RACI might be a good tool if you are experiencing one or more of the following dynamics and you lack the time (or support) to address these issues in other ways: People working in a workgroup, not a team People working together on a temporary/ad-hoc basis
I've found a working agreement to be more effective than a RACI, including in the types of situations you describe. RACI is abused in organizations with pathological or bureaucratic cultures where there's low trust, poor communication, no accountability (even if someone's name or role is given the "A"), silos, top-down micromanagement, and generally low competence.
I have experienced that RACI is sometimes unclear to teams (i.e. Responsible vs. Accountable), and it nudges the conversation to finger pointing (who was responsible for this? Hey, you were accountable).
I feel DACI (Decider or Driver or... Doer, Approver, Contributor, Informed) clarifies in less ambiguous terms what each person´s role is expected to be.
I've always felt that RACIs are too much about digging trenches and dividing lines to prepare for inevitable finger pointing and blame game. They work against the culture that we are trying to enable. Much more productive to instill a sense of collective ownership, collaboration and swarm issues as they arise.
This reads like RACI is a symptom, so I feel like I shouldn't confuse it with a tool. 😅 Jokes aside, to be fair I can remember a moment, where there was some uncertainty / lack of trust and a Decision Matrix (as a subset of a full RACI-Matrix) helped to overcome the trust issues and made everyone more confident in their decisions. We almost immediately (a few weeks maybe) where able to leave the Decision Matrix behind and never looked back.
I see that RACI may be effective, but I can only recommend it to people who are resilient enough to not stick with it in a dogmatic way. If people are too shy (for whatever reason)? Not sure. Maybe some basic Kanban workshop to lay the groundwork to talk about the transition zones of work items? Might help to shift focus from perceived issues towards actual outcome-related issues. (Oversimplified: don't focus on social problems, but on organisational challenges.)
I think RACI is just a way to think about the situation. In that sense it’s always good to have responsibility in mind.
The question is, how fragmented and intransparent the distribution of responsibility really is. In a fully empowered team with a clear mission and clear stakeholders that come to discuss results regularly the R&A are together in the team and C&I are fully with the stakeholders. The RACI becomes so simple it is not worth mentioning. Rather it poses a risk to invite individual responsibility rather than team-responsibility.
It’s when things are messy in terms of responsibility that it makes sense to make the RACI explicit. And resist the temptation to just write it down. Needs to be talked about.
And it should be clear: Using a an explicit RACI matrix to cope with a fragmented distribution of responsibility will never heal the consequences of fragmentation. It can cope with a bad situation. And as any coping mechanism it will also stabilize.
How about whether the org intends to honor or enforce what's in the RACI?
I've used RACI (and DACI and RASCI) as a team building activity with ambiguous/fuzzy but compete set of dimensions that I stole/modified from Riot Games https://www.riotgames.com/en/work-with-us/disciplines/dev-management/riots-agile-team-leadership-model-a-story-of-challenging-convention
What I found was it formed a great foundation for a discussion on our shared belief of each other's part to play and identified blind spots. (We did it like planning poker where we each shared our view on the spilt as a "vote" and we discussed clear differences in opinion).
The fuzziness helps drive the discussion and provides a level of psych safety as the discussion drives the teams shared view of the dimension.
Exercise is long, 2-3 hours but the shared mind meld and resolution of blind spots on exit I find is well worth it.
Whilst I wouldn't use a RACI as a working document, I've regularly found them valuable for:
- helping to define role responsibilities and career frameworks
- clarifying relationships between functions e.g. Product & Tech
- clarifying relationships between leadership and teams
- resolving conflict between individuals/roles
- looking at value streams and helping to clarify accountabilities and relationships at each stage of the lifecycle
The main thing I've found you need to be careful to avoid (apart from RACIs being used as working documents) is ending up with responsibilities so distinct they discourage collaboration
> New or inexperienced team members (without norms or role models, see below)
> Frequent changes in team membership
One twist on this I've seen is when senior leaders are involved with a project; sometimes they have trouble making time in their schedules, so it's important to make it clear that they are officially taking up the mantle of responsibility.
On the flip side, sometimes the responsibility still lies with the team, and it needs to be (formally) clear that the senior leader is present as a consultant or IC, and decision-making power still rests with someone on the team.
Ah, the RACI! John, you've covered all the dynamics that enter my mind with respect to when a RACI tool might be helpful. Thank you.
I am a RACI fan when it's used as a baseline for establishing a shared understanding, and have found it to be especially effective with new or inexperienced product teams or teams coming together via acquisitions. It can be useful in exposing misunderstandings and gaps.
The flip side is I have seen it abused or used as a convenience in organizations where there is a lack of trust, with arms folded and people falling into "it's not my job," or "whose fault is it," isms. In one organization, there was so much RACI analysis, including parsing of words, dissection of terms, and time spent navel gazing, that the entire intent was lost. There were clearly much larger issues.
Overall, a RACI can be a good tool, but it doesn't replace sound product leadership, communication, and organizational psychological safety.
> Unclear team mandates and areas of ownership
this is a great one that can go at least a few directions. the thing i imagine most people hear is that there has been a lack of top-down emphasis/clarity as to who owns what. a less obvious (and arguably more problematic) way this unfolds is when more than one person is capable of owning a given item/project/whatever and it sits *in between* otherwise established norms. e.g. engineering and ops are working on a migration project. who owns the bizops items that are techy in nature?
In my large organization, I find myself using RACI when I find independent teams, that don't know about each other, working on similar problems or opportunities. RACI helps align each team to a new role they can play, now integrated, and aligned to the shared opportunity.
These are helpful scenarios to think about.
In my experience though RACIs are often not faster than better fixes to some of the items you listed.
However, an abbreviated RACI focusing only on the issues around which there is confusion or conflict I’ve seen be a useful “norming” tool (meaning the RACI ends up being the vehicle to solve some of the other issues you listed and might never be used again after that)
RACI for me is a mental checklist for decision making. Who will drive the decision process? Who will be the final approver or who might veto it? Who needs to participate or provide substantial information? And who needs to know about the decision? Sometimes the answers are obvious. Stepping through the checklist, though, avoids forgetting important parties.
This context is really useful - I've seen RACI overused to the point of meaningless absurdity in the past.
This response from ChatGPT, on RACI Matrix for Teams:
RACI can be the right tool in situations where time and resources are limited and there is a need for a quick and straightforward approach to clarify roles and responsibilities. In such cases, RACI can provide a clear framework for decision-making, communication, and accountability without requiring significant investment in team-building or collaboration culture development.
However, it is important to note that RACI should not be seen as a substitute for addressing deeper organizational issues related to communication, trust, collaboration, and culture. In the long run, investing in these areas can lead to more sustainable and effective teamwork, and reduce the need for relying on RACI as a crutch.
In summary, RACI can be an effective tool in certain contexts, such as projects with tight timelines or situations where organizational constraints limit the ability to address deeper issues. However, it is important to be aware of its limitations and to approach it as a supplement, rather than a replacement, for building a strong and healthy team culture.