Addressing the Cooks in the Kitchen: RACI Matrices

August 13, 2019

Some business tools are so simple, it’s easy to be suspect of their effectiveness. RACI, a responsibility and decision clarification matrix that brings both structure and accountability to projects and processes, is one of them.

Too often, HighPoint Associates sees too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to core processes and projects. For example:

Using meetings as information source, particularly in Fortune 1000 organizations: With the luxury of multiple layers and specific functions, and particularly in firms with meeting-intensive cultures, we find that in a quest to be informed, too many people attend meetings. Further, too many attendees weigh in where they are not primary decision-makers. Meeting attendance is unfortunately a barometer for clarity of decision-making.

Also, with warring factions on ownership: When multiple groups assert ownership over decision-making, this complicates decision-making and multiplies alignment meetings. There should never be a question in the room of who owns the final decision.

Conversely, we also witness insufficient ownership where certain difficult or undesirable business processes are disowned by core functional leaders, and lack the ultimate accountable owner. Diffused or delinquent ownership is a recipe for poor business execution, or negligence altogether.

In any of the above scenarios, and for larger, more complex initiatives and processes, a RACI matrix articulates deliverables and milestones, sets expectations about who is doing what, and clearly defines approval rights and reporting structures. Even in its most basic form, it ensures the project management team or business process is productive, in sync, and on track, making for less confusion and providing a greater chance of successful outcomes.

Many strategy firms have their own derivation of RACI frameworks. Some firms have added Support to the matrix in an otherwise similar ‘RASCI’ model (Responsible, Accountable, Supports, Consulted, Informed), while others have redefined the framework with RAPID (Recommend, Agree, Perform, Input, Decide).

The intent and outcome remains the same: Who is the final decision-maker/point of accountability, and what roles should others play (and not play) to ensure the most effective and efficient business outcome?

Understanding RACI Roles

When thinking about the allocation of RACI roles and responsibilities, it likely helps to first define the four critical functions people might assume in the execution of a project:

Responsible: This stakeholder is the decision-maker and executes tasks that deliver against project objectives. It’s worth noting, this person isn’t necessarily a lone wolf. While each task needs at least one Responsible team member assigned to it, several can be jointly assigned.

Accountable: The owner of the project, this individual delegates responsibility and provides approval when a task is wrapped, an objective is achieved, or a decision is made. They ensure each task and any related activities are assigned a Responsible stakeholder. There ultimately should be just one Accountable person for any given project – the senior ‘throat to choke’ in any ownership.

Consulted: These active consultants or groups–sometimes subject matter experts or in possession of specific capabilities – provide input before work can be kicked off or signed off.

Informed: Neither individual contributors nor consultants, Informed RACI members only need updates on high-level progress, and should not get into the weeds with details or decisions.

Setting Up Your RACI Matrix

While a RACI matrix can sometimes be time-consuming to create and add unnecessary complexity to shorter, simpler, more agile projects, the benefits far outweigh its constraints. If your team has a project on the horizon and wants to establish its RACI, here are the steps to ensuring best practices:

1. Identify project participants and stakeholders. This list should include all requisite functions, including some that participate unnecessarily today.

2. Develop a clear list of tasks and deliverables. A list that is too granular runs the risk of becoming overly complex, thereby losing the effectiveness of the RACI diagram.

3. Select or design a RACI model. Excel is an effective tool for creating one, or seek out an already created template. There are countless ones available for download online.

4. Assign roles to participants. Each task and deliverable should be assigned a role, then the role assigned a name. Resource allocation is the crux of RACI.

5. Run water through the pipes. If the RACI pertains to a core business process, run a live trial on that process in the ensuing week to ensure roles make sense, and have added effectiveness and nimbleness to the associated process.

6. Finalize. Confirm alignment across the senior team and socialize more broadly.

While there are a handful of alternatives frameworks that are effective, HPA finds RACI, with a clear highlight on the ultimate decision-makers, to be highly effective in bringing simplicity to complexity. And that is always a good idea.

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