A Comprehensive Guide of ITIL Principle 3: Iterative Process Improvement with Feedback

ITIL® plays an integral role in IT management and ITSM teams within organizations. As part of ITIL, leaders, managers and team members need to keep the feedback process iterative, constructive, and committed to making continuous service improvements.

ITIL Iterative Process

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So what does iterative mean in this context?  According to TechTarget"In the world of IT and computer programming, the adjective iterative refers to a process where the design of a product or application is improved by repeated review and testing. In programming specifically, iterative refers to a sequence of instructions or code being repeated until a specific end result is achieved."

It's now widely accepted that iterative feedback is essential to the smooth running of IT teams and software development.

ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) and ITSM (Information Technology Service Management) operations rely on iterative process improvements that come from regular, timely, and constructive feedback.

Before we dive into what this means and how IT teams can implement iterative process improvement feedback loops, let's quickly recap on the role of ITIL and its impact on ITSM.

What is ITIL? (brief recap)

ITIL was first created in the 1980s, as part of the UK government and civil services modernization program. ITIL was a framework designed by a UK government agency, known as the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA).

ITIL has evolved considerably over the last few decades. It is becoming a formal training program and benchmark model for IT leaders and professionals, managed by Axelos, a joint venture between the UK government and the outsourcing giant Capita, since 2014. ITIL — now onto version 4 (ITIL 4) — is owned by PeopleCert, a global training, learning, testing, and certification company.

Axelos describes ITIL 4 as a "certification scheme [that] can be adapted to the learning requirements of the individual and the organization. It uses a modular, tiered approach to allow you to develop a comprehensive view of service management or to focus on specific areas of knowledge."

The four principles of ITIL 4 are:

  1. Organizations and People
  2. Information and Technology
  3. Partners and Suppliers
  4. Value Streams and Processes

Within that fourth principle is something that has been integral to ITIL processes and practices since the very beginning: Continual Service Improvement.

Also known as (and a core principle in previous iterations of ITIL), "Iterative Process Improvement with Feedback."

We cover ITIL in more detail in this article: Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL 4) Overview.

In this article, we will look into the importance of iterative processes and feedback for ITIL and ITSM management and IT teams.

How Does ITIL Impact ITSM?

ITIL provides a system of frameworks, training, and a governance model for ITSM teams.

Governance models are crucial for successful IT service implementation. IT operations governance means "processes that ensure the effective and efficient use of IT in enabling an organization to achieve its goals."

"IT demand governance (ITDG--what IT should work on) is the process by which organizations ensure the effective evaluation, selection, prioritization, and funding of competing IT investments; oversee their implementation; and extract (measurable) business benefits", says Gartner.

ITIL training, systems, and processes make a positive contribution to ITSM operations. Consequently, it's useful to know more about certain ITIL principles and methods, such as iterative process improvement with feedback, now bundled into the fourth ITIL dimension: Value Streams and Processes.

Let's dive in . . .

What is ITIL Principle 3: Iterative Process Improvement with Feedback?

ITIL Principle 3, "Iterative Process Improvement with Feedback" (now included in Dimension 4 of ITIL 4) is about ensuring that ITSM teams make complete use of feedback to make iterative improvements.

As we noted in an article, this principle "is one of the most important ITIL guiding principles that is often ignored during a project due to time constraints. Progress should be made gradually and not instantly by considering one suggestion at a time from the stakeholders of the project."

Feedback can come from multiple sources:

  • Customers/end-users (internal or external)
  • Senior managers
  • IT colleagues
  • IT and software vendors
  • Shareholders and other stakeholders
  • Consultants

Before starting to make use of feedback, IT teams and vendors need a process for collecting it and assigning it priority ratings. It doesn't make sense to focus on feedback that isn't important at the expense of something that needs urgent attention. Don't let signals get lost in the noise.

IT teams and leaders can collect feedback in a number of ways:

  • Customer satisfaction and net promoter scores (NPS), surveys and questionnaires
  • A Key Performance Indicator (KPI) metrics dashboard, to ensure help desk/customer service tickets are being handled in-line with service level agreement (SLA) targets
  • Internal and stakeholder feedback, including from senior managers, are usually handled through emails, calls, and meetings
  • Organizations can also collect web and app-based feedback about a service or website through on-site forms for customers and users

Once you have this feedback, the challenge for ITSM teams and vendors is knowing what to do with it and how to implement it. One way to do this is through an iterative feedback process, which we will cover in more detail next.

What is an Iterative Process?

An iterative process is best outlined in popular software-sector models such as Lean, Agile, and numerous others. These models and frameworks were developed to counteract Web 1.0 ways of building software, whereby companies rarely or never spoke with end-users/customers until software was ready for the market. Only to find that they weren't solving problems that customers actually wanted solving, wasting millions of dollars.

Iterative process definition

As Asana says: "The iterative process is the practice of building, refining, and improving a project, product, or initiative. Teams that use the iterative development process create, test, and revise until they're satisfied with the end result. You can think of an iterative process as a trial-and-error methodology that brings your project closer to its end goal."

Iterative processes involve establishing and maintaining a feedback loop with users/customers, or stakeholders who have provided feedback about a product or service.

With that loop established, IT teams and developers can implement process improvements and other changes. And then receive feedback on the work implemented so far. Make more changes. Rinse and repeat, until the project goals are achieved and everyone is happy with the outcomes.

How Does Iterative Feedback Improve IT Processes?

Constructive, productive iterative planning and feedback (more on that below) can make a massive improvement to IT processes.

When IT teams are clear on:

  • What customers/users are happy with or not happy with
  • What processes and systems are causing friction
  • What products or services are reducing KPI, NPS, and SLA scores

. . . then an IT team can make changes following ITIL best practice frameworks, and other methodologies, such as Lean and Agile project management.

What's the Difference Between Productive and Detrimental Feedback?

Productive feedback is information that someone can do something with. Feedback that makes a positive impact on a process, service, product, and a management or leadership strategy.

Productive feedback should be actionable, process-orientated, and not personal. It should encourage necessary and meaningful changes within a business.

On the other hand, detrimental feedback is not constructive, and is often personal. Those receiving it often take it as criticism. For example, if a senior manager says something like, "I just don't like how you do X", without saying why, or ways they feel something can be improved, then it isn't constructive, productive, or likely to generate positive outcomes.

Keeping feedback productive and constructive is essential as a way of contributing to iterative process improvements in IT teams.

How Quickly Should IT Teams Implement Feedback?

Axelos recommends "baby steps" when implementing iterative feedback.

Axelos says: "In an agile world, the rate of change means our business improvements must be fast-paced. However, any approach should be about taking deliberate steps to realize benefits and address business problems that are drivers for the processes in the first place."

Yes, speed is important. However, depending on the size of the problem and what needs doing, speed could be detrimental to the changes you are trying to make. The article goes on to say that, "An iterative approach is a safe bet and doesn't have to run counter to an organization's sense of urgency for everything."

Remember, if everything is urgent and important, then nothing is. How can you truly identify the really important and urgent feedback items from the rest? It's a signals and noise problem again. Make sure you have iterative delivery processes in-place to help IT leaders and managers select feedback that needs actioning urgently, while implementing other projects at a steadier pace.

How Does ITIL's Iterative Feedback Principle Impact ITSM Maturity Models?

Organizations that iterate and improve services based on feedback are more effective, and achieve better outcomes for stakeholders. In order to achieve the sorts of outcomes IT leaders and stakeholders want, you need to mature ITSM processes in-place.

Otherwise, you risk implementing feedback in a way that causes more damage to an IT team and users/customers. Hence the value in knowing where your ITSM team and ITIL processes sit within a maturity framework.

Gartner "suggests that 90% of organizations will invest in an ITSM tool without first factoring in their maturity levels." One of the reasons so many ITSM functions are keen to invest before assessing their maturity level, is that many ITSM experts believe they fall short of satisfying stakeholder expectations for service standards.

Before implementing ITIL-based iterative feedback loops and processes, it's worth knowing where your ITSM sits within a maturity framework. This way, you can improve an IT team's ability to collect, process, and implement feedback using an iterative approach more effectively and efficiently.