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ARCHIVED - Service Improvement Initiative - How to Guide

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How will we get there?

Step 6
Designing the Improvement Plan

By now you know where you are and where your clients want you to be, but not the path between the two. Thus far, the vision and mission have been stated, a client - feedback strategy created, and input solicited. Priorities for improvement have been identified, client centred service standards and client satisfaction improvement targets set. Now it is time to create an improvement plan – the map that will guide you and your organization between the two points – and set the actions necessary to achieve the targets.

The improvement plan is not intended to serve as a self-contained or isolated plan. It is an integrated part of the total business planning process of the organization. It provides for a systematic and organized approach to service improvement planning and implementation integrated with the regular annual planning and reporting cycle of the department or agency.

Flexibility is key to the approach and to implementing the improvement plan. The plan and improvement process must be brought to life – a living part of the organization – which embraces the concept of continuous improvement. As you plan and implement, you will be receiving new and additional information that will alter your plan. You must be ready to change direction when required. And staff must be given room to innovate within the basic framework and be consistent with the overall goals.

Government Priorities and Plans

As you begin to develop your improvement plan, it is vital to ensure that you are well informed not only about the Service Improvement Initiative, but other relevant initiatives such as Government On-line, in order to complement them and benefit from their lead. The main points have already been outlined and should be central to your thinking by now: responsiveness to the needs and service improvement priorities identified by citizens, and the pursuit of continuous improvement in meeting client and citizen satisfaction.

Beyond that, government has placed priority on:

  • a choice of channels and points of service;
  • support for electronic government; and,
  • enhanced visibility and presence.

Setting the Plan

The core of the Service Improvement Plan is to focus on the service improvement priorities that are most important for citizens and clients, as identified in Step 4. For each priority identified by clients, the organization will identify the key actions required to address that priority. In turn, each of these key actions will be further refined by identifying the required sub-activities required to support them.

The improvement plan is an opportunity to draw on the creativity, innovation and problem solving skills of the organization. There is usually more than one solution to any problem and more than one way to address the priorities. The creation and selection of actions to achieve the priorities provides an opportunity for the organization to think "outside the box." For example, a common response to client demands for faster telephone service is to add capacity to a call centre. Yet, a more innovative approach can reduce workload by determining why clients need to call in the first place, and address the underlying cause rather than a symptom of the problem (e.g. a form that is unclear to clients). Therefore, it is critical to ensure active employee participation in the creation of the plan and to clarify for everyone what goals the organization hopes to accomplish and how they will be accomplished.

Example of a Service Improvement Plan Template

To assist departments and agencies to get started, this section outlines an example of a potential Service Improvement Plan template. A complete description of this generic example can be found in Appendix G. The development of an improvement plan does not require a cookie cutter approach. Every organization is unique, as are the needs, expectations, and priorities of its clients and the environment in which the organization operates. What an improvement plan will look like will vary from organization to organization. Yet, while specifics may vary, there are common elements to an improvement plan. For each priority identified, it is necessary to establish actions to address the improvement priorities, identify the person(s) responsible, and state a timetable for action, and specific targets for achievement. The improvement plan will also address the monitoring and reporting process for client satisfaction targets and service standards, and identify management accountabilities.


The first section of a Service Improvement Plan should be direction: how does the plan link into and support the organization's mission statement and the desired future state for the organization. Stating this vision up front enables department or agency personnel to better understand the purpose of the Service Improvement Plan. It is also important to document here how the plan was developed, who participated, how citizens' views in terms of their priorities for improvement were obtained to produce the plan (e.g: surveys, focus groups, or formal consultations) and how these views shape the plan. The important point is to ensure that the activities outlined in the plan focus on citizen priorities and as such, if implemented properly, will result in improved client satisfaction so that the department or agencies' targets for client satisfaction are met.

Since the improvement plan is also a document that affects the work and work culture of the organization, it is important in this section to outline who in the organization worked in producing the plan and how employees were engaged in its creation.

Priority Areas for Improvement

The core of the plan should outline the department or agency's priority areas for improvement: what are the key actions, who is responsible, what are the timeframes, expected results and how these results will be measured. Below are two different examples of how the priorities for improvement section could be structured. Example #1 adopts the approach whereby for each priority area, the specific actions required are identified. Example #2 organizes the priorities for improvement by the five key drivers of client satisfaction, in addition to identifying which service delivery channels (e.g. telephone, over the counter, electronic, etc.) are implicated. The benefit if this second approach is that it assists in ensuring the each driver is addressed and that the Service Improvement Plan addresses all service delivery channels. This emphasizes a balanced, integrated approach between and among the various channels used to deliver the service. The type of template you develop will depend upon the nature of your business and what works best given the environment within which you work.

It is important to note that the plan should be comprehensive, but kept as simple as possible so that it is clearly understood. For example, simply requiring staff to say "Have a nice day" (the staff courtesy service quality driver) will not lead clients to believe they have had a positive service experience when none of the other key drivers of client satisfaction are in place.

Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) is responsible for caring for those who have served their country in combat and peacekeeping, along with their families. Already sensitive to its clients, VAC wanted quicker turnaround times on disability pensions – benefits for clients with a permanent disability as result of disease or disability related to military service. Part of a comprehensive plan, this initiative was one of several client-centred initiatives.

However, the improvements sought were constrained by regulations. Rather than accept the impediment and continue with a service gap, the process began with legislative changes and the creation of new regulations to address revised procedures. This was followed by a major reorganization within the VAC portfolio.

On the operations side, staff developed procedures and re-engineered workflows to increase flexibility for program delivery, consultation, staff training and teamwork on projects. Information technology changes followed. This was a lot of planning and work for one small improvement. Yet, the changes incorporated many other improvements and paved the way for the future, as VAC learns more about the changing needs of its clients.

Each work unit was made responsible to know its targets/goals and to manage to achieve them. Due to the high level of support and the clear knowledge of direction and targets, it was not necessary to bring in outside consultants, or set up a special change management team.

The lessons learned by Veterans Affairs Canada include:

  • A separate structure is not always needed for change. The already existing planning function was adequate, so they did not add a quality management framework.
  • The will to make it happen is required; commitment from all levels of the organization; the support and flexibility of employees and external partners; strong communication tools and contact with clients.

Monitoring and Accountability

A final section in any solid plan should include a section on monitoring and accountability. The example below presents possible elements that you may want to include. Specifically outlining how the plan is to be monitored, frequency by which the results will be reported and to whom assists in ensuring that key actors are identified, that an accountability regime is in place and that all relevant aspects of the plan are being properly communicated. In addition, the value of outlining the monitoring and accountability aspects of the plan not only comes to play when you move to implementation, but also becomes readily apparent in succeeding steps as implementation efforts are monitored and evaluated.


The departmental Service Improvement Plan links planning in the organization in two directions. First, it links to planning upward on the strategic level though the Report on Plans and Priorities and subsequent evaluation in the Departmental Performance Report. Second, it brings planning downward through its impact on the detailed work plans of organizational units and individual staff members. In many respects, the improvement plan is a summary document that integrates information from a variety of sources. This step incorporates the findings and work undertaken in the previous steps. It sets out for each priority action necessary to attain the objectives and associated targets, sets a timeframe and identifies the resources that are required, and establishes who is responsible and ultimately accountable for the actions. The improvement plan must also integrate and consider other organizational issues, such as the HR Plan, staff training needs, links to related services (service integration), and Government-on-Line and information management/information technology plans.

Checklist for Step 6

At the completion of this step, you should have an improvement plan that:

  • Integrates the findings of the previous steps (vision, mission, leadership, employee and clients feedback, identified priorities, targets and service standards).
  • Dovetails with the Service Improvement Initiative and other government-wide initiatives, while focusing on the specific needs of your clients.
  • Is a result of active employee engagement.
  • Is simple, clear and compelling.
  • Describes the actions to address the service improvement priorities identified in Step 4, in order to achieve increased client satisfaction.
  • Specifies the client satisfaction targets for achievement and identifies timeframes.
  • Identifies responsibilities and accountabilities for actions to address service improvement priorities.
  • Is consistent and considers other organisational plans, such as the HR Plan, staff training, IT/IM strategy, and change management strategy.

See Appendix G: Sample Service Improvement Plan Templates.