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Continuous improvement: the key to improving your processes

Dealing with processes is a very challenging task, not only for IT Service Management but also for any other business area. Improving them, then, is even more complicated. One solution to this is continuous improvement.

This is a well-recognized practice of ITIL – and therefore, of ITSM. However, it is not exclusive to this framework.

In fact, it has been around for a long time. Lean and Kaizen, for example, are management practices that seek to reduce waste and evolve processes.

Moreover, it is worth saying that continuous improvement is a practice that you need to master if you want to be a successful professional in the management area – whether it is IT services, products, or any other segment.

If you quickly search for some IT job vacancies, from governance level to analyst level, you will probably find those that request knowledge in continuous improvement (usually translated as an ITIL certification).

So, stay tuned! In this article, I will tell you everything you need to know about this concept!

Definition of continuous improvement

As I said earlier, continuous improvement is not just about IT. On the contrary, it came from other areas and can be classified as a general management practice.

When we look for its definition, we can resort to its purpose:

“To align the practices and services of the organization with the ever-changing needs of the business, through the identification of opportunities and continuous improvement of services, service components, practices, or any element involved in the efficient and effective management of products and services”.

In other words, the scope of this practice is focused on the development of methods, techniques, and the propagation of a culture of continuous improvement, aligned with the organization’s overall strategy.

It needs to be part of every area of the company, at all levels, from strategic to operational; for valuable services, those involved need to have this improvement in mind.

So, we can say that continuous improvement goes beyond just a practice; it constitutes a series of values and behaviors that the company must face as a responsibility.

What continuous improvement does?

Continuous improvement encourages various activities.

It is part of proposing improvement actions throughout the company, optimizing the time and budget of processes and projects.

This practice also identifies and records possible improvement opportunities, evaluating and prioritizing these opportunities.

If necessary, continuous improvement also builds business cases that help in making decisions regarding improvement actions.

In addition, this concept should be included in the planning and implementation of any process.

Finally, continuous improvement activity monitors, measures, and evaluates results, ensuring the effectiveness of these actions.

These cited activities need to be coordinated to ensure the efficient adoption of this practice.

Examples of continuous improvement practices

Explained what continuous improvement is, we can look at the methodologies applied in this context – this is a subject that I love!

  • Lean IT: This is the IT version of the famous Toyota methodology for waste reduction. The focus is on optimizing the production cycle and delivering something of value to the customer. That is, we define what customers value most in the process and see what can be eliminated from the production of a product to reduce waste and cut costs.
  • Six Sigma: A method that focuses on improving the quality of business processes. Its aim is to avoid variation in processes, ensuring standardization, consistency, and performance. We do this by using some kind of measurement to visualize any deviation in the production line.
  • Total Quality Management (TQM): Total Quality Management is a method that focuses on holding all parties involved accountable in the sense that everyone creates awareness of quality in the processes. Furthermore, the focus is on reducing errors.
  • Deming Cycle (PDCA): An iterative four-step problem-solving technique (Plan-Do-Check-Act) to improve processes. The cycle is also inspired by the continuous evaluation of management practices.

Stages of the model

As the focus of this article is to explain what continuous improvement is for IT services, I will refer to what ITIL defines as a model for this practice.

Therefore, with the full support of the company’s guiding principles, the model works as an iterative approach, dividing the work into manageable portions, with goals that can be achieved incrementally.

The model is actually a step-by-step, an adaptation of the PDCA, which we saw earlier. However, instead of four steps, we have seven, which you can follow to implement any improvement.

So, the seven steps and the activities of each one are:

  • What is the vision? – Translate the company’s objectives and goals to the specific level where the improvement will be applied;
  • Where are we now? – Map and evaluate the current situation comprehensively, and what we include depends on the intended improvement and the context;
  • Where do we want to be? – Define goals for improvement and monitor them through metrics;
  • How do we get there? – Create a plan to address challenges and implement this improvement;
  • Act – Stage where we execute the previously created plan;
  • Did we get there? – Ensure that, at each iteration, the progress and relevance of the initiative are checked and confirmed;
  • How do we maintain momentum? – Stage where we reinforce new work methods and capitalize on successes, if the action has achieved the expected results.

Of course, we are not talking about a closed scope, but a model that will vary with the moment and the type of improvement.

It’s time for you to improve your processes!

You can be sure that continuous improvement is an indispensable practice for a company to evolve. In fact, if we look closely at the stages I mentioned, it is possible to adapt them even for our personal life.

Finally, if you are still not convinced to implement continuous improvement, check out this article with 10 examples of this practice applied in large companies.

I’ll stop here. If you have any questions about how this effective practice works or if you liked this content, don’t hesitate to comment.

See you next time!

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