We’re live, now what? The importance of good functional management

Having visited many organisations, I’ve learned that whether you achieve your goal is equally determined by the tool’s set-up and the implementation’s follow-up. An example includes when an IT department purchases a tool with a self-service portal to improve customer satisfaction, but because of lack of time the implementation of the portal is postponed to phase 2 – which never starts. Or all kinds of data is neatly registered, but is never used to create the important reports.

In both cases, the original goals are not achieved because of a lack of attention for the implementation’s follow-up. A functional manager can play an important role in the application’s success after the implementation. Functional management is often a small role of one employee – and there is enough time to fulfill that role. However, priorities change after going live and functional management disappears into the background. Appointing a dedicated functional manager can ensure that follow-up plans actually happen, helping you get the best possible value out of your purchased tool.

A functional manager’s core tasks

The most important task of a functional manager is making sure the application is used to its full potential. As opposed to the technical and application manager, who are in IT, the functional manager does not apply technical changes. He does, however, apply non-technical changes. These can be changes to default settings, filling search lists and creating emails. The functional manager also bridges the gap between the business and IT.

He gathers and specifies the business’ wishes and communicates these to the IT department. Many mature organisations have a department with lots of functional managers. What you often see, however, is that this is someone’s role within the project group, no matter what department they belong to. In that case there is no task description and he needs to determine how to take on this role.

To structure the functional manager’s basic tasks, I’ll describe the most frequent ones.

1. Spotting technical issues

If there are technical issues, the functional manager is the business’ first point of contact to the party that needs to solve the issue. This can be the case when the application needs an update, users need the correct login data and permission, or when the application is unavailable.

2. Collecting and prioritising change requests

The applications needs to be adjusted continuously because of changing user needs or new possibilities in the software. It is up to the functional manager to collect and prioritise all user requests. The important approved request will be forwarded, preferably to a functional designer (FD), an application manager or supplier. They can eventually make the changes in the software. Without prioritising, you run the risk that people work on functionalities that add little value.

3. Informing users via key users

Users need to be informed about the new possibilities in the application. The best way to do this is by letting the functional manager communicate this information through key users. They can make sure that all users stay up-to-date. To involve key users more with multiple set-up questions, the functional manager can create a platform where they can share their ideas. This could be a key user meeting, for example.

4. Supervising new implementations

It could occur that the application needs to be expanded to satisfy the users; for example, when new processes need to be supported. The functional manager considers which application can be used best for this and how. He or she translates the new needs into new functionalities.

5. Functional testing

The functional manager periodically, or after an update, tests if everything still functions according to the agreements made with the user organisation. This is called a functional application test (FAT). The FAT can be verified by a user acceptance test (UAT). In both cases, the functional manager is responsible for preparing, supervising and performing the test.

6. Communicating with end users

The functional manager communicates reactively and proactively with the end users. They communicate reactively to all stakeholders when there is a disruption or a change in use. With proactive communications, such as newsletters, Intranet, or videos, they can make sure that the end users get used to the application, helping them work with it as efficiently and effectively as possible.

7. Training operators

The functional manager ensures that all operators and key users know how to work with the application. They can do this through class teaching, presentations or video tutorials. The goal is that all operators understand the tool and can perform the processes via the agreed steps.

8. Making documentation available

After the training, the functional manager makes manuals available for the operators to use as reference. A frequently used form is the work instruction, a step-by-step manual. You can use this to get familiar with the tool and it also automatically leads you through the process as agreed upon in the organisation.

Expanding tasks: Supporting the process manager

In some cases you can expand basic tasks by supporting the process manager, which means working at a tactical level. According to a strict task division, the process manager should build his own reports and KPIs based on the training and work instructions he received from his functional manager. This, however, does not always work in practice. The process manager often has too little knowledge about the tool and not enough time to learn. That’s why it is more convenient when the functional manager takes an interest in the processes and the process manager can hand over some of their tasks.
These tasks could include:

1. Processing report wishes

The functional manager pinpoints the report wishes with managers and/or process owners. He or she then builds these reports in the application and makes them available in the desired format, such as PDF, Crystal report, or in the application itself.

2. Updating process documentation

The functional manager researches which process documentation is used within the organisation (work instructions, procedure descriptions, etc.) and what the goal of each document is. He or she implements changes made to the processes in these documents and makes the documents available to the target group.

3. Proposing process improvements

The functional manager can, together with the process owner/process manager, see where the process is failing or where it needs improving. He or she then researches how the application can support these improvements or where the now-manual process steps can be automated.

4. Providing advice beyond the application

The functional manager often has an overview of multiple applications used within the IT landscape. Some of these tools have overlapping functionalities or use the same data. As a user and manager of these information flows, the functional manager can easily visualise whether all information is managed at the most logical place. Their advice about developing certain links, or whether the organisation should register more or less, is very valuable for the quality of the data and can save time.

Additional expansion: Supporting the process owner

If you want to go a step further, the functional manager can also support the process owner. This will be mostly strategically. These tasks can be easily combined in practice because the process manager and process owner are the same person in most organisations.

The functional manager can take on the following tasks:

1. Providing advice beyond the process

Various processes come together in the application. A functional manager knows the relation between these processes and the bottle necks for the different process links. Are the processes located in the most logical application? Or is it better to combine applications? This sort of advice can help the process owner to make smart choices and save money.

2. Providing advice for decision-making

The same applies to reports. Because the functional manager has more insight into the process reports of multiple applications for different departments, he or she can visualise which standardised KPIs can be used. KPIs that transcend departments, processes, or applications. This is possible for operational data for decision-making (real-time dashboards) and for long-term data for decision-making to support the long-term IT goals.

Conclusion

Are you considering appointing a functional manager or taking on this role yourself? First, make sure that the basic tasks are covered. Only when these tasks are optimally performed, will you be able to expand the tasks by supporting the process manager and owner.

Once the functional manager has commenced, a large part of their work will consist of communicating the needs of the business to the IT departments or suppliers. This is not always easy. Many people ask or expect something from you and it takes effort to steer this communication in the right direction.

Nancy Van Elsacker is the president of TOPdesk USA