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ITSM implementation in 4 (apparently) Difficult Steps


So many ITSM initiatives are exercises in “fire-aim-ready”. And it is for that very reason that so many ITSM implementations fail to achieve their potential.

With too much focus on implementing a tool and turning on the so-called “out-of-the-box” processes, little thought is given to the business drivers for an ITSM implementation.  Not much time is spent thinking about what business outcomes and value that would be enabled by ITSM.  Providing communication for and training to those impacted by the ITSM implementation?  No worries – people will pick up what they need to know as they use the new tools.

Just feels wrong, doesn’t it?

But there are four steps that dramatically improve chances of success in an ITSM implementation.

What are the four steps?  Plan.  Do.  Check.  Act.

Surprised?  Of course not.  You’ve heard about Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) since the very beginning of your ITSM journey. Good ITSM, at its core, is a continual series of PDCA loops.

Do these four steps well and ITSM at your company is far more likely to be successful.  Ignore or just pay cursory attention to these four steps, and your ITSM implementation will struggle – and likely fail.

Plan. Do. Check. Act.

It’s four steps. But apparently, these four steps are often just too damned difficult.

Really, what is PDCA?

I really don’t understand the struggle with PDCA.  To be more precise, I don’t understand why so many skip doing PDCA.  From my perspective, many just “do” and then “react” (not “act”).  Never mind “plan” or “check”.

PDCA isn’t difficult, which is exactly what makes it so powerful. It’s the four things that every organization should do – before they do anything.  Does it scale?  Absolutely.  Do you need formalized training to leverage PDCA?  Nope, just a little old-fashioned common sense.


This step establishes not only the “how” but also the “why”.  Why is ITSM needed?  Why are the next set of improvements required?  How will it be done?  How will we know if we’re successful?  What is the business benefit?  Who will be affected?  Among the key deliverables of Plan is a capture of the current state (crucial – but often skipped!), development of the business case (including definition of success, critical success factors and key performance indicators), a resource plan, and the implementation plan.   Done well, Plan results in management support, without which, ITSM won’t get out of the starting gate.


Simply put, Do is the execution of what was described and committed as part of Plan.  Build, test and implement the solutions identified during Plan.


A deliberate pause to review the results of Do to confirm achievement of the objectives identified within Plan.  Did the implementation achieve its goals?  What went well and what could have been done differently?  Are stakeholders satisfied with the outcomes?  Were the measures defined in Plan effective?  Are other measures needed?  Were other improvement opportunities discovered as part of Do?


Communicate the results of the implementation to all stakeholders.  Using the information from Check, identify and prioritize the next round of improvements.  Present this information to senior management and key stakeholders and get agreement.

PDCA – it’s just common sense.

PDCA is the “80/20 rule” – with a twist

You’re likely familiar with the Pareto principle, or the “80/20 rule”.  The “80/20 rule” basically says that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. The “80/20 rule” is a common problem management technique.

But here’s how the “80/20 rule” applies to PDCA.    In my experience, 80% of PDCA effort occurs in the Plan and Do stages.  Of that 80%, 80% of the effort is in the Plan stage.

Maybe that’s why so many skip Plan.  They just don’t want to take the time to do what it takes to develop a plan. They don’t make the effort to develop the business cases, or define and agree the meaning of success.  As a result, they (will) spend a lot of (unnecessary) time “doing” and then “re-acting” when things happen that were never planned for.

The work done in Plan and Do ensures meaningful information and measures are available for the Check stage and enables the Act stage.  It allows the facts to be separated from the emotion.  It enables data-driven decision-making.  So, what is the twist on the 80/20 rule with PDCA?  It’s the 20% of the work that happens in Check and Act that is so critical.  Why?

If good ITSM is a continual series of PDCA loops, this means that Check activities are critical for enabling the next cycle of PDCA.  Check tells us what was achieved and to the degree it was achieved.  Check enables communication of success and identification of lessons learned.

Act is just as critical as Check.  Act results in the credibility and sustainability of ITSM.

What PDCA – done right – does for your ITSM implementation

Here are five outcomes from doing PDCA right with your ITSM implementation:

  • Helps ITSM become anti-fragile – As PDCA is applied in increasing frequency within an ITSM environment, the more that ITSM improves its capabilities in meeting business needs.
  • Builds business credibility – PDCA helps ITSM build credibility, by publicizing the plans, actions, and results from each cycle of PDCA.
  • Higher quality – Improved planning and continual improvement are direct byproducts of PDCA, with each iteration delivering better quality across all phases of PDCA.
  • Provides a clear line of sight from plans to actions to results – ITSM implementations often struggle because those involved do not have a sense of how their actions impact results. PDCA solves that issue.
  • Avoid the “one and done” trap – Using PDCA helps drive a culture and mindset of “continual improvement”. This is a circular, not one-way, plan.

Get on the PDCA cycle

How can you get on the PDCA cycle?  Here are three ideas:

  • Map how ITSM supports the mission, vision, goals, and objectives for your organization. By doing so, you’re well on your way to developing a business case, a critical part of Plan.
  • Analyze the current metrics and measures from your current ITSM processes. Look for trends, such as repeating incidents or high percentage of failed change implementations.  Identify actions that should be taken to address these issues.  You’ve just done Check and Act, which in turn provides some of the empirical input you’ll need as part of Plan.
  • Formally capture improvement suggestions in a CSI Register over the next several weeks, then review what’s been captured. Do you see any ‘quick wins’? Use PDCA to develop and implement your improvement plan along with associated measures.  Then present your results to management and other stakeholders, showing how PDCA helped.  This will help you gain support for further iterations of PDCA.
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