes were needed. 
  • Automation drove action and set clear, measurable goals, along with a plan to achieve them. 
  • CIM provided clear justification for and progress toward improvement for many IT services without the customary face-to-face contact. 

The data captured by Performance Analytics indicators and the creation of coaching assessments were especially useful as our team began working remotely last year. Coaching allowed us to replace in-person mentoring, stop-by-the-desk conversations, and group feedback sessions with CIM so we could improve the skills and knowledge of our IT team. We can also connect process improvements to our business strategy and measure progress against those KPIs. 

We continue to expand our use of CIM and Coaching to enhance our operations. Not only do they help us create a culture that can evolve, but they’re also highly effective at instilling an agile mindset of iterative and incremental process improvements that drive operational excellence. Agile and continual improvement will never go out of style.

Learn how CIM and Coaching improve IT service operations in our Knowledge 2021 customer meetup. Registration is free.

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