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Simple tips to build Continous Improvement into your IT Organization

October 20, 2008

Continuous improvement

Having developed an understanding of the IT environment, in terms of the IT services provided to the business and the technologies they depend on, and having put in place the processes to ensure that service delivery expectations are met and trust established, it is important to recognise that ongoing business and technology changes will erode the value of that investment change diminishes the effectiveness of IT.

A process of ongoing audit and review, in line with effective quality management practices, is essential to counter this erosion. In particular, the following should be subjected to regular review:

  1. The core set of IT services and business expectations, and how well those expectations are being met
  2. The effectiveness of operational procedures
  3. The costs of the existing IT environment
  4. The delivery status of IT projects
  5. The skills and capabilities of the IT organisation.

Not only does a review process serve to stave off the descent into chaos, but it also provides the foundation for improvement: to extend the scope of core services, enhance the overall effectiveness of IT, and consequently increase the level of business trust. The audit process should extend to all of those responsible for IT service delivery, including external suppliers and, where core services are their responsibility, the lines of business.

One approach to be very effective, particularly to ensure that the review process is inclusive, is to train IT staff to undertake reviews on each other. Senior IT management must ensure that this is positioned correctly, with an emphasis on collaboration to enhance the business perception of the IT organisation rather than to highlight weaknesses within the IT organisation. When undertaken correctly, such reviews can be brisk affairs, the output consisting of a small set of achievable priorities, together with realistic timescales for action.

While reviews of the individual elements outlined above should be taking place on a quarterly basis, it is likely that, at any particular moment, a review is underway of one or the other IT capability.

Specific Metrics

Measurement techniques are a valuable management tool in any domain. There are a number of metrics that can be derived from the principles outlined above, including the following:

  • The content and scale of the IT environment, in terms of the services delivered to the business and the technology capabilities that enable them
  • Agreed service levels and how well they are being met
  • The processes performed by the IT organisation and how well they are performed
  • The costs of IT service delivery.

Besides being a valuable tool for IT managers to gain visibility into their own domains, by making metrics public, they also inform the conversation between IT and the business.

There are a number of ways that metrics can be made visible. Besides monthly management reports, consideration should be given to reporting service status on the corporate intranet and, in order to broker a conversation, to encouraging suggestions for additional metrics to be published.

Most importantly of all, don’t be tempted to fudge the figures. Measurement is a tool, which is easily blunted if it is treated solely as an exercise in public relations. Equally, reporting of results becomes a motivator: in IT as in sales, people will work harder when a reporting date is being approached, but people will be less likely to perform if it is known or assumed that the figures are massaged in any way.

You should consider a bonus scheme that runs across the IT organisation to maximise the likelihood of ongoing effectiveness. Rewards should be established on the basis of providing a trusted service to the business, including, for example:

  • Achievement of threshold service levels for core services in line with, and preferably in excess of, business expectations
  • Successful resolution of failures which close the gap with business expectations
  • Specific activities which improve service levels, for example decommissioning of legacy equipment
  • Delivery of projects on time and within budget.

Bonuses do not just change behaviour as activities are completed, but also, people become a great deal more diligent in the specification of activities. It is far more likely that the IT organisation will establish realistic expectations with the business in terms of project and service delivery, if they are to be rewarded for their subsequent achievement.

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