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For IT Process Owners, A Bright Future

Process ownership is a significant career opportunity for mature and promising leaders in IT organizations. Here's why.
Nov 26, 2007

Michael LaChance

How many of us thought we’d be a problem management process owner when we grew up? ITIL books and foundations classes introduce the role of process owners. But exactly what is a process owner, what are process owners responsible for and why are they so important to the success of an ITSM program?

Companies new to adopting ITIL best practices quickly learn such transformations are more about cultural and behavioral change than just standing up new IT processes and technology. And part of the transformation involves the creation of new roles and new opportunities for staff development. The role of process owner may be unfamiliar to many IT shops, especially for those clinging to old functional silo organizational designs, but is essential best practice.

ITIL has always been process-centric, even with the new introduction of ITILv3’s service lifecycle. ITIL implementation programs afford IT organizations the opportunity to update, codify and improve their IT practices and introduce new processes. So the first responsibility of a process owner is one of process design. Sounds easy, right?

Process design is challenging because it requires a good understanding of what needs to be achieved (objectives), how this should be accomplished (workflow), what rules (policies) are to be followed by everyone (participants) involved and what measures (KPIs and metrics) will be monitored.

A good process design is documented and describes in clear language the objectives, policies, workflow, metrics and role and responsibilities of all involved. Capturing and sharing this information is necessary so everyone has a common understanding of the process and what it intends to accomplish.

Changing Behaviors

Good, supporting automation needs to be developed or acquired. Too often process design initiatives fail because the translation of good process thinking gets reflected in the tool awkwardly or just plain wrong. Ideally, process design should be accompanied by a firm grasp of the capabilities of the intended automation platform. And it’s the responsibility of a process owner to bridge the more academic process side of the equation with the technology offerings IT staff will use everyday in the execution of that process.

Next, that shiny new process and technology solution needs to be indoctrinated into the everyday worklife of IT. This organizational awareness of the process requires leadership and advocacy on the part of the process owner. The importance of this key responsibility of a process owner cannot be overstated. Adopting best practices such as ITIL is ultimately about changing perceptions and work behaviors. Strong leadership is needed to “sell” the benefits of the new process and encourage adoption and demand adherence.

Defining exactly what adherence means to the staff and building mechanisms in the automation platform to gauge and measure compliance is another facet of the process owner’s role and absolutely essential to the long-term viability of the process implementation. It makes no sense to mandate a new process if that process cannot be effectively managed.

But it doesn’t end there, as even the best processes can be improved. During the process definition stage, key performance indicators are developed to measure how the process is supporting the business of IT. But metrics should also be developed to demonstrate process compliance.

For example, a good change management process usually includes metrics that trend the percentage of emergency changes. That’s a good metric to show to the business that IT is mindful of stability and that management is monitoring how changes are being planned. But a metric such as the number of unauthorized changes may be more useful internally, i.e., not shared with IT customers, to gauge adherence to the change process.

Next page: Key process owner traits...

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