The difference between job roles and functional positions and how it relates to “adopt and adapt”

The difference between job roles and functional positions and how it relates to “adopt and adapt”

Ken GonzalezIn the early days if ITIL®, many IT Service Management (ITSM) practitioners saw the various job roles in play as pretty understandable - the overarching role of the Service Manager and the individual Process Manager roles. But with the evolution of ITIL in 2007 it appears that many more job roles came into the picture.

One result of creating these “additional” roles was that people started to see the framework as too heavy or complex, with many perceiving the new roles as new positions required in the business.

In reality, those customers and practitioners who treat functional positions and job roles as the same thing are really missing the point; they are intended to provide a more granular view of the tasks someone who holds a functional position might need to perform and often an individual will carry out more than one job role.

It's not intended to be a recommended organizational structure!

Knowing the difference

It’s important to distinguish the two in order to strike the balance, understand what skills each person needs to perform the required tasks.

The philosophy behind a framework, such as ITIL, is to build a conceptual model of how each area of the business works. Within that, there is a delicate “dance” that allows a framework to be generic enough to be applicable to various different types of organizations across the public and private sectors, yet it must be specific enough that it can be tailored to individual organizations.

Each organization, and each practitioner, must understand how the job roles are built and organized under a framework, as these roles map to tasks which are needed to fulfil the intention of the framework. Frameworks, by their very nature, provide a holistic/systemic view of an area and job roles help translate the theory of operations into practice.

By more fully understanding what the framework says should get done, organizations can examine their own goals and needs when considering how the job role to functional position mapping should be accomplished. As job roles tend to place emphasis on tasks, organizations can also use them to consider who the right candidate is to do the tasks and ensure that they have the right training to do them successfully and efficiently.

In this way, organizations take their first steps at (truly) "adopting and adapting" the guidance in the framework and job roles to fit its needs, requirements and organizational objectives.

Why it’s important

The organizations that use a given framework can use it to make the right decisions about achieving a higher level of worker participation and consistent training. Commercial and public organizations often have very dissimilar organizational structures, but a well-constructed framework will provide a reliable, consistent model which either organization can find value in.

The part that often causes problems is when someone takes a framework "as is" and, instead of tailoring it to the organization, attempts to reshape the organization to the “idealized” version as described in the framework.

When people spend their time on business-as-usual activity, it isn’t always clear to the manager/practitioner how to "adopt and adapt" into our organizations. It requires time to think through things and consider what options are available, not a "paint by numbers" template. This is an area where consultants can be of most use to customers, but are rarely engaged.

The need to help practitioners do this kind of mapping isn't just for ITIL - it applies to many different frameworks.

Job roles and functional positions in ITSM

With a few notable exceptions, seldom do job roles fully line up with a functional position. More often than not someone is given a job title with a number of responsibilities for their organization which go beyond the scope of the "pure" job role.

From an employer’s perspective, there are certain tasks in a business that need to be completed that are assigned to employees. The employer must ensure the employee has the right skills to complete them or risk failure. An employer must have an understanding of which tasks to assign to each employee, dependent on their position, capability and training needs to complete the tasks. It’s part of an employer’s responsibility to give employees the right training at the right time.

Every organization, whether consciously or not, makes a decision on how job roles are distributed and how they are managed to ensure the right work is done and outcomes are achieved. The hardest part employers face is considering which part of the superset of best practice guidance will meet their current challenges, their organizational model and strategy.

Organizations hire people to fill a position and complete specific tasks to benefit the business. Sometimes these tasks will overlap with fellow employees but ultimately each person will have specific job roles to carry out in their functional position and the employer must ensure each individual has the capability to do them.

For more information about IT Service Management, see our ITIL® section .

Do you agree that there is a difference between job roles and professional functions within an organization that needs to be recognized in order to enable successful ITSM? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.

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