While continual improvement is important for every part of every IT organization, the lack of continual improvement practices may have the most significant impact on the service desk. The irony is that the service desk is sitting on a gold mine of data that could be used to identify and drive improvement. Here's one time-tested approach.

by Doug Tedder
Date Published January 24, 2024 - Last Updated February 16, 2024

“We just don’t have the time.”

Sadly, this is often the reason IT organizations, and service desks specifically, do not actively use a formal approach to continual improvement. The pressures, stress, and volume of daily work do not seem to allow the time for organizations to reinvest in themselves in the form of continual improvement. Leaders talk about the need for continual improvement, but do not allocate the time or resources for making it happen.

And while continual improvement is important for every part of every IT organization, the lack of continual improvement practices may have the most significant impact on the service desk.

It's well known that the service desk is the primary point of communication between those that consume and those that provide IT products and services. It is the critical interface between the consumer and the IT organization that results in either business success or consumer frustration. It is where the make-or-break “moment of truth” interactions happen numerous times every day with the service desk…yet little to no time is invested in improving those interactions.

As a result, the service desk gets little recognition for all the good things that happen, yet failure and dissatisfaction become amplified. Interactions with the service desk (both from the consumer and from IT peers) are perceived as needless bureaucracy and adding little value. The service desk gets surprised by new demand for incident resolution and service requests due to knowledge not being transferred or shared. Or the service desk, trying to demonstrate its value, produces measures and reports that are meaningless and irrelevant to the organization.

All opportunities for improvement.

The irony is that the service desk is sitting on a gold mine of data. Data that could be used to identify and drive improvement, not only for the service desk itself, but for the IT organization as well. Yet, despite having this gold mine of data, action is rarely taken to use this data to drive continual improvement.

Why Continual Improvement Is Important

A formal approach for continual improvement is important to the success of the modern IT organization. Continual improvement is a key attribute of a learning organization – an organization that welcomes improvement opportunities as learning opportunities.

Continual improvement is a key competitive factor in the digital era. Organizations that recognize the ever-evolving landscape of business, technology, and user and customer experience know that active continual improvement is how to meet these challenges.

Active continual improvement enhances the reputation of every organization. It results in a confident, “can do” attitude across the organization.

There is a methodology that will work for any team, department, or organization, regardless of industry or size. And this approach can be used with any service management methodology. What is this methodology? PDCA.

The PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle is a simple, yet powerfully effective method for continual improvement.... when followed. Sadly, many organizations’ approach to PDCA is just to “do” – ignoring the critical steps of planning, checking, and acting.

What Is PDCA?

What we know today as PDCA has its origins with Dr. Walter Shewhart, an engineer for Bell Telephone Labs in the 1920s. Shewhart pioneered work in process quality control, and the importance of reducing variation in a manufacturing process. He later expanded his research beyond to wider areas in science and statistical inference, which is the process of using scientific reasoning and evidence to make predictions or draw conclusions. This work caught the attention of physicists W. Edwards Deming and Raymond T. Birge. This began a long collaboration between Shewhart and Deming that involved work on productivity during World War II and Deming's championing of Shewhart's ideas in Japan from 1950 onwards. Deming developed some of Shewhart's methodological proposals around scientific inference and named his synthesis the Shewhart cycle, which later became the PDCA cycle.

The PDCA cycle consists of four stages: Plan, Do, Check, and Act.


The Plan stage is just that-developing the plan. While “Plan” may seem trivial, this stage is critical for successful improvement and learning. Key activities of Plan include:

  • Identify issue – What is the challenge?
  • Observe – What is happening with this issue? What is the impact?
  • Identify measures – How can the issue be measured?
  • Identify stakeholders – Who is impacted by the issue? Why do they care?
  • Establish the improvement target – What will success look like?
  • Define and document approach to improving the situation
  • Capture the current state baseline


In the Do stage, the improvement plan is executed, measures identified in the plan are captured, and stakeholders are engaged.


The Check stage is a review of what happened during the Do stage. This is reflection, not inspection – a time to critically think about the results of execution of the plan.

  • What happened? How well did the plan work?
  • Was the desired result or target achieved? If not, why?
  • What went well?
  • What could have been done differently?
  • Are there any new learnings or insights?


The Act stage, in my opinion, is the second-most critical stage of PDCA. “Act” is about maintaining the momentum of continual improvement, through celebrating and publicizing success, embedding improvements, and acting on new learnings that occurred as part of the cycle.

Start Improving Your Service Desk with PDCA

PDCA is designed to be an on-going and iterative activity, not a “one-time-and-done” exercise. Improvement need not be a huge project or initiative; it just needs to happen regularly!

The service desk that does not practice continual improvement is not just sitting still – it's going backwards! By not practicing continual improvement, the service desk loses reputation (“nothing ever changes or gets better”), respect, and relevance. All because it never regularly invested the time to improve.

What can the service desk do to begin using PDCA? The answer is to use PDCA!

  • Plan – What's causing friction or could be better at the service desk? Engage stakeholders, identify success measures, develop a plan for improvement, and capture the baseline.
  • Do – Execute your plan.
  • Check – Reflect on what just happened. Was the improvement achieved? What worked well? What was learned? What can be done differently in the next cycle of improvement?
  • Act – Publicize and celebrate successes as well as learnings. Ensure improvements become embedded and the “new normal” way of working.

PDCA Will Never Go Out of Style

PDCA is a time-tested and proven approach to continual improvement that will never go out of style. In fact, many other methodologies, such as Improvement Kata and DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) can be easily mapped to PDCA.

The benefits of using PDCA extend beyond identifying, making, and sustaining improvements in a methodical way. PDCA is system and methodology-agnostic; it doesn't matter what methodologies or frameworks may be in use within an organization. In addition, regularly utilizing PDCA delivers other benefits. Planning, implementing, and confirming improvements provides a sense of accomplishment for the team. Vital skills, such as critical thinking, team building, collaboration, and communication will be enhanced. Service desk associates develop and increase both their personal knowledge as well as knowledge about the organization. This benefits both the individual and the company, which in turn, enhances the experience with each interaction.

PDCA is a great tool to have in your improvement toolbox!

Tag(s): supportworld, ITSM, service management, continual service improvement, process management, process-improvement, practices and processes


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