The “A” in RACI

RACI is an abbreviation for the roles “Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed”, a concept used in project management.  In a project, or sub-project, there must be somebody accountable, and there can be only one accountable person.  There may be one or more people delegated as responsible for parts of the project, but the accountable person has the tag-line “The Buck Stops Here”.

Here I want to make the distinction between ‘delegation’ and ‘abdication’.  In delegation, the boss makes sure the team members get their fair share of the praise, but steps in front of any bullet.  In abdication, the coward will throw anybody under the bus when the project goes pear-shaped.

In any project it is necessary to make sure that the accountable person has the knowledge, skills and experience to be accountable: think in terms of a Chief Marketing Officer being accountable for an IT migration.  I’ve seen something similar happen: at the final review of a successful project, the delegated Responsible person was told “I don’t understand what you’ve been doing [for the last six months] … and you’re not getting a pay rise.”  Motivation 101, or is that 404?

As a Transition & Operations Manager, I made sure all procedures had a “Section 2” which listed the roles involved.  I made sure my line manager was accountable, while I was responsible for most of the work.  Sometimes the Product Manager would get mentioned as responsible for producing collateral documentation.  The Consulted and Informed roles would be my team who would do the actual implementation work, plus others in the company who were either directly involved in the implementation or needed to know it was happening.  This section also acts as an aide memoire to the procedures curator of who to circulate the final published document and revisions to.

The ‘Consulted’ folks are always important.  I made it part of my Team Leaders' responsibilities to "speak truth to power": to tell me when they think I'm making a misjudgement.  It takes team members about a year to realise that your really mean this: so many have experienced, or at least witnessed, a back-lash.  At one company I worked in, it became well known that volunteering information to the CEO in their annual ‘talk to the troops’ one-on-one would earn an uncomfortable conversation with the intervening line manager within a few hours.  I’m a strong believer in listening to “the usual suspects”, the nay-sayers rather than the yes-men.  At worst I must marshal my thoughts in order to counter their concerns and explain myself better; at best they’re saving me and the company from a serious mistake.  A mentor once told me about when they were new at a company shortly before an important launch: they asked one question which halted, then scrapped the project.

Both teams and projects need a leader.  Somebody needs to make the decisions: I don’t believe in democracy in the work-place.  As a manager it was always incumbent on me to make sure directors and executives understood my input, but once that seemed to be the case I stood back.  They were paid to make the decisions in view of factors, the bigger picture, which I presumed I was unaware of.  Lack of executive leadership is bound to happen from time to time.  To paraphrase what Patty Azzerrello says in her book ‘Rise’, it’s at times like this that an experienced manager will keep the troops busy preparing for multiple contingencies.

Once somebody has been made accountable, that’s what they are, and nobody else is.  When the executive board have given authority to somebody as accountable for a ruthless priority, and that person diligently carries out that role, then the executive board must not undermine them.  The troops will notice any weakening of resolve.  I once had a manager who refused to cave in to short term pressure from a “squeaky wheel” person on their “shiny object” project: it cost my boss their job.  A few years later that delaying of the ruthless priority by nine months led to more than half of the staff leaving: many jumped or at least packed their parachutes because they saw the inevitable, but some were very much caught by surprise.

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