RACI: What it is, how to use it, and why it matters

RACI is a decision-making framework that is designed to eliminate ambiguity around who does what.

RACI provides a clear picture of what each person does on a project, strategic initiative, or goal. The framework even helps to bolster collaboration by connecting people across the organization to the persons responsible for execution.

This guide explains RACI in more detail and provides practical advice for managers looking to decrease risk in their projects and improve performance.

What is RACI?

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RACI is an acronym that stands for responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed. It is also a framework that complements any alignment strategy and helps leaders manage alignment directly.

Here’s what each of the RACI roles look like in practice:

  • Responsible individuals are the people who actually do the work. They are the people that are directly assigned tasks and goals.
  • Accountable individuals make sure the work is successfully completed. They are responsible for results, not just output. Accountable individuals are often managers or team leaders who direct the work of the Responsible parties. There can only be 1 accountable person assigned at a time.
  • Consulted individuals provide feedback, guidance, support, and information to the Responsible and Accountable individuals. These individuals include stakeholders in other parts of the business, as well as subject-matter experts.
  • Informed individuals are people who are kept up-to-date on progress towards projects, strategic initiatives, and goals. They may provide feedback or ask questions, but they are not integral to the execution of the endeavor. This group is mostly comprised of senior leaders.

We regularly see individuals fall into multiple roles on projects and goals. For example, an individual may be both Responsible for accomplishing work and Accountable for that work.

We recommend using a system that can handle multiple RACI assignments per person.

How to use RACI in practice

The most popular way to use RACI is to create a responsibility assignment matrix, like the one shown below.

In the first column, you should list the names of specific projects, functions, goals, or strategic initiatives.

Do not get too granular here. It’s important to only use a RACI chart for high-value and strategic work. Overusing RACI diminishes its value and slows down the entire team by introducing needless process and complexity.

In the first row of every additional column, include the name and title of the individuals involved.

We’ve seen some RACI charts use only the title of the person who does the work, but we think this is a bad practice.

For RACI to be effective at facilitating both accountability and the transparency needed for alignment, everybody in the company needs to be capable of naming the specific person filling each role. The only time it is acceptable to use the title, and not a name is a placeholder when a role hasn’t been filled on a team.

We’ve created an Excel spreadsheet to help you get started. You may also want to consider software for managing both alignment and accountability, such as Minsilo.

Avoiding issues when implementing RACI

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There are two major categories of issues with the RACI framework: logistical and implementation-specific.

Logistical issues include problems that arise from having multiple versions of a RACI matrix, lack of widespread access, and isolation from the rest of the strategy.

It’s critical that teams have a single source of truth for their RACI matrix that is accessible by all and in context of the strategy. The team should not have to search for supporting documentation — it should be all in one place.

Likewise, your RACI matrixes should be stored in a single place that everybody in the team, department and company can access. Having them scattered across email inboxes, shared drives, and Sharepoints does not help anybody.

Implementation specific issues include too much granularity, not appropriately assigning roles, and a lack of strategic alignment.

RACI is not a tool for micromanagement. Managers should not use the framework for delegating every task on a project. Instead, it should provide a general view of who is doing what, so individuals in the team can collaborate without confusion.

The framework should also be supportive of the strategy. Managers should carefully consider how each item they include supports or detracts from the mission of the team and any initiative they may be working on.

We recommend incorporating a review of your RACI chart in your alignment retrospective meetings.

How to know if you need to use RACI

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Accountability is the cornerstone of success at work (and in life). But not every team needs a system like RACI.

If you’re just starting out and are working on your own, you probably don’t need a tool like RACI.

You may be able to postpone implementing RACI if you have excellent communication on a small team. As long as everybody’s work is clearly defined and neatly isolated, a system like RACI is unnecessary.

That said, we’ve seen it work well for small teams.

RACI can be effective if you have 2 or more people working on a project or venture. Even an early-stage startup with two cofounders can benefit by having increased clarity around who is doing what. It is a great tool for improving communication.

Common problems that RACI solves

If you’re running into any of these problems, it’s a good sign that you should consider a system like RACI.

Problem #1: Only the boss knows who is doing what. Successful collaboration requires everybody to be kept in the loop on who’s doing what. Relying on a trail of emails and activity in web-based applications is not sufficient for maintaining team situational awareness; managers should opt for explicit communication, which RACI helps to facilitate.

Problem #2: Individuals are working in their own silos. We’ve seen this happen in companies big and small — without having a clear inventory of who is doing what, it’s sometimes just easier to go it alone. This is particularly problematic in larger organizations, with distinct groups of people working independently of each other.

RACI can help break down these silos by putting a name to work being done, allowing for ad-hoc collaboration between otherwise isolated teams.

Problem #3: People outside of a team have no clue who is doing what. Beyond the four walls of your team, people in other parts of the company may not have any visibility into what you do. Unless this is intentional — such as in a sensitive and confidential committee or project — it is better to be transparent about what individuals in the company are working on.

Like with the first problem, individuals may try to piece together who’s doing what based on an organizational chart, email threads, or “through the grapevine” conversations.

Before I continue, org charts are not a good substitute for a RACI matrix. Work rarely follows the reporting lines of an organization. You simply don’t get an accurate picture of who is doing what.

Furthermore, time is limited. Every additional barrier to getting an answer decreases the chance that someone will get to the bottom of finding the right person. It’s quite possible that someone will just give up before even trying if they’ve failed to find the right person in the past.

Looking for a better way to manage accountability?

We created IntelligentRACI™ to help managers create and manage accountability more effectively. It automates several of the processes surrounding using the RACI framework, incorporates strategic and goal planning, and provides a single source of truth for your whole company. It’s free for teams of up to 10 people. You can learn more about it here.