Family in a car, going on holiday

When you are setting up a new PMO, you start by understanding the needs of the business. You meet the stakeholders, and whiteboard your way through several reams of sticky notes until you get to a common understanding of WHY the PMO is needed and WHAT problems it will be solving.

But what happens next can be tricky. Even with a shared vision, there can be confusion about who will actually do the work, who will be accountable for the work, and who we need to talk to to get things moving. Fortunately, we have a management model for that, and it’s called a RACI chart or sometimes a RACI matrix.

What is a RACI Matrix?

The RACI matrix is a chart that maps out the activities and decisions involved in a project. The chart helps everyone understand roles and responsibilities. The RACI lays out clearly which roles or people are Responsible for each item, which are Accountable, and who, if anyone, needs to be Consulted or Informed. As you will probably already have guessed, the acronym RACI is made up of the four roles that can be assigned in the matrix.

The RACI matrix is sometimes referred to as a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (usually by PMI in their PMBoK guide), and even less frequently as a Linear Responsibility Chart.

What are the four RACI roles?

RACI defined four roles that those involved in a process or task can undertake:

  • Responsible: In the RACI definition, this is the role or individual who will do the work required to complete the task or decide. Several roles or people can be jointly responsible.
  • Accountable: Best practice dictates that only one stakeholder is deemed Accountable for a piece of work. This is usually the ‘owner’ of the work and will typically be the individual that signs off on the completion of the work. Someone can be both Responsible and Accountable.
  • Consulted: Working on a solution with blinkers on is never a good idea. Our Consulted stakeholders are those who need to provide input into the process before the work can be signed off or before a decision is made.
  • Informed: Our informed stakeholders also need to know what is going on. However, they are provided with updates and outcomes rather than being active participants in the process.

Why are RACI models used?

A RACI chart has several benefits. The most obvious is the clarity it brings. During project planning, it is common to pull together a list of activities that need to be completed and decisions that need to be made. Often we will put the name of an individual or team against each one. But often, even this assignment is insufficient. Frequently when PMOs fail or when Projects go into the red, it is because there has been confusion around the roles that people are playing. Successful projects use RACI to help identify roles and reduce the risk of role confusion. Confusion around RACI can result in:

  • No one actually doing the work
  • Work being completed that has no obvious business owner
  • Decisions being made by people who lack the authority to make them
  • Time wasted on consultation with people who don’t actually need to be consulted
  • Confusion over who is doing what
  • Duplication of effort as different teams overlap

As well as being a good tool for project planning, they are also useful for project turnarounds, and for defining the responsibilities of different types of PMO in a project organization. For projects that are hitting the buffers, drawing up a RACI chart can have an immediate positive impact, by bringing clarity around who should be doing what. And nothing inspires progress more than seeing your name in big letters as the person who is Accountable for success and Responsible for delivery! Assigning clear roles and responsibilities is an essential part of project management, and the RACI model is a simple, industry-standard way of presenting the data.

RACI charts can be used on all types of project, and are just as useful in agile project management as in traditional project frameworks.

How to create a RACI Matrix

The good news about RACI models is that they are simple to produce! There is no need for fancy RACI project management software. All you need is your favorite spreadsheet tool. There are five steps to creating a RACI matrix:

  1. Identify the tasks that need to be completed and the decisions that need to be made. These should be listed in the first column in your chart in order of completion.
  2. Identify the key stakeholder groups or individuals and add them as a header row at the top of your chart.
  3. Populate the grid by identifying who has responsibility and accountability for the task or decision and then considering which stakeholders need to be consulted or informed.
  4. Check to ensure each row has at least one person responsible for completing the task and only one accountable person for each task.
  5. Communicate your RACI to the team and stakeholders. There is no point in having a well-crafted RACI if it festers on your laptop or in the draw of your pedestal!

Where Portfolio Project Manager software is used within the organization, then this projec tmanger software will almost certainly have some functionality for including RACI information and making this visible to your key stakeholders.

RACI Examples

Family holiday

Here’s a couple of examples to bring the RACI model to life. Imagine going on a family holiday. Mum, Dad, and two kids. Because Mum is a project manager, she has decided to create a RACI. There are five tasks that need to be completed before leaving the house. These are added to the table, and the three ‘roles’ are added as column headings. With the RACI model communicated to all family members, there can be no doubt as to who is accountable for each task. We can see that for a number of tasks, the parents have decided to separate out responsibility from accountability, with one parent completing the activity, and the other checking and ‘signing off’.

A RACI Matrix, showing activites for planning a family trip in a car.

We can infer from the chart that the children are young. They are not consulted on the accommodation – they are ‘informed’ of the choice of accomodation. Passports are not a young child’s concern, so the box for this task is blank.

The children have been given some responsibility, though – they get to select their toys and load them into the car for the journey. It is clear, though, that Mum has to be consulted whilst they make their choices. Finally, we see that Dad is ultimately responsible for the loading of the toys because, in this scenario, he will be driving the car and will be the person who suffers the most if the wrong toys are selected (too noisy!) or if the toys are not loaded at all (restless, bored children).

PMO roll-up reporting

In this example, we have a PMO operating within a portfolio management environment. The PMO offers a Rollup Reporting service where project reports are collated, checked ready for circulation. We see clearly that the PMO are both accountable and responsible for collating the reports, combining data, and providing feedback on the report content. The good news for the program and portfolio managers is that, as Informed parties, they do not play any active part in the process. The project managers remain engaged though and are consulted by the PMO during collation and the combining data phases. This is important to ensure the meaning is not lost and the end result conveys the messaging that was originally intended.

A RACI Matrix, showing activites for a PMO rollup reporting service

One-way vs Two-way communication

When creating a RACI chart, there can often be lots of debate about the Accountable and Responsible roles. So much so, that the other roles are sometimes filled in rapidly as an afterthought. But failing to give these two roles the right level of attention can create serious problems.

The big difference between the Informed and Consulted classifications is whether we need one-way communication or two-way communication. Time is a valuable commodity and getting this classification wrong can rapidly burn away time. Have you ever been in one of those meetings where everyone has an opinion, but no one actually makes a decision? Chances are, some of the people with opinions did not actually need to be consulted, and could have simply been informed of the outcome. Not only would this have made the meeting smaller, but it would also have probably resulted in a faster outcome. Identifying the right people to consult saves time and money for the project, and for the organization.

In some environments, regulation plays a part. legislation such as Sarbanes-Oxley or GDPR may mean project teams have to consult with assurance and legal teams. RACI charts can help project teams understand when they need to engage lawyers or data protection officers in order to ensure correct guidance is followed so the business does not get itself into legal difficulties. Governance teams can help reduce such risks by providing RACI charts for common scenarios to project managers at the start of their projects, allowing them to plan accordingly. Again it is important that everyone understands the difference between consulting (requiring two-way communication with a legal team with time allocated to discuss and agree), and informing (where one-way communication is provided – often after an outcome has been reached).

Top Tips for a successful RACI

We all know that a well crafted RACI can be a thing of beauty. But that is not enough. Like the majority of project artefacts, they need to be communicated widely and be reviewed regularly. Here are our top tips for ensuring your RACI leads you to on a journey to project and PMO success.

  • Are the right people accountable? Check your matrix carefully and review it with others around the organization. There is nothing more frustrating than having a task signed off the person you thought was accountable, only to find another approver lurking in the shadows!
  • Is work well balanced? Finished your matrix? Great. Now turn it on its side and look at it from the perspective of the individuals or roles instead of from the task view. Where do most of the ‘Responsible’s sit? If all of the work is dependent on a small number of people, then you run the risk of finding them overloaded.
  • Does everyone agree? A RACI is not something you can simply pop on a sharepoint site or Confluence page and expect everyone to magically algin to. It requires communication, and buy-in from everyone listed on the chart. Make time to speak with them individually and ensure they understand the what the tasks are, and what the RACI definitions mean.
  • Are all the boxes populated? It is tempting to keep people in ‘Informed’ when they really don’t need to be. But this overcommunication can overload teams, and can cause confusion. Only assign RACI to people or roles who genuinely need to be accountable, responsible, consulted or informed.
  • Too many consultations? When you are working on something new, it is common for everyone to want their opinion heard. Often you can end up with too many ‘C’s which really should probably only be ‘I’s. This is where your sponsor and steering group can help. Engage them in the conversation and seek their advice on which of the consultations are valid, and which can be moved to one-way communication.
  • Transparency? Is your RACI available to the project team and easily accessible? Be sure to share it somewhere were it is a widely available as possible. The more people who understand it and adhere it it, the greater your chances of success!