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Moving Beyond RACI in ITIL v3, Part II

While effective, ITIL v3 doesn't explain how to use RACI very well. ITSMWatch guest columnist D'Arcy McCallum of Consulting-Portal strives to clarify in part two of this two-part series.
Sep 18, 2009

D'Arcy McCallum

Anyone exposed to ITIL v3 has come across RACI. It is one of the tools that v3 recommends for making sure that a process will be effective in practice. Unfortunately, the manuals don’t go into enough detail about how to get the most out of it and the documentation begs as many questions as it answers. The purpose of these articles is to fill in some of the blanks.

RACI is an acronym. The four letters represent the four different types of involvement a person or role might be engaged in for activities within the execution of a process. These four types of involvement are: Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed.

The role you assign the “R” to must be held accountable for actually doing it. And even though the documentation says it is allowable, you have to wonder why you would want to have multiple “R's" for any particular activity.

If you remember that the intent of the RACI map is to show the mapping of roles to activities and not the mapping of people to activities. You probably don’t want multiple roles to have responsibility for a particular activity based on the very sound adage that what is everyone’s responsibility is no one’s responsibility. The practice I suggest is if there is an overlap of responsibility between two roles you should break the activity set down so that the responsibility is clearly, unambiguously and singularly defined.

So far we really haven’t gone beyond RACI. Let’s do that now.

When you expect a person to fill a role within a process and have assigned an “R” to them for that activity what does that mean? Well, the documentation tells you that the “R” means that they execute the activity. They are responsible for it. However, saying that in the documentation of the process does not necessarily make it so. So, when you expect a person to fill a role within a process and have tagged that role with an “R” for an activity, what do you have to do to make that happen?

Probably the first thing is to understand what responsibility really means. Responsibility is not something that you can actually assign to someone. Responsibility, in fact, has to come from within. It describes a pattern of behavior. This should be no surprise since it is the term we use when talking what we think of someone―their reputation. When we say that one of the things we like about Mary is that she is responsible, we mean that, she holds a personal commitment to doing something to some standard of quality.

That is something that you cannot assign to someone, but you can observe of them. And while you cannot assign responsibility, you can and do assign accountability. And we mean accountability here, not in the overall sense that the RACI model uses for the whole process, but the expectation that a person will execute the activity assigned to them to a standard of quality. In that context, it is fundamental this standard of quality be clearly defined.

Furthermore, making sure that the understanding of that standard by the person executing the task and the understanding of that standard by the organization have to match exactly. Any vagueness in the standard or any discrepancy in understanding between the individual and the organization will almost certainly cause grief sooner or later. But there is more to it than that. That balance of responsibility and accountability is necessary but not sufficient.

Any person that you designate to fill that role and execute that activity has to be made aware of it in two senses: First that they are expected to fill that role either full time, or from time-to-time, and second they have to be made aware when they in fact are filing that role for a specific instance of the process.

In addition, you have to ensure this person has the authority to execute the activity. Anyone else who has a part to play in that activity―that is,who has to be Consulted or Informed or who has the overall Accountability for the process―is aware of this. Also anyone in a governance or audit position should also be aware that this person has been so authorized.

IT management, RACI, ITSM, Consulting-Portal, Accoutability

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