If you’ve ever worked on a team project and found yourself utterly confused by who should do what, a RACI chart might help. RACI stands for “responsible, accountable, consulted and informed”. Some project managers refer to it as a responsibility assignment matrix, but it’s useful no matter what you call it.
You might be fatigued by business acronyms, but a RACI is worth considering. It clarifies roles in a project, especially roles involving communication and decision making. It’s a standard component of project management. And it’s easy to create.
From my experience, it’s appropriate to use a RACI in four situations:
- When existing teams are asked to work together in new ways, such as virtually
- When new teams are formed to work on a new project
- When individuals join a project and need to understand how they’re expected to contribute
- When you need to clarify decision-making authority
Clarifying roles – and the boundaries of those roles – matters in professional firms, where multiple individuals have authority to make decisions or direct work.
Let’s test a RACI matrix, using a simple example.
Suzi is responsible for marketing in a small firm. One of the employment lawyers, Sheila, wants her create a list of contacts to invite to a new clients-only webinar she wants to present in six months. The webinar will feature an expert panel, comprised of firm clients.
Task: Create a draft list of clients to invite to the webinar. (Note that this is just one task among many in in the project).
The responsible person completes the task. A task always produces an outcome, i.e. the list.
The accountable person approves the work the responsible person does. S/he has authority to accept it or request revision. While multiple people might be responsible, consulted or informed for each task, only one person should be accountable. Clarify who this person is at the outset to avoid conflicts and/or delays later on. In a small team, one person might be both responsible and accountable.
Consulted: Sheila’s co-presenters and practice group
The opinions of this group count, but don’t rule. They might provide information to be considered, such as whom to invite or delete from the list. That said, decisions can be made and work can progress without their input. Remember this when you’ve asked for the opinion of people in this group, but haven’t heard back from them (if you can, make this clear at the outset of the project).
Informed: Other firm members
People in this category want to be kept up to date. They also want to know if the task will affect their ongoing work. For example, if a lot of practice group members will be expected to organize or attend the seminar while they’re needed to work on a major client matter.
Most teams use a simple excel spreadsheet to create a RACI. Some use software, but data entry can often take on a life of its own and distract people from the work itself. Your goal is to get something done, not to complete forms.
RACIs aren’t a substitute for the essential components of a major project – engagement letters or project charters, statements of work, work breakdown structures, risk registers, etc. Rather, they complement them.
During the pandemic, the shift to remote work has required professionals to be more organized than ever at a time when they’re busier than ever. A RACI is one way to mitigate risks to project quality, schedules and budgets. It also avoids confusion, which reduces stress while people are dealing with so much else at home and in the office.
To Hold Someone Accountable, First Define What Accountable Means, from Harvard Business Review.
It’s Your Decision, from Deloitte.