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Using assessments on an improvement journey

Introduction

High performing service providers continually improve their services, their processes, their people and overall service management capability. Performing assessments to establish a baseline, before making improvements or other changes allows quantified improvements to be compared to the baseline.  

This article highlights the role of assessments, baselines and benchmarks during an improvement journey.

The role of assessments on an improvement journey

A key element in an improvement journey is to understand the vision and business objectives for the organization. These need to be delivered as a single message to everyone to gain their support and to ensure that they understand why there is a need to change from their old working practices to new ones. Success requires a sustained understanding about the way in which work is done, how work will be done and where achievable improvements will deliver benefit.

Performing structured assessments during an organizational change or improvement journey helps people to keep a focus on the right aspects to deliver the business objectives and vision.

There are six steps in the ITIL Continual Service Improvement approach that illustrate how assessments can fit with other improvement activities:

  1. What is the vision? – Understand the business vision and objectives to ensure that the assessment and improvement planning activities focus on the right things  
  2. Where are we now? – Assess the current situation to establish an accurate baseline of the organization’s capability in terms of the business, organization, people, process and technology
  3. Where do we want to be? – Understand and agree on the priorities for improvement. Set measureable targets
  4. How do we get there? Develop the improvement plan with clear targeted milestones  
  5. Did we get there? – Verify that target measurements and metrics are achieved at each milestone, that process compliance is high, and business objectives were met by the level of service
  6. How do we keep the momentum going? – Ensure that the changes are embedded in the organization

Assessments are also carried out throughout the ITIL Service Lifecycle, as follows:  

  • Service strategy – carrying out a strategic assessment which assesses  the service management capability  
  • Service design of a new or changed service –  assessing the current capabilities
  • Service transition – evaluation of changes that impact the organization and services

Establishing a baseline

It is advisable to baseline before and after major changes. The effectiveness of the change can then be judged compared to the status quo before the change was made. Similarly, the cost benefit of the change and the impact on the customer’s perception of the service can be measured.

An assessment should establish an accurate baseline of the organization’s capability in terms of the business, organization, people, process and technology. It can also cover aspects such as the quality of service, workloads, customer satisfaction and cost effectiveness of both the service and service management processes.

Comparing a baseline with other organizations is referred to as benchmarking.

Benchmarking

Benchmarking helps senior managers to understand areas of weakness, risk and what can be done more efficiently. Benchmarking often reveals quick-win opportunities that are easy and low cost to implement. These provide substantial benefits in process effectiveness, cost reduction, or staff synergy.
The benchmark can be made against one or more of four types of information:

  • A baseline set of measures for the same system or department over time
  • Other systems or departments within the same company
  • Direct comparisons with similar organizations
  • Industry standards provided by an external organization.

Comparing the current situation with international standards and best practices is a good starting point for assessing current capability and planning improvement.
It is essential that the differences between a benchmarking group and the service being benchmarked is understood and quantified if the comparison is to provide useful information. Inappropriate comparisons in benchmarking can be misleading.
If a service provider does not have easy access to industry standards, comparisons can still be useful when done across different units within an organization. This is particularly the case for large, widespread organizations. Changes over time are also useful.
Standards such as the ISO/IEC 20000 standard for service management are effective as a benchmark because they can be applied equally to all different types and sizes of service provider.

The bottom line

Many organizations use assessments to baseline and benchmark successfully. They find that the costs are repaid through the benefits realized from acting on the information provided to resolve issues and implement improvement. For example many service providers can improve customer satisfaction and reduce their costs by 20% to 30% within 6 months.  
For further information and more examples see the next parts in this series. They will be published each week over the next few months

About the Author

Shirley Lacy is Managing Director of ConnectSphere. ConnectSphere provides assessment, consulting and training to help service providers to adopt ITIL® best practices and use ISO/IEC 20000. Shirley is UK Principle Expert on the ISO and BSI committees that develop IT, IT service management and process assessment standards.  
If you want to find out more about ConnectSphere’s assessment services, contact ConnectSphere.  

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