Exploring SFIA and how it is used.

What’s a role? Several different things, depending on who is saying it, and in what context.

Let’s look more closely. ITIL identifies many roles, such as Service desk manager, IT operator, Problem manager, Change manager, Capacity manager… These are manifestations of process: collections of related activities, the need for which is defined in a process. In general, each one can form part of someone’s responsibility, or in some cases, all of it.

The term “role” can also be used simply to mean a job, whether or not formally defined in ITIL: “My role is Head of Customer Service for ZAP Electronics.” It can also be used as a fudge, of course: “I  was in a wide-ranging role for Nebulous Corporation” (I made no tangible contribution).

As Professional Profiles become more widely adopted, we also hear them referred to as roles, but they are really describing categories of professionals, not jobs. These form the rock on which large scale resource management should be based, hence my title (for which I hope you will forgive me).

The skills listed as requirements in a job description, together with the individual’s inventory of acquired skills are key inputs to any appraisal. That information helps with the analysis of the individual’s job performance, and  thereby forms the basis of decisions about personal development.

This information is aimed at the individual, and is used in several contexts: recruitment, deployment, assessment and development.

But whilst managers are busy recruiting, deploying, assessing and developing staff, the whole scheme of resource and capability management will not operate effectively unless senior management can get a grip on it. If you list all the job descriptions that exist in the average large IT outfit, together with the number of people working to each one, you will typically find a large number of descriptions, with not many people in each one. This gives senior IT management no idea about the overall capability of the IT Group. Worse still, what they have is a pile of descriptions of jobs, but not much idea about the people doing the jobs: it’s all about holes, not pegs.

There is a solution to this, and it materially helps forward resourcing planning: categorise the people. That is what Professional Profiles are about. The categories must be small in number. In  service management they could be as few and as broad as Service Manager, Service Technician and Service Administrator. Of course, you would describe each one at several levels. As a result you might find that you have 23 Service Managers at Level A. The full set of these numbers is an asset register of your capability. Now you can really plan next year’s resources. But this feeds back to help the individual, too. The pathways between levels and between roles are your career development routes. Associated with each Professional Profile are the concepts of best practice. If you decide to go this way, keep the descriptions short and keep the numbers down (no more than 20 for the whole IT Group).

Whichever type of role we are dealing with, we can describe the skills required with SFIA. SFIA provides a clear and objective overall description of each skill, and a differential definition for each of the levels at which we can recognise the skill. So at Level 4, the definition of Capacity management starts “Monitors service component capacity and initiates actions to resolve any shortfalls …”; but at Level 6 it starts “Develops strategies to ensure all the performance measures of all IT services meet the needs of the business …”.

Of course, we can also use SFIA to express the skills acquired (as opposed to “required”) by an IT professional. SFIA’s objectivity really helps assessment and appraisal. Have you ever heard “I reckon I’m at least a senior service technician, but my boss says I’m just an ordinary service technician: I don’t understand his explanation.” Greater objectivity in definition of skills levels can help managers make assessments that their staff can agree with.

SFIA has eighteen Service management related skills for example: Financial management, Capacity management, Security administration and Network Support.

Whether you are describing process roles, jobs or categories of IT Professional, SFIA is a force for clarity.

This article by Ron McLaren appeared in Service Talk 2010

Image: http://pixabay.com/en/users/PeteLinforth