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When and When Not to use RACI: A Checklist

A checklist to help you decide when it’s worth pulling RACI off the shelf and put it to work.

When to use RACI

1.  The project is complex

The more difficult or complex a project or change initiative promises to be, the more you’ll need to use formal project planning tools like RACI.

Research shows that 50-75% of all change initiatives fail – this means technology introductions, business process improvement, job redesign, training programs and worst of all, culture change initiatives.  To get your project on the right side of that statistic, you’ll have to invest more time in formal planning, or risk spending twice that much time down the line when implementation stalls.

2.  People on the project have different backgrounds

Do people on the project come from different functional areas or professions?  If so, they bring different backgrounds, experience and perspectives with them.  (Think members of a hospital team:  physicians, nurses, pharmacists etc., or members of a design/build team:  architects, engineers and contractors.)  How about working across different locations?  Languages?  Generational differences?  The more of these ingredients being stirred in, the more RACI is needed to clarify how you are all going to work together.

3.  People are working together for the first time

If the project team is seasoned, chances are they’ve worked out their roles over time.  But if the team is new, it pays to spend time with the RACI tool to get everyone on the same page about what the work is exactly, and how you are going to get it done.

4.  Authority is ambiguous

If the project involves more than one department, it may not be clear who holds decision-making authority.  This may not look like an issue at the project kick-off but it’s one of the big reasons that projects go sideways.

5.  People’s roles are changing

We often downplay the fact that introducing a new tool or technology, or improving a process is alsosupposed to change the way people work, and their behavior.  Do they have more or better information now?  Do they do a task differently?  Do they have some new decisions to make?  Use the RACI language to help them understand how their job will now be different.

6.  Someone new is joining the group

Adding a new person to an ongoing project team or to a department is a great time to pull out the RACI tool.  The new person can see where their work “fits” into other roles and the original team can see what work they are giving away.  Everyone becomes aware of who has the “A” for decisions, which may be changing (or rather, should be changing) as you grow.

When not to use RACI

You don’t need to create a RACI matrix every time you turn around.  You can rely on an unspoken set of assumptions about “how we work around here” when:

1.  Your team is small.

2.  The members of your group all work in the same area or department.

3.  You have worked together before and have a stable team.

4.  You know one another well and trust each other already.

5.  It’s clear who has the ultimate authority to make decisions.

In our experience, project teams like this are increasingly rare.  If you have the good fortune to be working in these circumstances, thank your lucky stars and enjoy yourself!

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