Accountability on Projects

Once projects get too large for a small team to run, leaders need ways to formally identify who is involved.

Accountability matrices are simple systems used to communicate responsibilities on a project.

Two things all the accountability matrices have in common: they have sweet memorable acronyms (that someone trademarks), and they have a point person who wrangles people into that matrix.

RACI

That point person is often known as the “Accountable.”  A really common matrix is RACI (or ARCI).  The acronym identifies the roles:

  • Accountable: single person who answers for the execution of the project.
  • Responsible: people engaged in the work of the project.
  • Consulted: people who weigh-in on the project, as SMEs. (Two-way communication)
  • Informed: people who want to know what’s going on. (One-way communication)

One person can perform many roles. For example, an Accountable is often Responsible as well.

RACI has many critics and detractors.  Most of the criticism reflects that organizations take the matrix too seriously.   I like the point that Grumpy PM makes: the best use of RACI is identifying the various dysfunctions in the organization :-)

Define Responsibilities

No matter what the roles are, they have to be assigned responsibilities.

Generally:

  • A and R’s attend all project meetings.
  • R’s do most of the actual work.
  • C’s provide timely information, and attend meetings as invited.
  • I’s consume the emails.

If someone can’t be relied on to do the above, they are likely not on the project.

This let’s you identify if someone is a C (book meetings around them), or an I (don’t).  Changing people’s role on a project is straightforward: they get a new letter!

In Software Development Teams

Accountability matrices raise eyebrows and roll eyes due to origins in consulting and Deloitte-like environments.  I still like them. The concepts are lightweight and adaptable to help at a practical, team level.

Things I find helpful about a matrix:

  • Calls out when/how someone will actually need to be engaged, so it frees up time in calendars.
  • Divides work without stepping on toes.
  • Fun to make up your own acronyms.

My observation is that matrices that break up R into other roles (Supporting, Tasked, etc.) tend to be way too specific, and categorize people that can’t help the project directly.

Adopting This

Step one: add a bit of RACI to the “epic” or “feature” or “project” templates in your work management system (Jira, Trello, or whatever).  Your project will thank you!