Continually Improving Performance – Just like Olympic Athletes

I guess, like me, you’ve been watching the TV coverage of the Olympics. I managed to attend just one live event – the football semi-final at Old Trafford. I’d hoped for a Team GB appearance but, alas, they were knocked out one round earlier.

Football aside, I’m sure you were struck, as was I, by the total dedication, commitment and perseverance of the athletes. They have clearly worked relentlessly at improving their performance – day in, day out striving to be better, faster, or stronger than they were the week before or the month before. And yet, on the day, many of them found even greater reserves to deliver personal best and record-breaking performances.

In the IT service management world we rarely gain plaudits or gold medals for outstanding performance. In our world, outstanding performance simply means that the service we deliver has been delivered reliably; consistently; without drama; without fuss; day in day out. Boring is good!

That doesn’t mean that we haven’t needed to put effort in to deliver first-class services. Like these wonderful athletes, we will have worked hard at continually striving to improve what we do and how we do it.

Lasting improvements come from small, incremental steps – taking care to consolidate the progress made before moving on to the next activity. That way we can be more certain that we won’t slip back into old ways.

However, even greater gains can be achieved if we set about CSI with a purpose. We need to think about transforming what we do, rather than continuing to do the same things just more efficiently.

We should consider the outcomes that are valuable to our customers, and consider how these may have changed over time. We need to look at what markets and customers our organisation is serving, and whether these will continue to be right in the future. This will help us move from the ordinary “doing things right” to the exceptional “doing the right things” – an essential element of a successful Service Strategy.

Many ITIL professionals, I talk to, find it difficult to have a conversation with representatives from the business about ‘what they need’ or ‘how best services should be adapted” to deliver the value and outcomes they need to achieve together.

If we can persuade our customers that we’re working on “doing things right”, and demonstrate a track-record of consistent high-performance, we can use that credibility to open up the conversation and ask the challenging question “are we doing the right things?”

Ask the question. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how fruitful and purposeful the responses are.

Stuart Sawle

The Real Value of SLAs

It’s really quite remarkable just how many organisations struggle to implement Service Level Agreements (SLAs). They’re documents that lie at the very heart of service management. They are absolutely fundamental. So why is it so difficult? Why are they not given the priority they deserve?

Well, first of all, they are an agreement and that means there has to be a dialogue!

To draw up an agreement between the internal customer and the internal service provider one has to agree and understand what the service is intended to achieve; what business objectives does it help deliver; and to ensure that specific and measurable service targets are agreed, measured and reported on.

A good starting point would be to begin the dialogue with a review of the current de-facto service levels and to gather the information about the business drivers so that the customer is reassured that these are fully taken on-board as discussions continue and the SLA takes shape.

Second of all, the SLAs have to add value to all parties and in particular to the IT service provider. I have seen many instances where SLAs have been written and now gather dust in a filing cabinet unlikely ever to see the light of day again.

Examples of “adding value” might include the ability to respond to interrogations such as: which SLAs are scheduled for review? Which customers are dependent on this SLA? If I have to change an operational level agreement (OLA) or an under-pinning contract, which SLAs will be affected?

In my experience, the greatest value of all that comes from the SLA dialogue is the increased understanding of the importance of the Service Design stage of the service lifecycle. Service reviews often reveal weaknesses in the current service brought about by poor design. The lessons learned here not only lead to improvements in the particular service under review but can lead to improvements in the service design process to the benefit of all future services.

There are few tools out there to support SLA management. We have such a tool (Smart-SLA) in our bag that helps and plans to extend its functionality to include OLAs and under-pinning contracts. Details can be found on our website: