The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and Six Sigma have both been successfully employed to improve the quality of information technology (IT) services. Often the two approaches, although distinctly different but with a common focus on customer satisfaction at their core, are used independently of each other. Fortunately many organizations are coming to realize the value of combining the two to take advantage of each one’s strength.

The ITIL defines a framework to deliver and support IT-based services. There are many components of the framework and each component has a set of recommended practices and procedures that can be adopted individually or in total. The ITIL originated in the United Kingdom’s Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency, now called the Office of Government Commerce.

Six Sigma, on the other hand, was conceived in the manufacturing sector of private industry as a way to drive quality improvement while reducing operating costs by improving the consistency of processes. Six Sigma is a formal approach for evaluating which processes are important to a business, measuring the quality of outputs for those processes statistically, and using the methodology for continuously mapping, measuring and improving the processes and hence the results.

Why Should These Approaches Be Combined?

Since ITIL and Six Sigma each have their own merits and each have been used independently, why should they be brought together?

ITIL tells an IT organization what should be done, but it does not specify how it should do it. For example, ITIL specifies that priority should be assigned to each incident that comes into the service desk. But, it does not specify how that priority should be assigned. So with ITIL, the IT staff has to find out the details of process flow and create detailed work instructions on their own as suitable for their organization.

On the other hand, Six Sigma tells an IT unit how to find the root cause of problems and thus how a problem can best to fixed. What it does not specify is any best practices, specifically for IT service management.

Differences in Two Improvement Methods for IT Service Management

Focuses on


IT Infrastructure Library The “what” of IT service management A comprehensive set of best practices and guidelines for IT
Six Sigma The “how” of quality improvement A methodology and tools for continuously improving quality

So It can be said that ITIL defines the “what” of IT service management, and Six Sigma defines the “how” of quality improvement. Together they can be a perfect fit for improving the quality of IT service delivery and support. But bringing them together can be a challenging task.

Six Sigma can be used to improve the existing processes in an organization which is already following ITIL framework, and also can be used in an organization which is just migrating to the ITIL framework. The approach for such an organization would be to analyze the risk, compare existing processes to that what is required in the ITIL-compatible state, and then – using a business case – define the way it will migrate to that ITIL-compatible state. That course must be written and there must be a way to measure progress toward the goal.

There are number of tools available to manage the workflow as per the ITIL framework. Since ITIL specifies what is expected from a workflow but does not specify how this workflow should be, the IT organization must decide this workflow. Since the workflow is nothing but a process, this is where linking Six Sigma and ITIL is helpful for the business. Six Sigma can help the business standardize and optimize any process, including end-to-end workflows. The optimization can including adjusting processes to conform to the ITIL framework as well as dramatically reducing any other defects. The result will be happy and satisfied customers and a greater return on investment for the business.

How ITIL and Six Sigma Can Be Combined

As an example of how to go about combining ITIL and Six Sigma, consider that an IT organization is migrating an existing process to an ITIL-compatible process and thus is applying the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) roadmap of Six Sigma:

Define phase: Organizations should understand the requirements of the customer by applying voice of the customer techniques, and correspondingly should identify the process that need to be improved. Then they also must make sure that resources required to tackle the improvement process are in place. Organizations should always remember that the goal of the Define phase is not only to align the Six Sigma strategy to the ITIL strategy but also to the organization’s business strategy. That is very important for the success and feasibility of the project.

Measure phase: Organizations should assess the current state of the process. They should define the defects, gather baseline information about the process, validate the measurement systems and establish more specific improvement goals. Since this phase is based on data and measurements, so any source of assumption should be eliminated. Organizations should determine the issues and critical-to-quality factors (CTQs) of the desired process.

Analyze phase: Organizations should analyze the data collected during the Measure phase. They should identify the sources of variation and then prioritize these source. Organizations thus separate the “vital few” variables from “trivial many” variables and hence propose a possible pilot solution for an improved process.

Improve phase: Organizations should confirm whether this proposed pilot solution meets the quality improvement goal of the project. If not, then they should further refine the pilot process to meet the desired goal.

Control phase: Organizations should implement the pilot solution at the organization level and ensure that the improvement is sustained to prevent the process from reverting back to its prior state. At this stage, knowledge management is very important. The lessons learned from this improvement process must be properly documented and made available for process improvements in other areas.

Done properly, this Six Sigma methodology will provide an ITIL-compatible process that is aligned with the organization’s business goals.

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