A few years ago, McKinsey published a study that showed that 80% of organizations surveyed thought their decision-making was ineffective—it took too long and/or the decisions made weren’t good.
Almost half of those surveyed thought their organizations did not make decisions quickly enough. Respondents said they wasted a lot of their time on inefficient decision-making—almost one-third of their time—and that percentage increased the higher you go in the organization.
What a mess, right? Especially as companies race to keep up with the digitization of everything.
This is why RACI is perfect for this moment, in the entire Project Management Institute’s PM Book of Knowledge, it is the only project management tool that focuses on decisions—who makes them and where.
It also helps you figure out who does what work. For those two reasons, I often call the RACI acronym a Pandora’s Box—a very simple tool that unpacks all kinds of interesting issues about authority, empowerment, and accountability.
If you want to be reminded about the basic RACI tool, start here: How To Create A RACI Chart (plus a template) and here: Mastering RACI Charts in 30 Minutes (you’ll need to be a member to access this mini course). You can also find an excellent whitepaper and other resources on my website.
RACI Is For Team Building
Because I first learned RACI as an organizational change consultant, I think about it a little differently. Instead of thinking about how powerful it is for project management (which it is), I think about it first as a tool for team building.
But what happens to a team when the members aren’t clear about their roles? Here are some common symptoms:
- Workloads feel out-of-balance, with some people resenting others on the team because they aren’t carrying their fair share of the load.
- Duplication of work, which people usually chalk up to poor communication.
- People feel offended if they aren’t consulted before plans are made.
- The team feels like it is fighting fires instead of moving forward proactively.
- Stereotyping people from other departments or professional identities
All of these are terrible for team morale, and worse, they can feel like problems between the individuals on the team. Like personality conflicts. Instead most of these are just something that academics call “role confusion” and can be addressed with some RACI role clarification.
How discouraging is it to have a team work on a project for six months, only to have someone at a higher level of the organization veto its recommendation? How discouraging is it to try to work on a problem without adequate levels of support? A good, hard RACI conversation can uncover these issues before a lot of team member time has been wasted.
It turns out that teams with good role clarity are much likelier to be high-performing teams. And what do you know about that—high performing teams usually enjoy high morale, too.
Common Problems With The Original RACI
Because McKinsey is turning its attention to decision-making, they have also published a blog on the problems with RACI here. Lots of project managers have a love/hate relationship with this tool. I once had a client tell me they would rather die than create another RACI Matrix with her team because “it was like watching paint dry”.
The first problem is that the R (Responsible) and the A (Accountable) often get muddled up. The whole point of the tool is to eliminate role confusion, so this problem is really ironic.
The second problem is that when you have a complex project with multiple people collaborating to produce a deliverable (multiple Rs) the demon of role confusion can reappear.
The third problem with RACI is that it doesn’t include deadlines or a timeline. Role clarity is awesome, but not at the expense of timeliness.
The fourth problem is that the C (Consulted) role often gets into overreach, with C people thinking they have more authority than they really do.
What Is RACI 2.0 & What Are Its Advantages Over The Original?
Let’s tackle these four problems one at a time with an upgraded RACI, which I call RACI 2.0.
Problem One: The R/A Muddle
With our RACI 2.0, we make a very clear distinction between these two roles.
- The R role is doing work, which often includes creating some kind of deliverable. That might be taking an action (like making a dinner reservation) or making a recommendation (“Based on my research, I recommend we hire this agency, and here are the 3 reasons why.”) We say the R role (the responsible person) is a worker bee role. If you aren’t producing something, chances are you don’t really have an R role.
- The A role is making decisions. In RACI 2.0, we define the A as Authorize as well as Accountable (we think Authorize is clearer). No matter what you call it, be clear that this is the accountable person with the authority to make a final decision about something. (Same example, deciding where to go for dinner. Or accepting someone else’s recommendation—or not.). This role has oversight authority, too, which means this person can say, “Go back and do a second draft of whatever it is until I DECIDE that it’s good enough.”
Note that the Project Management Institute, with the original RACI, is very clear that there can only be ONE A role per activity. This is truly streamlined decision making and it is best practice. But thinking about the real world, how many different approvals does the average website design go through?
Especially with cross-functional work (work that involves multiple departments), it can be really hard to trim the RACI down to just one decision-maker. In RACI 2.0, we urge people to take a look at the number of A decision-makers they originally assigned and trim it down as far as possible. No guarantee you can get it down to just one.
Problem Two: Too many Rs
In the original RACI, you can put an unlimited number of Rs into the creation of a deliverable, and that reflects the reality of collaboration. Except that in itself can create more duplication of work and confusion—are you doing this piece or am I? And who is keeping track of all this?
In RACI 2.0, we have created an R-Prime (or R1) role for this situation. Whenever there is more than one person in the R role, just designate one of them as the R-Prime. This R1 makes sure that the deliverable is on track (like a mini-project manager for that particular deliverable).
The more Rs you have collaborating, the more crucial the R-Prime role becomes. They are orchestrating the work of multiple people—but that still doesn’t mean they are making decisions (that remains the domain of the A).
Here’s an example (building on the LOTR example from this RACI chart article)
|Write website copy||Sam Gamgee||Pippin Took|
|Approve website copy||Frodo Baggins|
This means that Pippin is working on the copy WITH Sam, but as the R1, Sam needs to make sure all the work comes together. Note: R1 roles often ALSO contribute to doing the work.
Problem Three: No Timeline or Deadlines
With RACI 2.0, we recommend adding a column to your RACI chart that includes the deadline for each project task. Nothing much gets done in cross-functional project work without a deadline, as many of us know from hard experience. Whew, that one was easy to fix!
|Write website copy||Sam Gamgee||April 3|
|Approve website copy||Frodo Baggins||April 5|
Problem Four: Overreaching Cs
The C role stands for Consult. Cs might be subject matter experts with valuable expertise to contribute, and we really want to know what they think about a project.
But they are not As which means they cannot change the course of the project – or even slow it down. The person in the A role can solicit their opinion or make sure they aren’t out of the loop, thank them, and then disregard it if they choose. Cs cannot approve and they cannot veto. All they can do is advise.
You can always set a deadline for the Cs input, too. After a certain “by-this-date” you are allowed to move forward with your project. If they haven’t contributed their ideas, you can send them a reminder (the beauty of a deadline once again) and then you are free to move ahead. “You had your chance” is the message.
Use RACI 2.0 As A Language
We like to think of RACI as a language that the project team and the organization can learn to speak fluently. We want our clients to become “RACI-fluent” organizations.
When you are fluent in RACI, it is easy for colleagues to pivot their roles in the moment. “Hey, I am slammed this week, can you take my R for (this deliverable)?”
People can clarify authority on the fly, “Who has the A for this, anyway?” or more likely, “Let’s get some clarity from upstairs, everybody seems to think they have an A for this website redesign!” “Is there a deadline for these C stakeholders? They are holding up the works!”
Is The Original RACI Chart Outdated?
No, RACI charts are still valuable (as long as you add the deadline column, see above.). But they are an investment of time, so be thoughtful about when you need to use them and when you don’t.
The beginning of a project that crosses over multiple departments, geographies, and/or time zones, is one great time to stop with the cross-functional team and dialogue through creating a RACI matrix.
Doing work that is novel—something you have never done together before – is another great opportunity to stop at the beginning to clarify everyone’s roles.
Start-ups and innovators often talk about beginning with a minimal viable product (MVP), then market testing the idea, then pivoting, and often pivoting again.
That kind of agility doesn’t match well with job descriptions (which tend to be fairly broad and static) but it does work really well with RACI. The responsibility assignment matrix you create at the beginning of a project can shift and flex as the project evolves and as people enter and exit your team.
As long as you are RACI fluent, you and your team can handle role changes.
We’d love to know your experience—the good, the bad, and the ugly—with applying classic RACI and with testing out the upgraded RACI 2.0.
There are many ways to see the benefits of RACI—with impacts like creating more effective meetings, onboarding new hires more quickly, and negotiating for more resources with a project sponsor.
For more insights on RACI and team management, subscribe to The Digital Project Manager newsletter, or check out another RACI alternative, RASCI charts.