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11 October 2010 | Juan Jimenez Blog
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RACIng in the Swim Lane
This week Juan looks at how effective a RACI diagram can be when used to manage workloads in your teams...

  Juan Jimenez

One of the themes that I delight in presenting to students in my classroom is that of demonstrating how very simplistic tools can create significant impacts on Service Management activities.

For example, those of you who have attended one of my Foundations classes may remember that I present a tool in my class that has had a huge impact in the aviation industry. The tool costs between 25 and 50 US dollars, and has singlehandedly managed to save aircraft operator’s untold amounts of money and time since it was introduced many decades ago. I then show the tool to the class, pass it around and wait to see if anyone can guess what it is.

When no one answers, I explain that it is a “microstop countersink” used to dig out metal from the surface of the skin of an aircraft where a rivet is to be placed. Instead of installing a round head rivet that protrudes from the skin and causes drag, it allows for the installation of a flush rivet. This type of rivet does not produce drag because it sits flush against the aircraft’s outer skin, and therefore allows the aircraft to fly faster and save time, or at the same speed but with less engine power, saving fuel. If you do not know how the tool works, more than likely you will ruin anything to which you apply its cutting head, because as usual the most important components of a tool are the person and the process followed to use it.

The same concept can be applied to some of the simplest techniques presented in the ITIL® core guidance. Take the humble RACI diagram, for example. The technique is used to document the participation of roles in activities as part of a process. The letters stand for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed. Most people focus on the horizontal components of the diagram, which represent activities. To know how a role participates in an activity, follow the horizontal activity line until you arrive at the column of the role.

However, there is another interesting use for a RACI diagram that focuses exclusively on the vertical component of the diagram, and can be very effectively used to manage workload in your teams. Looking down the column, it is possible to analyze an existing process to understand if one or more roles are overloaded with accountability and/or responsibility. In a small-scale implementation of Service Management with ITIL, one of the biggest challenges is the distribution of manpower to process and function roles. This type of analysis can be performed reactively or proactively to correct or avoid situations in which one person has been assigned too much, or too little, work.

The other tool presented by the core guidance is the Swim Lane diagram. This tool is similar to RACI in that it documents roles and activities, but focuses on the flow of the process from role to role. It is a great way to visualize the flow of a process, but more importantly, it is a great tool to visualize a process that you know is too complex and bureaucratic, and needs to be modified. A Swim Lane diagram constructed to visualize such a process will immediately surface the bureaucracy because you will see flows that return over and over again to one or more specific roles, or you will see flows that move from one role to another without any rhyme nor reason. This visualization works wonders when attached as part of the justification behind a Request for Change asking for the modification of just such a bureaucratic process.

As always, the point of my blogs is to get readers to think, rather than provide ready-made answers, because I will be the first to admit I do not always have them.

Feedback on my blog entries is always welcome!


Computer Weekly have announced the IT Blog Awards 2010 in their quest to find the best blogs in the UK IT industry.

If you have enjoyed reading any of the ITP blogs then please nominate your favourite blogger by clicking on the link below.  




13th October 2010

Hi Juan ,

I've read the story about the RACI diagram, and I cannot agree more...

What I want to get more information about is this Swim Lane diagram you mention.

I have never heard before of that. Can you explain it more or post a graph , so that everyone interested can benefit from that.
ITIL V2 Service manager


(ITIL® is a Registered Trade Mark of the Office of Government Commerce in the United Kingdom and other countries.)

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