Galen Low is joined by Cassie Solomon—an organizational change and digital transformation leader and author of “Leading Successful Change: 8 Keys To Making Change Work”—to talk about roles and responsibilities and whether a good old RACI chart is still an effective way to achieve clarity on who does what within your team and across your organization.
- Cassie is an organizational change and digital transformation leader and author of “Leading Successful Change: 8 Keys To Making Change Work”, a book that has been published by Wharton. [1:12]
- Cassie has an MBA from Wharton in operations. After graduating, she worked for a consulting firm that did organizational change. It was that firm that initially taught her RACI. [2:13]
- Cassie has been fascinated by digital transformation. She’s been studying technology and nerding out on the fourth industrial revolution. We have to innovate faster, we have to get products to market faster, and RACI is really helpful at cutting out the waste in the system. [3:53]
- Cassie often uses a role confusion quiz in their workshops. Before they teach the RACI tool, they put up a list of symptoms and ask people if it’s a symptom that they’re experiencing on their teams. [5:36]
- RACI was founded around 1955. [7:03]
- The R stands for responsible. If you have an R, you’re the one doing the work.
- The A stands for accountable or authorized, and that role is the decision making role. That’s the role with authority.
- The C stands for consult. This is the stakeholder management part of the tool.
- The I stands for inform. If you have an I role, you are just being informed about what’s happening.
- They’ve added a fifth code which is the R-Prime. If you have more than one person working on something, you would have more than one R. It’s a good practice to designate one of those multiple R’s as the R Prime and that person is responsible for understanding what all the Rs are doing.
- When organizations run into more role confusion, they run into trouble because they’ve mixed up the R and the A. [10:11]
- If you have the R, you’re accountable for the quality of your work. If you have the A, you’re accountable for the quality of your decisions. If you have a C, you’re accountable for the quality of the advice that you’re giving. And if you’re an I, you’re accountable for your listening and you’re learning about what’s happening. [10:44]
- When it comes to talking about roles, RACI gives you a nice shorthand that you can get everybody to understand. [12:59]
- If you’re starting a major project and you’re working with people that you’re not familiar with, that’s the perfect time to get the roles clear. [13:12]
The tools that we mostly associate with project management really double down on the “what”, but RACI stands alone as the one that addresses the “who”.Cassie Solomon
- In 2017, McKinsey study showed that 80% of organizations are dissatisfied with their decision-making. [15:34]
- RACI is missing something important—it doesn’t have a deadline, which is really easy to fix. [17:56]
- Cassie had a client who asked for help because his IT department is using Agile and they hate RACI and don’t think they need it. [18:43]
- Agile prides itself on the team making the decisions itself. They think of RACI as cumbersome.
- There are others who think RACI works well if you’re an Agile team. However, once you start collaborating with other departments in a larger organization, RACI breaks at the boundary. And most systems break at the boundary.
- Agile works with a small team and it starts to break at the boundary when you take it across to cross-departmental work.
- You can do Agile with your team and then use the RACI language to clarify the role once you export your work to others.
- Cassie wants to teach RACI as a management tool. [21:24]
- A really good RACI matrix is 10-15 lines long, and that’s it.
- RACI is a negotiation tool.
- The other reason that having a RACI language is so important is because we are working so much more cross-functionally. There’s an imperative to speed up the work. [25:20]
Doing a RACI at the beginning of a new project, that’s the golden hour.Cassie Solomon
- There’s a whole way of applying RACI to meetings and asking yourself, “Do all of these people really have to be in this meeting?” Because if they’re all just Cs or they’re all just Is, we could send them home. [31:57]
- If you look at the PMI version of RACI from 1955, they’re pretty clear in the PMBOK that there’s only one A. [35:14]
- Deliverables and deadline. If a team is creating its deliverables and it’s getting things done on time, you probably don’t need to stop their progress. Unless someone is over functioning and they’re getting angry—that’s not a good solution. [41:48]
Meet Our Guest
A highly experienced organizational development consultant and executive coach, Cassie is the founder of The New Group Consulting, Inc. and the creator of RACI Solutions and RACI 2.0. Trained at Yale, Penn, and Wharton, she applies system-level thinking to clarify and streamline teamwork and structure in complex organizations. She has been teaching RACI world-wide and helping her clients use it effectively for over 20 years.
Cassie teaches global executives at Wharton’s Aresty Institute of Executive Education. Her book, Leading Successful Change: 8 Keys to Making Change Work, co-authored with Gregory P. Shea, has been recently updated to help leaders successfully navigate the ever-increasing pace of change (February 2020/Wharton School Press). She is trained as a futurist and brings that perspective to her strategic planning work, helping organizations understand disruptive technology, digital transformation and the future of work.
Decision making in an organization is invisible. You can’t walk in the door and see it. It’s like the air you breathe, but it’s really important.Cassie Solomon
Resources from this episode:
- Join DPM Membership
- Subscribe to the newsletter to get our latest articles and podcasts
- Connect with Cassie on LinkedIn and Twitter
- Check out RACI Solutions
- Learn more about The New Group Consulting, Inc.
- The Limits of RACI – McKinsey and Company (.pdf)
- Role Confusion Quiz (.docx)
Related articles and podcasts:
- About the podcast
- Learn more about the RACI 2.0 approach
- I Sucked At Saying No To Stakeholders Until I Discovered This
- RACI Chart Template For Project Managers + Example & How-To
- How To Avoid Project Conflicts By Managing Resources Better
- Making Agile Work With Metagility
- 3 Warning Signs Your Digital Transformation Is About To Stall & How To Course Correct
Read the Transcript:
We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.
Galen Low: So you're looking at a print out of a RACI chart. It's a bit hard to decipher. And actually, it's a bit dusty. But that doesn't strike you as particularly odd for a RACI chart. But then you look a little more closely at the date.
This RACI chart is from 1955.
If you've been keen to harness the power of RACI to clarify roles and responsibilities but feel that it might be a bit stiff and antiquated for your teams, keep listening. We're going to be exploring how RACI—when done right—can be used for so much more than simply achieving role clarity.
Hey folks, thanks for tuning in. My name is Galen Low with the Digital Project Manager. We are a community of digital professionals on a mission to help each other get skilled, get confident, and get connected so that we can amplify the value of project management in a digital world. If you want to hear more about that, head over to thedigitalprojectmanager.com.
Okay. Today we're gonna be talking about roles and responsibilities and whether a good old RACI chart is still an effective way to achieve clarity on who does what within your team and across your organization.
With me today is Cassie Solomon, an organizational change and digital transformation leader and author of “Leading Successful Change: 8 Keys To Making Change Work”, a book that has been published by Wharton twice, once in 2013, and then revised in 2020.
Hello, Cassie! Thanks for joining me today.
Cassie Solomon: Hey, Galen, thank you so much for having me.
Galen Low: Cassie and I have been nerding out in the green room and prepping for this session about RACI, about roles and responsibilities and about change. And I know we can go on and on, and we've been having great conversations.
So this may become a series, but today we really wanted to just dig in, dig into RACI, dig into roles and responsibilities. It's been a big topic lately for every team, every organization. It's been a nut that very few people have been able to crack successfully. But I'm going to get all of Cassie's secrets out in the open today.
But Cassie, first of all, I wondered maybe could you tell us a bit about your background and like the journey that's led you to creating your practice as an organizational change consultant?
Cassie Solomon: Sure, thanks Galen. I have an MBA from Wharton in operations, which makes me an even bigger nerd. But when I graduated I went to work for a consulting firm that did organizational change. And you wouldn't think that those things are quite so tightly knit, but they really are because if you're gonna try to change an operation, you'd have to understand something about people. And it really was that firm that taught me RACI initially.
My mentor, Tom Gilmore, taught it to me and then we taught it together at Wharton a long time ago and occasionally still do. So that's where I got kind of started with that. I've been out on my own since 2007, so my little business just celebrated its 15th anniversary this fall. Yay!
Yes. I think there's some great statistics that most businesses don't make it past five years, so I've done that three times. Yay!
Galen Low: Nice. Very cool. And I mean, you mentioned RACI and we've been nerding out, but I wonder if you could just share, you know, why is RACI such a passion for you?
Cassie Solomon: So I think there are two reasons.
Back in the day when I learned it at my consulting firm, we would often be called in to work with teams that were experiencing conflict or project teams that were stuck. And that's the first thing we would often do with those teams is say, well, you know, let's clean up the roles and see what's left. And sometimes cleaning up the roles would be all that team actually needed.
It would spring back to life and people would go on much more happily, much less conflict, much more productivity. And I was like, wow, this thing is just amazing. I really love this tool and it doesn't take care of all of the personality conflicts that exist on our project teams, but even if it takes care of, you know, 70% of them, that's a pretty good number.
And that was when I initially fell for it. But then in the last five years, I've been really fascinated by digital transformation. I've been studying technology. I've been nerding out on the fourth industrial revolution, and some of those changes are being felt in our businesses when people say, you know, we have to go faster. You know, we have to innovate faster, we have to get products to market faster, and RACI is really helpful at cutting out the waste in the system. In a different way than say, Lean Six Sigma is cutting out the waste.
So I think it's kind of having a moment, and as we were talking before we started the podcast, vulnerable McKinsey has just gotten interested in this kind of tool. Because they did a study in 2017 that showed that 80% of organizations are not happy with their decision making process and they think it's broken. So I'll say more about the McKinsey blog in a minute and we can put it in the show notes. If you guys wanna take a look at their new RACI tool, which they called DARE, which I will controversially say I don't think is any good.
Galen Low: Spoiler alert. There's gonna be a fist fight later.
Cassie Solomon: Later in the series I'll trash McKinsey a little more, but I think that our original tool RACI, which we'll be talking about, really relevant, vital, powerful tool.
Galen Low: I love this notion of like RACI as a tool to alleviate conflict and how much conflict in collaboration environment is the stuff that you want to, you know, trim the fat on and get rid of and find efficiency in.
Yes, it's roles and responsibilities, but it's also just getting rid of that waste that is conflict and so much conflict is centered around, you know, maybe pointing figures about who's doing what or just spending time being confused and inviting about it. But we will definitely dig into that.
Cassie Solomon: So can I just say there's a role confusion quiz that we often use in our workshops, and I'm gonna put it in the show notes.
And before we even teach the tool, we kind of put up this list of symptoms and we ask people now that it's virtual, if this is a symptom that you're experiencing on your teams, you know, put this in the chat. And it's only 10 symptoms, but it's duplication of effort or being reactive instead of proactive or as you said, finger pointing. We're starting to get into like a "we", "they" dynamic on the team or lack of action.
People feel like they don't know how to take initiative. And the reason that we put that list of sorrows up in front of people is to say, you know, on no day ever will you come to work unless you're highly trained and say, ah, that is a RACI problem.
But you will see these other symptoms and they're pretty common. So, you know, we kind of ask people, are you having any of this going on? And they're like, oh my God, number 5, number 7, number 11, you know, number 2, all over the place, number 2. Then we say, okay, those are RACI problems.
Those are role confusion and that's the enemy, like the guy across the table or in the Zoom, that's not the enemy. This role confusion stuff is the enemy and it's really helpful to learn how to recognize it.
Galen Low: I love that you have a diagnostic. That's great. I'm taking something for granted here cuz you and I have been nerding out, but some folks might not be totally familiar with RACI, so I thought maybe just a level set for our listeners.
Can you give us like the very quick 101 on RACI and what it is?
Cassie Solomon: I can do that. I was cleaning out my basement. I found my original research on the tool. So good news is, I'm not gonna tell you all of it, but it was founded around 1955. So we've been teasing that like, don't use your grandmother's RACI.
Because in 1955, like we were all listening to music on our phonographs and stuff. But tool itself is very simple, and it's an acronym. The R stands for responsible. I'm gonna teach you Cassie's version of this right now. The R stands for delivering a piece of work. If you have an R, you're doing work.
We call it like the worker B role. The A stands for accountable or authorized, and that role is the decision making role. That's the role with authority. That's a great way to remember what does the A stand for, it stands for authority. And if you have the A, then you are the boss. Like you are making the decisions. You are overseeing people's work. You were saying, Cassie, I don't like that memo the way it is. Go back and redo it. That's the A.
The C stands for consult. This really is the stakeholder management part of the tool. As you can think about, gee, you know, who's gonna be affected by this project? Who has expertise to contribute?
How do I get to them before I make a mistake? So Cs are usually consulted before you make decisions, ideally. And the last official code is the I, which stands for inform. And honestly, inform is a little like the guy at the bottom of the toe temple because if you have an eye roll, you are just being informed about what's happening.
No one's even asking you what you think. Like if you were invited to share your opinion, Galen, you'd be a C, but you're not. You're an I. And, and it's still a very important role cuz if you think about like, how do we do a communications plan? Who needs to know this stuff so that they can move forward and do their job? Those are all the I's in the system and that's important.
And then we add a fifth code, which is really just a variation. We do R Prime. And that's if you have more than one person working on something, you would have like more than one R. It's a really good practice to designate one of those multiple R's as the R Prime and that person is responsible for understanding what all the Rs are doing.
Kind of like orchestrating what all the R's are doing. So if you're the sponsor of a project or you wanna know like what's happening with that design, you know who to go to. And the R Prime can also be doing some work or they can just be keeping track of all the work that other people are doing.
So that's it. Five codes, you're done. I say sometimes, you know, I can teach you to speak a new language in under four minutes. I think we just did it in two and it has such universality. A lot of global companies love it because it's much simpler than trying to express all this stuff in a second language.
Galen Low: I really like the spin you put on it. I know a lot of folks who are familiar with it know A as accountable and then just that word accountable is somewhat problematic. I think everyone kind of has a different interpretation on it. Authorized is a much clearer definition for me as you're saying that, and then R Prime for sure. Because you know, we've seen all of the RACI Matrix is that, you know, have a lot of A plus R and then many Rs, and then maybe too many Rs R Prime is a nice one to have.
Cassie Solomon: Yeah, it really helps. When organizations run into more role confusion, they run into trouble, it's cuz they've mixed up the R and the A and they're not sure like, well, if I'm responsible, doesn't that make I'm making some decisions and if I'm accountable, and if you make it as clean as possible, it really helps.
So if you're delivering something, whether it's making dinner reservations or a whole full report or a design, you've got an R and that's a deliverable job. And you have the A, you get to make decisions. And Tom, you know, I think really loved to say that all the roles have accountability, right?
If you have the A, you're accountable for the quality of your decisions. Should we do that with our political leaders all the time? What a crappy decision that was. If you have the R, you're accountable for the quality of your work.
And if you have a C, you're accountable for the quality of the advice that you're giving. An I is a stretch, but you have to read your email and know what people are telling you, right? You're accountable for your listening and you're learning about what's happening.
Galen Low: No, I love that, like not being the A doesn't wash your hands of being accountable for yourself.
Cassie Solomon: I would say it depends on what are you lying in bed at night worrying about, right? If you're worrying that I'm never gonna get it all done, those are R worries. If you're worried that I hired the wrong person or you know, I just turned in a report that was wrong, that's an A worry.
Galen Low: That's why I love being the I sometimes on those initiatives that I don't wanna be involved in.
Cassie Solomon: The I's are sleeping soundly, Galen, they are not awake in the middle of the night. Also, the C's are usually sleeping soundly, which we'll talk more about because they are less involved.
Galen Low: Absolutely. Let's dig into like, when might someone use RACI?
Cassie Solomon: So I wanna be a little bit contrarian because I had to first think about this for a client who was a high growth, startup company, and they were like, RACI seems so bureaucratic. Do we have to use it all the time? Come back to us, Cassie, with a slide that tells us when not to use RACI.
And I was like, I can do that. I can do it. And then it ended up being the slide that answered both sides of the questions. So the first condition is, are you doing something novel for the first time or are you doing repeatable work, right? If your accounts payable and you have figured out how to be accounts payable and you're gonna do it the same way, month after month, why would you bother?
Like you've worked out your roles. If you're all in the same place, and we'll talk about this with Agile, if you're co-located and you can just walk into the other guy's office and say, Hey, you know, are you doing that or am I doing that? The co-location thing really helps people work through roles, but gosh, that's a kind of a luxury these days, right?
So many people are hybrid. We also said if you all have the same background, if like if you're all engineers or you're all from sales or you're all physicians, you speak the same language of identity that helps people sort out themselves if you speak the same primary language. So we said earlier, global teams love RACI because if we're all working in English and we think it's fine, it's not as fine as you think it is. When it comes to talking about this role stuff, then RACI gives you a nice shorthand that you can get everybody to understand.
So anyway, so I ran through this list and by the end of it they said we almost never have any of that. So I guess that means we kind of need to use RACI.
The one time that I kind of highlight for people is, if you're starting a major project and you're working with people that you're not super familiar with, that's an awesome time to get the roles clear, because halfway through a project when you're already confused and maybe angry at each other and things aren't going well, it still works, but it's way more fun to do it in the beginning.
Galen Low: That's fair. I love the sort of the universality of it as well and the fact that, you know, you're right. There more and more there are more hybrid teams who are not co-located, you know, come from different backgrounds who have different specialties.
And actually, if nothing else, we were talking about McKinsey earlier, if nothing else, there is a resurgence of interests in RACI now because of some of those characteristics and circumstances that you had mentioned about. If you got these things, you might not need RACI. But guess what? Not many folks have that luxury anymore.
Cassie Solomon: Well, we also talk about it slight rabbit hole, but if you're onboarding a new team member, people will enter with caution if they're smart and they'll figure out who knows what and where the decisions are. But it might take 'em a while.
And you know, they're not gonna come in jumping in with both feet usually. If you RACI them into a new team, like, oh, I get it. Galen's a guy that I go to talk about X, and this person over here is gonna make this decision. And it just really accelerates their ability to hit the ground running.
Galen Low: I love that. Trimming the fat.
Cassie Solomon: Less waste.
Galen Low: You raised a good point earlier. You said if you're co-located and you can just walk over to somebody's desk and be like, am I doing this or are you doing this? Then like what makes it so different in the sense of like, why do we even need a framework to talk about roles and responsibilities to begin with?
Couldn't we just say, Hey, let's make sure that we have these conversations with one another and get clear on it and then move on?
Cassie Solomon: So I wanna go back to this idea that so many tools in project management are extra focused on what are we gonna do? What are the steps in the flowchart? What are the steps in standard work, right? Like the tools that we mostly associate with project management really double down on the "What?" And to my knowledge, and so if there's a listener that could put this in the chat or put this in the show notes, I'd be thrilled cuz I keep asking this question, I've been asking this question for about a decade.
Do you know of another tool that addresses the "Who"? Other than RACI it's kind of stands alone as the one that addresses the "who". And I think it's more important than ever Galen because we're doing more cross-functional work and there's a lot of reasons for why we do more cross-functional work. But I think that's why this 2017, McKinsey study showed that 80% of organizations are dissatisfied with their decision making. Because once you walk into what we call the horizontal landscape, you're not inside your own silo.
I know who to go ask about decisions, I just go to the boss. As soon as you're working cross-functionally, all that clarity breaks down and everybody thinks they're the boss or nobody thinks they're the boss. And so that combined with all this digital transformation that we're going through, really makes the ability to talk about role very important in today's workplace.
Galen Low: I love that horizontal visual metaphor. It just makes so much sense in terms of how teams are now crest cutting and how it can get really blurry. I know that for some of our listeners and some folks in my community, all fine and good. Yes, definitely the "who", that needs to be talked about. But the actual sort of RACI, as you mentioned, some people will just have they'll be pushing back being like, okay, well this is a bit too formal.
Like having a RACI matrix is actually pretty useless. And as somebody who's coming at it from and having your own flavor of RACI, do you think that their stance is valid or is it maybe just people doing it wrong somehow?
Cassie Solomon: I love that question. I once had a client say, doing a RACI matrix is like watching paint dry and I would rather die. I was like, you are a true RACI hater and I love you cuz I'm gonna reform you. You are my challenge. I hear all the RACI haters that there could ever be.
I do think there are better ways to use RACI and worse ways to use RACI. And you said formal, and I love that. And I just want to come back on that and say, we often say, look, just start out using RACI as a language.
You don't even have to do the full matrix with the activities and the stakeholders and the filling in the codes. Just start using it back and forth with each other. You know, Galen, do I have the R for that or do you have the R for that? Oh, by the way, have we figured out who the A is for this thing or how many A's we have for this thing?
And that's in conversation. That's in the moment with each other. I did it on my tiny team this week. I said, no, Katie has the R. Anika is a C and I'm the A. Got it? Move on. So it doesn't take time if you use it as a language and it helps you to be nimble and clarify things as you go. So there's the, as a language piece, which I think is really important.
We already talked about people who get stuck on the difference between R and A and how hard that is to resolve, but I think if you crisp it up and serve it crispy, then it's really successful. And last but not least, RACI is missing something really important, which is really easy to fix, which it doesn't have a deadline.
So, you know, my staff member can say, oh, I've got the R for that. Cassie, don't worry about that. I'm handling that and in their mind they're like, and I have until the new year. And I'm thinking, phew, I'm gonna get that, you know, next Wednesday. But if we haven't had that part of the conversation about how long something takes or deadline, we're still talking past each other.
But you know, a lot of these are done in Excel. So you just have to remember like, oh, I need that deadline piece that is not baked into a traditional RACI tool. Then I think it actually is pretty perfect. Do you want me to talk about RACI and Agile? Do you have a lot of Agile people?
Galen Low: I definitely do. I have a lot of folks who are either trying to figure Agile out or are just strong proponents there out.
Cassie Solomon: Okay. Okay. So a client who said, Cassie, you gotta help me cuz my IT department is using Agile and they hate RACI and they don't think they need it and I'm trying to roll this out organization wide and you know, go figure that out. So I got out onto the internet and I did all my research and yes there are people in the agile community that really hate RACI.
But what I found, I think there's a pretty easy way to make them both, right? You know, agile prides itself on the team making the decisions itself. Like, we're gonna get together every day. We're gonna huddle, we're gonna talk about the problems, we're gonna resolve the problems, and then we're gonna move on. Why would we do something as cumbersome and traditional as RACI?
And they were people online that really were proponents of that, but there were other people who said what I believe, which is, you know, that works fantastic if you are an Agile team. But once you start collaborating with other departments in this larger organization, that breaks at the boundary. And most systems break at the boundary.
PS, talking about that in another context earlier today. So they needed RACI when things got more complicated, when they had to go collaborate with learning and development, or they had to go collaborate with the business owners and they had to be very clear in those cases. Who was doing the deliverable? Who was giving the advice? Where the decisions lived? Was really not clear.
It was a technology build and you know, the IT team, they had the A and the business leaders thought they had the A and plenty of conflict there. So Agile works with a small team and it starts to break at the boundary when you take it across to lots of cross-departmental work. And you can do both. You can do Agile with your team and then use the RACI language to clarify the role once you export your work to others. That's my answer by that.
Galen Low: I love the notion of it being a language. Cause I think when people look at RACI, they think of RCI Matrix, they think of a spreadsheet, they think of that spreadsheet that's cumbersome to update that nobody looks at, and suddenly they're like, okay, well yeah, we can't do that.
That doesn't seem fast. But actually having a conversation, right, like you mentioned with your team and being like, are you the R or am I the R? Am I the A? Sounds like you might be talking about something else, but it actually gets clarity on a thing.
Cassie Solomon: I once had a dean who said, I love this so much. I'm gonna put a sign in my office that says I am the biggest A. So, she had a nice sense of humor. I don't think she actually did do that sign, because it could have been misinterpreted, but I thought it was pretty cute.
Galen Low: Pretty clever. I love that. So I actually love what you mentioned about the tools too, right? And like this notion, I mean, it stands to reason that you could be quite nimble actually having this conversation, documenting it in just whatever, a Jira ticket.
But instead of having assigned two, having maybe just that, you know, the compliment of RACI or whatever your variant may be, just to kind of say it, move on. There's a record of it. Someone could get onboarded and understand, and it doesn't have to be necessarily that cumbersome, but boy have I seen some cumbersome RACI charts in the past.
Cassie Solomon: Well, the other thing that we teach Galen is I wanna teach RACI as a management tool. You know, I've seen 250, 300 line RACI matrices, but they have dedicated project managers that practically work that RACI for a living. And most of us don't have that and don't want that. So I'm telling people, a really good RACI matrix is between 10 and 15 lines long, and that's it.
And so then you have to start thinking, well, what should I chart? What level activity is the right level to chart, and what do I do with all those details? And I say, well, you know, turf them off. If you've decided in your high level RACI that the marketing department has the R and the A for X, you're gonna turn around and make a more granular one if you need to.
And the other way to answer that, what should I chart question is chart the difficult things. Call out just the decisions that you're confused about. Call out just the tasks that are ambiguous that people are struggling with. You don't have to chart every last little done and squiggle. And so keeping them at that simple level really helps.
And I also think it really highlights the idea that RACI is a negotiation tool, right? Because who says the RACI is right? You know, is that just a peer-to-peer negotiation? I think you have the arc cuz I don't want it. And you think I have the arc cuz you don't want it. Okay, now what do we do?
Or every department in this project team wants to have the A and that's an awful lot of A's, so who's gonna resolve that? It's a very simple tool, but it's a little bit like Pandora's box. Like you open up that super dumb, simple RACI tool and before you know it, you're asking like, where is the power in this organization, anyway? And that is a profound question, so.
Galen Low: I love that. I mean, we opened up with like conflict, right? And actually it's not avoiding conflict, it's actually having structured negotiation, which is in some ways conflict upfront so that it's not finding out about it as we go and it gets all messy.
It's this cleaner negotiation of like, are you sure that person should be authorized for this? Should this person be responsible fighting over resources and what have you? But yeah, absolutely. I mean, listen, I think that's a really good segue into my next question.
I think a lot of folks inside and outside of project management, they're like, oh yeah, RACI is a project management tool. But you had just said organizations and where power sits within an organization. So do you see a RACI as just a project management thing?
Cassie Solomon: Boy, I don't, but I think that's because of these really large forces at work in the world, so like permission to just go super broad for a minute. You know, you read a lot and you hear a lot about how we're moving from command and control structures to flatter organizations, and there's actually a sociotechnical reason that's happening, which is that information is now flowing differently.
Thank you. Computers and AI and where information flows, usually some kind of authority flows along with it. And so the reason we're moving from top down like the old IBM white shirt days to like pods of people who are self-organizing and can be more nimble is really because of the way information is changing.
And this might date the podcast, but it's a pretty good example that really caught my attention. I guess it's six months ago when I started reading about the difference between the way the Russians were conducting war and the way the Ukrainians were conducting war, and the Russians were using this really old fashioned style of warfare with like all the centralized decision making and the decisions coming down from the top.
And the Ukrainians were using what the Americans moved two years ago, which is much more nimble teams, small teams that were getting information on the fly from like grandmothers with iPhones like, and they could make decisions on the ground based on the information they were receiving. And that's why so many Russian generals were killed at the beginning of the conflict cuz they had to be on the battlefield to tell people what to do.
And they weren't actually supposed to be on the battlefield, but that was the only way that decisions could get made. And then they were in the line of fire. And so I'm reading this and my head is just exploding cuz it's like the dark side of the fourth industrial revolution. And the other reason that I think having this language of RACI is so important is we are working so much more cross-functionally.
And most of the time that's because there's an imperative to speed up the work. So I'm really lucky to be working with some pretty big companies in their innovation units. And it's all about, you know, how can we eliminate the waste? How can we get decisions made more quickly? How can we get product out the door?
How can we get scientific decisions made more quickly? And you can venture into that water without the RACI language, and a lot of people do. Like, you don't even know how to talk about it without a language to talk about it. And this one is so simple. The other thing that I love that we're starting to talk about with them is imagine that a decision is like a person, like and it's gonna travel on a journey.
Can you map the journey that decision is traveling on? And I really wanna encourage people to start doing this cuz it's such an interesting learning. So like where does the decision go first? Where does it go second? Which committee does it have to show up in front of next? And then which committee? And it's like looking at a little hobo with a sack and a stick, you know.
And so if you create that decision map, and step back from it, you say, oh my gosh, look at that's really a long, convoluted journey. Poor little decision. Had to go from committee number three all the way back to home base and of course it took three and a half months. So I think the language goes along with some of those larger shifts that we're seeing in the workplace.
Galen Low: I love that. And I think, you know, what's resonating with me is this notion of empowered cross-functional teams. Like actually our ways of working in like our day-to-day operations business as usual is actually taking on more characteristics of projects. Actually, where we'd be like, okay.
You people who don't normally work together, please work together. You need to figure it out. Maybe fill out this RACI, you know, go for it. And now that's actually like that efficiency is baked into the way we are operating businesses at large. Where if you were to run that simulation of, okay, here's how decisions are made now.
And for some reason it is an eight bit pinball arcade game in my head where you just watch it and you watch it for three minutes and you're like, that was already too long. Okay, now let's run it. If the decision happened with the team and you're like, oh yeah, okay, well then that's what we're gonna do. But we need to implement some infrastructure here to make sure that we are putting this a bit on rails.
And something rails that have that universality, rails that can be a language and rails that we can document, but instead of being top down, it might actually be a little bit more bottom up with some of these teams.
Cassie Solomon: And I'm starting to talk about decision architecture, which is actually an IT term that's in use, but nobody, then I know actually uses it, so I figured I could borrow it. But you're right about the structure. So if you say, what's the decision architecture? You're actually looking at a part of the system that we described in the book that we mentioned at the beginning, like decision making in an organization is invisible. You can't walk in the door and see it. It's like the air you breathe, but it's really important.
So if you can figure out a way to describe it and come up with the architecture that you prefer, you're way ahead of the game and otherwise you're just kinda swimming around in it. I don't know why I'm so frustrated.
This is taking forever. You also said something I wanted to go back to, which is, doing a RACI at the beginning of a new project, that's the golden hour. That's when you wanna do it. If people haven't worked together before, it's a really nice thing to do with them as a group and kind of hammered out.
It takes longer to do it with a group by the end of the process. You figured out how you're gonna work together, a little bonus. And the alternative is the project manager or the sponsor or the client goes into their virtual room and closes their virtual door and comes out and says, this is how you're gonna work together people, this is the RACI and now let's discuss. And that is faster, but it kind of sacrifices the team building part of doing a RACI together.
Galen Low: Yeah. You actually might not benefit from the sort of empowerment that you develop by including somebody in having a conversation on RACI. And to your point, like I love coming back to what you had said, you know, maybe try and target 10 to 15 items in your RACI matrix to kind of give it that scale and then talk about things that are confusing. And I've found that very effective as well, rather than try and, you know, document the whole universe of what's gonna happen with this team, you know, down to like, yeah, who, who's going to press send on this email versus who is going to write it.
Like, you know, you can get lost, you can get down a rabbit hole, but if you're just talking about okay, what is confusing? What don't we know? Let's talk about that and we document it in a RACI format. Then we have this vernacular, we have this language, and we have something we can look at and say, okay, yeah, we had talked about that.
Cassie Solomon: I have to say, RACI is very flexible. So it's really different than a job description. Like, you know, that line at the end of job descriptions that says other duties as assigned. Like most of us, that's all we do these digs, right? And job descriptions, you know, change like the place to see in a dinosaurs, like very slowly. But RACI is our project based.
So I can have one role on project A, I've got a lot of work to do on that one. On project B, maybe I'm just a consultant and I'm there to share my wisdom and I don't have any work to do at all. So they're nimble in that way. I can be in a different role project to project without having to go back to square one and change my job description.
Galen Low: I even love that as a negotiation language. I'm getting a bit off topic here, but you know, applied outside of a project context, you know, I'm feeling overworked. Okay, I'm gonna go talk to my manager. Manager says, well, listen, you're working on the same number of projects that everyone elses. So sorry, I can't help you. And you can be like, but actually I'm accountable for all of these things in these projects. Everyone else is just kind of informed and then you have a conversation and that's kind of an interesting.
Cassie Solomon: There's actually a version of the Matrix that allows you to diagnose your own job. And it's like you think about, here are the different projects I'm on, here are the elements on that I'm working on and that's exactly why we did it so that you could say, look at all the R's in my column.
And look at all the R's in Suzy's column, like zero. Suzy has zero Rs, and I'm like, can we fix this? Can we just move some of these around? Because it's the other reason I love this language because it's very neutral, right?
It's one thing if I go into the hallway and say, that's Susie. She's not pulling her weight. She's kind of a lazy, good for nothing. And that's a hard conversation to have, especially if I'm gonna have it with Susie. But my coming in and saying, wow, I got 10 Rs and I'd really like you to take some of my R's. Could you do that? Now we're just having a conversation that hasn't hurt anybody's feelings.
It's very concrete. We can really sort it out and she might say, absolutely not. Cuz look at my chart from over here. You know I have, I have 14 R's. Now you have to both go talk to whoever the boss is, which is on cross-functional teams sometimes pretty hard to figure out.
Galen Low: But again, right, not avoiding conflict, just giving some of that negotiation, some structure and a shared language. I'm very fond of that notion and sure just like any language, I'm sure there's a way to piss somebody off with a RACI as well. Hey, you have so few R's that you are actually irresponsible. Take that. RACI insults?
Cassie Solomon: Well, actually, yeah, we're not probably gonna have time to get into it, but there's a whole way of applying RACI to meetings and asking yourself like, do all of these people really have to be in this meeting? Because if they're all just C's or they're all just I's, like we could send them home.
There's actually an easier way to get their input and an easier way to get the information to them. Now I've just leaned out my team to just the people that have deliverable responsibility and decision making authority. Now, your team has gone from like super blabby, flabby, boring. I don't know why I'm here to like, let's get through this people, because we've got stuff to do.
Galen Low: And I love your decision making definition for the authorized or accountable folks because I see people now, they do decision meetings, right?
In your invite, whatever event, title, decision meeting, you know, here's the goal, we need to do this, and guess what? That should probably just be all the A's. I love all of these bills and expansions upon RACI. I love this notion of like RACI for meetings. But you said something earlier, you said systems break at the boundaries.
And you we were talking about McKinsey and their DARE framework. Where are the limits of RACI and where is RACI kind of holding us back and what actually might be broken about it that might need to change?
Cassie Solomon: So I think if we go back to this idea of systems breaking up the boundaries, I just wanna put it a little bit in the context of your community.
If you're an agency, the client is on the other side of the boundary, right? So you can be really clear about your own workflows and really unclear about how decisions are gonna get made over in that foggy part of the landscape that's mysterious to you.
So when you talk about RACI helping alliances or helping vendor management, now you're talking about how do I use this language across a really big boundary? Like I'm working with a different company, or I'm working with a different organization entirely, and like, how can I export some of the clarity that we've started to enjoy? Woo-hoo. You know, and bring that outside organization into it. So that's a place where unless they're also into RACI, you have to go kind of underground.
They talk about ineffective meeting management and they talk about poor delegation practices, but there's a whole way to get RACI into your delegation language that's really easy and really practical. So I don't think it breaks there, honestly. You're talking to the RACI lover and I was very encouraged.
Last week I was on the phone with a startup in Europe and they were interested in RACI because they said, why we have clients that are like religious about it? They love RACI so much and we better learn about it. So I think there still are a lot of RACI lovers out there in the world.
Galen Low: I mean, isn't it interesting that, you know, in some ways you've described throughout this, some different ways to approach RACI and maybe some ways that people hadn't even thought of yet. At the beginning I was like, you know, could they be doing something wrong? But even more than that, are they maybe not stretching RACI as far as it can go to achieve clarity? And as a result of that, everyone's unhappy with it because it doesn't seem to be working 80% of companies are still unhappy with the way that decisions are made. But you maybe it's not necessarily time to throw it out.
Maybe it's time to just think bigger about it. Not that anyone was doing it wrong, but maybe we can think bigger about it and how it applies to the way we work. Cuz it's not just a spreadsheet for a little project that we'll start and finish and then be done with, and it seems like a waste of time, but it could actually be a mindset and a language. So I really like that idea.
Cassie Solomon: I won't say it's in need of updating, but if you look at the PMI version of RACI from 1955, you know, they're pretty clear, you know, in the PMBOK that there's only one A. And people who take that seriously are like, well, you only have one A, so we'll assign that A, and then we're done.
But what I find is more realistic is like really put down where all the different decisions are made. And that's how you start the negotiation, right? So if it's a cross-functional team and every single one of these department managers think that they have the A, and now you've got a RACI chart that has four or five A's on it, and you're like that's gonna really slow us down. So now we have to use that information and go back and say, somebody has to be demoted. I mean, let's just not means words, you know?
You want to be an A, but in fact we'd really prefer that you just be a C cuz your opinion is incredibly well informed and valuable and we need it. But we just can't have everybody in the decision making seat. So having those multiple A's allows you to have the next part of the conversation where you hopefully slim it down and that's what speeds you up.
So if you get into really complicated organizations like, academic medical centers, universities, associations, you know, like the A's, I don't care what the PMI says, they're like 17 A's. You need to turn the flip chart paper sideways to chart this damn thing. And then you can look at it and say oh, that's gonna take me nine months, right?
That's not okay. So now you go back and say who's willing to stand down from that, that A position? And what I often say to people is, you know, you may end up being really unhappy with the outcome of the RACI negotiation cuz you didn't get the role that you wanted.
And you have more work and less authority and that's a bad day. But you're still gonna have a better project if the roles are clear. Then you would, if you just wandered around, kind of bumping into each other, trying to figure it all out.
Galen Low: This is almost this greater good aspect to it if you can look at it that way and be like, okay. Well.
Cassie Solomon: It's also like multiple rounds in a game. Like I lost it on this round, but it's a RACI. It's not the rest of my life, you know? Next project I'll end up in a better role.
Galen Low: I love that lens. I love the sort of politics of it. I love the sort of difficult conversations. Made it slightly easier by RACI, but doesn't avoid them. It's not a workaround for having tough conversations. It's a language to have tough conversations.
Cassie Solomon: Tough conversations. That's exactly right, Galen. I love that. Sometimes I say it's Pandora's box, you know? So I'm like, oh, we're just gonna do a little RACI conversation here, and it's gonna be so easy. It's like, Ooh.
Galen Low: Yeah, you lift the hood and yeah, all the mess.
Cassie Solomon: But the alternative is not having those conversations. And the alternative is what drives people crazy because you're stuck like in the swamp, right? And you can't see and you don't know what's happening and you can't move your feet. So that's not a better alternative to having those tough conversations.
Galen Low: Absolutely.
Cassie Solomon: So I don't know if that answered your question, sorry. I feel like someone who just wants to talk about RACI all day long.
Galen Low: Absolutely a great path to head down. I wanted to round it out with something very tactical. We've talked very high level, and I think, I hope we've inspired some of our listeners to think about RACI differently, maybe thinking bigger about RACI. We've talked about how we can modify it. We've talked about how maybe it's not time for RACI to roll over and die, but it might need to change, and it has its limitations.
We need to pair it with decision architecture. We need to understand it and how it impacts broader organizations, not just teams and not just projects. But one thing I wanted to circle back on, just so like bring it way back down to planet earth here it was just the tactics of it. We've been talking about, okay, beginning of a project, great opportunity to do a RACI, we've been talking about Agile and how RACI fits in there and how it doesn't really seem that nimble, but it can be nimble.
But the one thing that I hope, I think a lot of our listeners are thinking and they're like, I do RACI, I love RCI. It never seems to quite work because I create this RACI chart at the beginning and nobody ever looks at it again. And it's well intended and it was probably correct, but as we know, things change. And I think that's where a lot of the Agile folks who aren't really big fans of RACI, I think that's a lot of the times where they're coming from.
They're like, why would we create this basically throwaway document? That's the first thing we used to lean out because we don't want to have to go back and update this, but I don't know. What advice might you have for folks who are using RACI, who want to succeed at RACI aren't really finding their stride because people really just aren't referring back to it or using it?
Cassie Solomon: Yeah, I've seen this. It's like the RACI in the drawer, you know? It's like the elf on the shelf. It's the RACI in the drawer. So the initial exercise may have been very satisfying, and we may have come to agreement that, as you said, Galen, you know, this is a very dynamic world that we're living in and it's not gonna last forever, whatever it was that you agreed.
So at the risk of repeating myself, I do think that's why building RACI as a language into the way you work together can be how you update it without even necessarily taking it out of the drawer, although you can. I can just say, listen, I took the R for that when we sat down for this project, but that was before, you know, my mom fell and broke her hip.
You know, my dog needed to have a leg amputated and I got this other assignment. Can I give this R back to you? That's how work changes hands in real life. And it's just that shorthand to make those adjustments as you go. And somebody may decide if, especially if there's project manager may say, oh, I noticed that the RACI chart has changed.
I'm gonna update it. Doesn't have to be done with the whole group. That might fall to the PM, or it may just be something that we've figured out together. The other thing that I tell people is, the beautiful thing about using RACI with your meetings is I guarantee you most people will go to meetings. So you can't forget to use the language if it's every time you walk in the door for a meeting. It's like, oh yeah, that R A C I thing, cuz it's on the agenda or it's, you know, how we track our follow up steps or it's, oh, I get it.
You know, Dr. Lee is here because he's a C and we asked him to attend today just to tell us something more about like the radiology pack system, and he doesn't have to come every time. So if you bake it into the recipe of your meetings, you won't forget it and it won't go into the drawer.
Galen Low: I love that. I imagine that's very refreshing for people to hear, project managers especially, right? We love our documentation. We want us to be neat and tidy, but so much of our role in what we do and what our teams are doing doesn't get documented. We have an agreement usually at the beginning when we know the least about a project. And you know, in some cases there are things that we definitely want to keep up to date, especially in a client services relationship.
We wanna cover our bases, but not everything needs to be updated. And no, you don't need four, you know, project coordinators updating your RACI at all times as these conversations are happening, as long as it's understood by the team and there's still clarity. I imagine that's quite freeing. It's freeing for me.
Cassie Solomon: It's like the double D, right? Deliverables and deadline. If this team is creating its deliverables and it's getting things done on time, you probably don't need to stop their progress and say, let's check back in on that RACI, however the heck they're doing it. Unless someone is over functioning and they're getting angrier by the minute and that's not a good solution.
But like if you're getting the deliverables and you're getting by the deadlines, happy-happy, as one of my clients would say. But there are two other times to use RACI that I wanna speak to in cuz we've been focusing on using it at the beginning. If you have a project team that feels stuck, why are we unhappy?
What is wrong with this team? Why can't we get anything traction? I love this word traction. Like why can't we get project traction? That is probably a good time to step back and say, let's just RACI this thing for 20, 30 minutes and just see if we can discover something in the process that would be illuminating and so it's the messy RACI, not the happy clean one at the beginning of the project.
As you said, we know the least, but it's like, man, we got into the middle of this thing and there all these other people who care and we're weighing all these stakeholders and so thinks they're the boss and like, this thing is a mess, so we gotta talk the RACI language with it. The other way to use it, which is less talked about, but really powerful, is to do a look back.
So I learned this actually from a client. They said, oh gosh, we had the national sales meeting last year. It was a mess. We wanna RACI the mess and, you know, not for like all day, but we wanna look back with this RACI tool and say like, what were we thinking? How did that happen? That was, and now let's just pivot and let's RACI next year's sales meeting while all of this is still fresh in our mind, right?
While the pain, how we did it, is still clear to us. And we're gonna do the RACI for next year and then we'll put in the drawer, you know the drawer thing. But when we're getting ready to start the sales meeting next year, we're gonna pull it out of the drawer and say, okay, we learned something here. We did the look back.
We said this would be cleaner and better. We'd all be so much happier. And now let's start the project again.
Galen Low: I love that RACI framework as a postmortem and the fact that it's okay if it ends up in a drawer, as long as we know when to pull it back out.
Cassie Solomon: I think we're ending. So the reason that it's effective in that look back way is because it allows you to talk about who did what, in a way that's not gonna be offensive. You know, if this group over here did all the R's because this group over here didn't think they needed to, you know, that's something you can talk about and discover.
We didn't get to the cute story about Teresa and the hamburger, but maybe in the next series, like this idea of single point accountability of like, I'm the only person delivering this part of the project. That's very clear to me and I feel very accountable for delivering it. So you can introduce who and to a look back in a way that's more neutral.
Galen Low: We will definitely have to revisit hamburgers because if there's anything that we love, it's combining project manager with food. If you don't believe me, check out our YouTube channel. Awesome.
Cassie, thanks so much for your insights today. It's been a real pleasure having you on the show. If folks wanna learn more about RACI the way you see RACI, where can they go?
Cassie Solomon: Oh, thank you, Galen. They can go to our website, www.racisolutions.com. We've been thinking about, writing about, have downloadable resources about RACI eight, seven, or eight years. So that's the place.
Galen Low: I love that. Yeah. If you weren't sure how deep the rabbit hole goes, yes, Cassie has a whole website on RACI. Awesome. Thank you so much.
Cassie Solomon: Thanks, Galen.
Galen Low: All right, folks. There you have it. And as always, if you'd like to join the conversation with over a thousand like-minded project management champions, come and join our collective. Head over to thedigitalprojectmanager.com/membership to learn a little bit more.
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Until next time, thanks for listening.