You Can T Improve What You Can T Measure

You Can T Improve What You Can T Measure

You can’t improve what you can’t measure:

Using process assessment

to improve service quality

Valérie Betry,Michel Picard, Alain Renault, Omar Valdés


When dealing with services, high quality is often achieved by improving theefficiency of the processes that provide this service. The highest efficiency can be reached by working on the various aspects of process maturity. It is recognized worldwide that process maturity can be achieved by going up the levels of the maturity scale, each level building on the previous one.

Learning from a reference framework’s best practices in a particular domain is an effective way of improving processes but this implementation is not always straightforward. Process assessment is a powerful tool to start such an improvement initiative. An assessment results in a detailed representation of where the current practices in an organization stand compared to the reference process.

Moreover, process assessment is also useful to identify improvement actions and setup priorities within an improvement plan. In addition, process assessment enables to measure the progress accomplished during an improvement project and thus facilitates buy-in from the management. The process maturity approach structures the improvement initiative by providing a step by step roadmap. Finally, process assessment can also be conducted to assess the capability of a supplier or to compare potential partners.

The international standard of process assessment, ISO/IEC 15504 [Ref 1] provides both the principles for process maturity and the requirements for conducting process assessment. It describes the process maturity scale and the rating rules to evaluate processes. The standard is applicable to all kinds of organizations, independently of the industry.

The ISO/IEC 15504 standard provides a sound approach to process assessment that has been experienced and validated on a large scale. This standard-based process assessment provides a repeatable and objective approach that provides comparable results to measure progress overtime. It can be used both to assess multiple areas in one organization with the same assessment technique and then to structure and improve these various domains in a common way. Process assessment facilitates change management since it involves people during early stages of the improvement initiative. This approach covers more than just the assessment phase; it can serve as framework for structuring and improving processes.

If you want to discover more about a practical application of ISO/IEC 15504 process assessment approach, you can read [Ref 2].


Whatever the work you do, might it be CFO, secretary, IT service manager, you are an expert in this particular field and you know how your organization works might be improved.

In your particular field, you know that the way your organization works could be improved. You are not quite satisfied with the current practices in your team. You have the impression that your clients, internal or external, are not totally satisfied with the services you provide or that you could cut the inefficiencies. You would like to make things better, to implement best practices but you don’t know where to start and how to proceed. If you recognise yourself, this white paper will help you knowing where you are in the process improvement journey and what are the next steps.

“If you don’t know where you are, a map won’t help”- Watts S. Humphrey

Target audience

This white paper targets:

Anyone interested in knowing where their current practices stand

Anyone interested in improving their processes

Anyone interested in measuring the gap between their current practices and a reference framework

Anyone interested in measuring the progress of their process improvement initiative

Anyone interested in evaluating potential partners against a particular reference framework

Anyone with the following role and responsibilities: Process owners, Process managers, Quality officers, Organization officers, Consultants, Auditors.

Goal of this white paper

The goal of this white paper is to introducestandard-based process assessment to ITSM practitioners.

By reading this white paper you will:

–Realize how mature and structured processes can lead to higher quality

–Understand why process assessment is an efficient tool to improve processes

–Discover the various usages of process assessment

–Understand about process maturity

–Learn the general process assessment principles founded on the ISO/IEC 15504 standard

–Discover the benefits of using an international process assessment standard.

Overview of the white paper



Target audience

Goal of this white paper

Overview of the white paper

Process improvement for higher service quality

Process assessment and its usages

The international standard for process assessment – ISO/IEC 15504

Business benefits

Call for action




Process improvement for higher service quality

In intangible fields such as IT Service Management or Service delivery in general, quality approaches have shifted many years ago from product quality to process quality, and more recently to service quality. From a product perspective, quality relates to the final product and measures its intrinsic attributes. But in the case of services, that measure is often difficult to capture. If in the case of a product, processes insure that the final product will be of the required quality, in the case of services the process is part of the service delivery. Thus approaching quality from a process perspective should lead to a high quality result.This is no secret, every life critic services have been doing this for decades; a good example is the aviation and all the processes in place to make sure there is no incident and that if an incident should occur that it will be solved before it becomes an accident. Following this approach, structured processes based on a standard or best practices lead to improved efficiency and thus better results. We can conclude that by improving the underlying process of a service, the quality of your services will also improve.

Most people will do there best not to reinvent the wheel when looking at improving process. It is true that most organizations have specificities that distinguish them from their competitors. But most of the time, at the process level (for one particular field), typical activities are the same amongst all organizations. Best practices can be defined and are applicable to all. Experts in a field can agree on which activities should be performed to reach one process’ objectives. For example to bake a good cake in a restaurant, experts (or in this cases most of us!) will agree that you need to gather the required ingredients, prepare the kitchen, mix the ingredients following the recipe and put the cake in the oven. The distinctive factors in an organization lie in how specifically these standard activities are performed. In our case, the precise recipe would be the chef’s secret. In this case for example the specific recipe could be the restaurant's secret but is it only known by the chef or is it recorded somewhere in case the chef leaves or can't make it on a specific day? Does everyone involve in its preparation and sales know their role and the relevant information? Does the chef prepare the ingredients or is it the kitchen help? Who washes the tray? Is the process recorded on paper? If employees leave en masse can we still make the famous cake? Is there a process and the tools to support stock controls of both the ingredients and baked cakes? Etc. As you can see there are a lot of areas we can improve without getting into the specific recipe of the cake especially if we would have a defined standard process for restaurants.

Thus in most fields, it is possible to learn from standard processes. On top of that, it is useful to have structured processes with precise objectives, defined roles and responsibilities, and dedicated tools. To improve processes, relying on standard practices and structured processes has many advantages:

Implement solutions for problems that others have already encountered

Improve decision making by clarifying roles and responsibilities

Enable communication and experience sharing by having a common terminology

Gain in efficiency and productivity

Deciding to improve one’s processes is the first step, but most organizations might not know where to start or how to implement best practices from a recognized standard. Process assessment is the best way to start an improvement program and to structure improvement actions.

Process assessment and its usages

Process assessment’s principles are:

  • The processes to be assessed are described in a structured way. This serves as reference during the assessment.
  • Interviews are usually conducted with people in the organization who are involved daily in the performance of the process. Assessors check with them whether a particular activity is usually performed, whether a specific document is usually produced, or whether typical results are attained. Generic criteria are also covered: is there a common process description available in the organization? Are roles and responsibilities defined? Are adequate competencies available? Are there tools to support the process?
  • Results from multiple interviews are combined to form an image of the current practices in the organization.
  • The process assessment provides for a gap analysis between the reference process and the current process of the organization.
  • At the end of the assessment, the assessed process can be positioned on the process maturity scale, which summarizes the 6 steps towards process effectiveness.

Process assessment can be organized for several purposes. First of all, process assessment is an efficient tool to compare an organization’s practices with a reference framework. In ITSM that means comparing what an organization is doing to either ITIL or the ISO 20000 standard. In that case, process assessment provides a clear and objective view of where the organization stands. It is vital to know where you are before trying to get better.

This gap analysis against a reference process enables the organization to understand which activities are already in place and efficient and which aspects of the process should be improved. Process assessment is an effective tool to identify improvement actionsand to prioritize them.

In effect, process assessment brings a better understanding of where the process stands in terms of maturity. It helps to understand which aspects of the process maturity are already mastered and which ones still require fine tuning. Conducting a process assessment in an organization brings the opportunity for all people involved to better understand the characteristics of a mature process. With that understanding, the organization can determine which aspects of the process maturity are essential in their context and which are less important. It is then easier to setup priorities for an improvement plan.

Once improvement actions have been implemented, process assessment can be conducted once more to measure progress after a certain amount of time has passed (often at the middle of the improvement project or at the end) and to justify the efforts that have been made. Improvement initiatives are often difficult to sell to the management as these projects often rely on the perception that quality will get better but precise figures and measures to demonstrate improvement are tricky to get; especially because any change can take time to show results as employees have to learn a new way of doing things. Process assessment with its capacity to measure progress is a useful tool to facilitate buy-in from the management and to monitor a project.

Process assessment not only provides a structure to the evaluation results but also structures the improvement initiative. The steps to a better process maturity are clearly defined on the maturity scale. The maturity aspects that are covered during the assessment additionally define what should be carried out to improve the process. During the assessment, you will check whether a common process definition has been set and deployed throughout the organization for example. A step of the improvement plan could then be to make sure that all employees involved are aware of and understand the defined process if it is defined but not well deployed.

The ability to compare practices against a reference framework can be used by an organization for its own processes but it can also aim to determine the capability of a partner or a supplier. Process assessment can be conducted to demonstrate that a partner masters a particular framework, to show evidence that prerequisites are in place and that the maturity levels of two organizations doing business together are in conformity with each other and that the final service will be at the expected quality level. For example in Germany companies like AUDI, BMW, Daimler AG, Fiat Auto, Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Porsche, Volkswagen and Volvo have required their electronic part suppliers to be at least at level 2 of the maturity scale in software process development (Automotive Spice®). In this field, there are enough process assessment results to actually benchmark suppliers against one another.

In the same line of thinking, process assessment can be employed to compare potential suppliers or partners. If an organization has strong requirements for a particular framework, they might like to evaluate if potential partners are compliant with this framework. They can perform a process assessment to determine which potential partner has the best implementation of this framework. Then they can manage risks according to the partner’s process capability.

As we have just seen, process assessment can be utilized in several contexts:

–To compare an organization’s practices with a reference framework

–To identify improvement actions

–To monitor the progressof an improvement project

–To facilitate buy-in from the management

–To setup priorities within an improvement plan

–To structure the improvement initiative

–To benchmark with other organizations’ processes

–To assess the capability of a partner

–To compare potential partners and manage risks.

But how exactly does process assessment work?

The international standard for process assessment – ISO/IEC 15504

Introduction to ISO/IEC 15504

The ISO/IEC 15504 standard is the international standard for process assessment. This standard has been developed by international experts from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). The standard for generic process assessment available today evolved from the SPICE project (Software Process Improvement and Capability Determination) that developed the ISO/IEC 15504:1998 Technical Report. This first version was limited to the assessment of software development processes. Today the ISO/IEC 15504 standard provides a way for evaluating the maturity of any processes (in any organization, whatever the activity sector) with regard to a recognized measurement scale.

NOTE: In this white paper we use the term “process maturity” as the measure of effectiveness of a process that corresponds to the concept of “process capability” in the ISO/IEC 15504 standard. So, when using the term maturity in this white paper, we always mean process maturity, not organizational maturity.

The Process Assessment Model (PAM)

According to the ISO standard, the process maturity is measured using indicators that are described in a Process Assessment Model (PAM), dedicated to the business field: the IT Service Management in our example here. The PAM includes the name of the processes, their purposes, their expected results, and the indicators for process purpose achievement. An extract of a PAM can be seen in Table 1.

Process ID / SLM
Process Name / Service Level Management
Process Purpose / The purpose of Service Level Management is to maintain and improve IT service quality, through a repetitive cycle in agreeing, monitoring and reporting upon IT service achievements and through corrective and progressive actions.
Process Expected Results / As a result of successful implementation of the Service Level Management process:
  1. A Service Level Management Strategy is developed;
  2. Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are established and applied all along the SLA life cycle (created, negotiated, agreed, implemented, tracked, monitored and amended);
  3. The involved parties by the delivery of the services are informed and agreed to the commitments;

Base Practices / SLM.BP1 Establish Service Level Management strategy: determine the service level management strategy to ensure that an SLA can be defined, agreed, published, monitored and reviewed to satisfy the organization and customer’s needs. [Outcome 1]
SLM.BP2 Gather Service Level Requirements (SLR): Identify and gather SLA requirements and constraints from involved parties: providers, customers and IT. [Outcome 2]
SLM.BP3 Establish monitoring capabilities: ensure that all indicators included in the SLA could be monitored and measured. [Outcome 2]
NOTE 1:Nothing should be included in an SLA unless it can be effectively monitored and measured at a commonly agreed point and it is essential that monitoring matches the customer's true perception of the service.

Table 1: PAM example - An extract of the PAM for the ITIL Service Level Management process (1)

The first three items of Table 1 include the reference description of the process. The fourth one includes the typical activities – called base practices – that help achieve the expected results. These are the basic activities that are performed in order to fulfill the process’s purpose. In addition, the standard inputs and outputs of the process can be verified. They are known in the ISO/IEC 15504 as Work Products (WP). Some of the WPs for the process shown in Table 1 are presented in Table 2.

Work Products
Inputs / Outputs
8-04 Operational Level Agreement
[Outcome 2] [SLM.BP2, 5]
8-05 Sub-contracting contract [Outcome 2] [SLM.BP2, 5]
8-03 SLA catalogue [Outcome 2] [SLM.BP4] / 8-03 SLA catalogue [Outcome 2] [SLM.BP4]
6-18 Service Support and Delivery report
[Outcome 2] [SLM.BP7]
6-19 SLA review report [Outcome 4] [SLM.BP8]

Table 2: A sample of the Work Products of the ITIL Service Level Management process(1)