Using RACI to get the Right People Participating
Leading Collaboration: Part Two
“Coming together is a beginning. Staying together is progress. And working together is success.”
This is the second in a series of articles designed to help interested leaders orient themselves to collaboration. This article explores how to identify who should participate in a project-specific collaboration by considering the work and roles of the people involved through a RACI lens.
Once you’ve committed to pursuing collaboration, the next question is often, “OK, now who should participate?” Deciding who to include is often a source of anxiety for leaders. While some subject-matter experts and decision-makers may be obvious candidates, many other stakeholders, team members, or curious parties fall into a broad gray area. For many leaders, in the spirit of collaboration, the natural impulse is to include everyone. And of course, the goal of collaboration is to be as inclusive as possible. But if you’re just getting started or are in a culture where collaboration isn’t the norm, broad collaboration without the skills to manage it can jeopardize team focus, undermine the conditions needed to build trust, and drain resources. In order to nurture collaboration, you’ll need to dig deeper to determine who should participate, and when and to what degree you invite them into the collaboration process.
One useful tool for determining who to include is a RACI matrix. RACI stands for responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed. The RACI matrix describes the level of participation involved in completing tasks for a given project or process. RACI allows you to review the current (or anticipated) roles in your collaboration project, identify the level of responsibility for each role, and begin to identify where and when to bring stakeholders into the collaboration.
The visual below shows a range of stakeholders, their roles in process development, and RACI designation. For the sake of simplicity, we’re using process development as an example of a collaborative project. However, you should be able to assign RACI to any project or initiative. You’ll notice that some roles have multiple RACI designations. This should be expected since different levels of contributions can be made within roles.
Responsible: doing the actual work
[Process managers and performers]
In a RACI matrix, people who actually perform the work are considered responsible. Whether this involves building and maintaining the process (systems architects, programmers, UX/UI, et al) or delivering the process (customer service reps, specialists, et al) their primary focus is the process.
As a rule of thumb, people who are responsible should be included in collaboration from the very beginning. They possess first-hand knowledge of what and how things are done. Their familiarity with the details and nuances of actually performing the work can make or break the effort. However, these people are so close to the process that they can easily get lost in the details. That’s why we also want to include the strategic view of those who are accountable.
Accountable: ensuring the work gets done
[Process Owner, Stakeholders, Facilitator/Leader ]
The primary characteristic of the accountable role is that they ensure completion of the task. This person is “on-the-hook” to deliver the solution. Coincidentally most collaboration leaders occupy this role. Other roles that are accountable can include product owners, creative directors, senior managers, et al.
Accountable can also be applied to those who are responsible for the performance or business outcome of the collaboration. They deliver “results” rather than the actual solution. These are typically senior leaders (Directors or VPs) who are invested in the business outcomes of the collaboration, but their management role prevents them from playing an active role in the collaborative process. The strategic insights from these individuals remind the team of why the process is important and how it impacts the big picture.
As a collaboration leader, ensuring the support of accountable senior leaders is crucial. Engage with them at an early stage, gauge how much they want and/or are able to participate and clarify how they’d like to contribute. They might want to actively participate, assign a proxy (someone to attend on their behalf) or simply ask for regular progress updates.
People who are accountable can also be the decision-maker (a role not specifically identified in RACI but very much worth considering). Ideally, the decision-maker should be one person, but in some cases might be a group, such as a board of directors. The decision-maker often sits at a higher management level and is represented by proxy by another senior leader who is made accountable for ensuring the project satisfies their overall strategic intent.
Consulted: contributing to decisions
[Contributors, SMEs, Users, Stakeholders]
As the title suggests, consulted means that this role is providing feedback useful to moving the collaboration forward or validating potential solutions. As you might expect, this category includes customers, key stakeholders, and/or users. Internally, these people are often direct contributors to the process but only in specific areas (e.g., a risk manager who provides a specific assessment input in the process).
Be careful not to underestimate the value of SMEs and other contributors. While they are often in the consulted role they often make significant contributions to the entire process. As the collaboration leader, be on the lookout for these people. Try to identify consulted stakeholders who are capable of making broad contributions and show a propensity for the desired collaboration behaviors (see the first article in this series). Include them whenever possible. Their insights often address areas that the core performers overlook as they focus on their specific tasks. They are often well-respected among their colleagues and can help build support for the solution.
Consulted and responsible roles should engage in proactive, two-way communication. Even if they are not included in collaboration efforts from the start, they should receive share-outs from the team and be provided with ample time to offer feedback. The feedback of consulted roles may directly impact the ability of those responsible to perform the task. Alternately, consulted roles may also be directly impacted by the process. For instance, someone from the data team, while not integral to the development of the process, may provide critical input regarding what data is available, and what data needs to be captured (or can be captured) during the process for future analytics.
Informed: impacted by the outcome
Informed roles may or may not be directly affected by the process or outcome. And as long as their input will have little or no effect on the ability of those responsible to perform their job or impact the eventual outcome, they won’t be asked for direct feedback or review. For this reason, communication with informed parties is often limited to one-way progress updates.
Undoubtedly, you’ll find multiple parties within your organization that simply need to be kept abreast of a project’s progress. But be careful not to lump people into the informed role without some consideration. Avoid potential problems by taking the time to assess the requirements of any role that is informed. For example, people who use the process often are considered informed, when their user experience insights should place them firmly in the consulted category. The same is true for finance or legal teams whose insights and responses can have an immediate and dramatic impact on the process.
Certainly, too many consulted stakeholders can mire down a project unnecessarily while you wait for feedback from people who don’t need to give it. Choose between these two categories carefully, and remember that you can always redefine participant roles as collaboration unfolds.
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Clearly collaboration benefits from the perspectives and input of multiple stakeholders. But in reality, you most likely will not be able to include everyone you’d like. In these instances, using a RACI lens can help ensure your collaboration will include input from essential parties, consider the needs and variables of the affected functions and stakeholders, as well as build alignment across the organization.
And for those potential collaborators (especially responsible, accountable, and consulted) who cannot participate from the beginning, nurture collaboration by sharing your progress early and often. Walk them through what you’ve developed and listen intently to how they answer questions such as: how well does this solution address the problem we’ve identified? How might you contribute to making this solution more effective or efficient? What challenges do see in implementing this solution?
Taking the time to engage with these stakeholders (and others who express interest) will help you identify and avoid simple pitfalls while building advocates out of people who could just as easily be alienated if you exclude them in a rush to the solution.