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Continual service improvement (CSI) is the fifth and final stage of the service lifecycle and is often considered a key element of service management best practice.
It's pretty obvious why: It makes a lot of sense to constantly check if our services are delivered according to expectations, and to take corrective action if necessary.
The idea of the lifecycle and continual improvement has a long history and was not invented specifically for managing services.
It is modelled upon a well-established management method for continual improvement, known for example as the " Plan-Do-Check-Act" or " PDCA cycle" that was made popular by Edwards Deming (see article in Wikipedia: PDCA).
In the area of service management, a few frameworks were quicker than ITIL to adopt the concept of the service lifecycle.
For instance, COBIT® includes a domain called "Monitoring, evaluating and assessing". And ISO 20000, the leading service management standard, explicitly states that it is based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle.
But ITIL still deserves much credit for popularizing the concept of the lifecycle with the publication of ITIL v3, by organizing the whole guidance around the "ITIL service lifecycle".
Given that CSI is such a vital part of the ITIL service lifecycle, it is surprising that the CSI book is in some respects the weakest part of the five official ITIL publications (at least that is my humble opinion and the view of many other people I know).
In the preface to the CSI book the authors state that "CSI must permeate every stage of the service lifecycle and every process, function, activity, tool, supplier and member of staff" .
The book describes one single process called "The seven-step improvement process", which for the most part is a detailed explanation of the Plan-Do-Check-Act method, and the book also discusses a number of other topics, such as assessment and benchmarking techniques.
That information is all correct and useful, but it's not really focused and readily applicable advice for organizations that want to introduce a CSI process. In particular, we miss a clear explanation of the activities that should be carried out during the service improvement stage.
And what is CSI like in YaSM?
As with the other parts of the service lifecycle, we looked into the major service management frameworks and standards (ITIL, USMBOK™, CMMI-SVC®, COBIT and ISO 20000), established the common ground between these frameworks, and created a streamlined process for the continual improvement of services.
In this process, we hold regular customer meetings and service reviews, and we produce service quality reports on a regular basis to assess if the services are delivered according to expectations - or if the services could be provided in a more economical way.
If corrective action is required, we figure out what precisely can be done to address the issue and start up a service improvement initiative. Such initiatives are typically small projects which are tracked and managed through a simple service improvement plan.
All of this is quite straightforward, and if you would like to learn more about continual service improvement in YaSM, please head over to the YaSM Wiki.
 The Cabinet Office: ITIL® Continual Service Improvement (2011 Edition). - The Stationery Office; London, UK. ISBN 978-0113313082.
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