How important is ITIL’s RACI matrix in ITSM?

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Among many things, ITIL® teaches us about accountability, boundaries and consistency.

Adam McCulloughTherefore, it’s important to know who is accountable when a service goes down or there’s a change to a process. Having it documented means that anyone can see who’s accountable.

That’s why the RACI Matrix in ITIL is so important: standing for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed, the matrix provides clear lines of accountability and responsibility within IT service management (ITSM). And for people new to ITIL, they will find that – typically – there will be a question on the ITIL Foundation exam about it.

However, as simple as it seems, it can sometimes be difficult for people in IT to demonstrate their accountability and I’ve seen the difficulties that come when you can’t identify who does what and who is responsible for what.

Without having a RACI Matrix to document this information it means you have to do greater due diligence on an organization, unless you know it intimately already.

Why use the RACI Matrix?

Though the RACI Matrix is in the service operation section of ITIL, it’s something you need to map out from the beginning.

If an organization has a low maturity level in ITIL it’s more difficult; equally, the organization might be using different terminology. For example, 'programme manager' might mean something different in different organizations. That person might have oversight but no operational control, and you need to figure that out.

Adopting the RACI Matrix ensures that people know what they’re responsible for and that it’s documented. Assigning responsibility by job role rather than a named person means you have greater consistency after company mergers or when people leave the company.

Achieving this level of clarity isn’t as simple as it sounds and it can be problematic to pin people down about what they do. However, you can educate them on the importance of doing this; if they understand the “why?”, people can be more receptive. It doesn’t happen overnight and conversations can be tough, as you might be taking something away from people who think they own it or, conversely, assigning responsibility where they don’t want it.

However, as they say, the “juice is worth the squeeze” when people really understand what it’s about and why you’re implementing the RACI Matrix.

Keeping the RACI Matrix up-to-date

Keeping the RACI Matrix current is like carrying out routine maintenance on your car: changing the oil isn’t necessarily fun but it’s routine and needs to be done or the engine will blow up. Similarly, the RACI Matrix is one of the necessary things to keep the ITSM “engine” running smoothly.

It should become part of standard operating procedures – done quarterly or based on an organizational change – to see what’s happening with roles and responsibilities. Once updated it shouldn’t change too much unless there’s a major re-organization.

The matrix also provides a more organized supplement to the “tribal knowledge” that exists among people in an organization. While this is good to have, the collective knowledge needs to be regularly updated or you’re just working from what has happened in the past.

I think that doing this is as important now as ever. What is changing is how you go about capturing the information in a new era of automation and technology.

Automating updates means the process becomes easier. For example, technology such as Microsoft Outlook enables you to see who the managers are along with the organizational and reporting structures. If someone changes jobs, the technology gives you a guide to help automate the process of updating the matrix.

While organizations still have a difficult time with this issue – and the perennial problem of “finger pointing” about who is ultimately accountable for something – the RACI Matrix goes a long way towards providing clarity.

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