Lack of alignment can derail project success, and brings the potential of misplacing the focus of the project.
Aligning stakeholders has always been a fundamental part of creating successful research projects. But this has become even more complicated in our world of remote and hybrid work, where we lack some of the passive discussions about what defines success, and where it’s a little harder to connect dots to what other teams are working on. With full days of Zoom meetings, everyone’s dance cards are packed full, and teams are more mindful than ever about booking people’s time. Remote work makes it easy for team members to lose track of other team projects that might on the periphery, so it is vital that clear expectations are set regarding project roles and responsibilities. If there isn’t a clear role, critical voices may not be included early on… which becomes a missed opportunity to strengthen a project from day one.
Enter the RACI matrix: this framework provides fundamental clarification about the roles different stakeholders play throughout a project. This helps bring crystal-clear perspective on who owns what, setting expectations at the onset and giving you the power to subtly wrangle stakeholders without them knowing they are being wrangled. A responsibility assignment matrix, RACI clearly outlines each task, key decision and touchpoint involved in seeing a project through.
Like so many solutions that actually work, the RACI matrix is pure and simple. As described in a CIO Magazine article, The RACI matrix, this blueprint for project success clearly outlines stakeholder roles, making sure that every project task has an “owner.” It also helps clarify those more nebulous tangential roles that are nonetheless important in both short-and long-term project success. Here then, are the four RACI matrix roles and responsibilities defined:
Responsible: The people or stakeholders who do the work. They must complete the task or objective or make the decision (NOTE: Several people can be jointly Responsible). For the context of a research project, this is typically the core project team.
Accountable: The person or stakeholder who is the "owner" of the work. He or she must sign off or approve when the task, objective or decision is complete, making sure responsibilities are assigned in the matrix for all related activities. Only one person can be Accountable. Often this is the core internal point person who is meeting with the core project team regularly to review progress and provide feedback and acting as a critical partner in the execution of the work.
Consulted: The people or stakeholders who need to give input before the work can be done and signed-off on. These people are "in the loop" and considered to be active contributors or extended team members. They may be involved throughout or only at key milestones to partake in the discussion, learning and framing as we go, and they often bring a unique perspective during moments of pivot, realignment or goal setting. There is no minimum or maximum number of team members who can be Consulted.
Informed: The people or stakeholders who need to be kept "in the picture." They need high level updates on progress or decisions, and work should be aligned to their overall vision, but they do not need to be formally consulted, nor do they contribute directly to the task or decision. Informed does not mean unimportant - these team members may just have different work priorities or projects competing for their time. However, they may be critical stakeholders for the delivery of the end results, so we want to make sure they aren’t coming in cold at the very end!
RACI can be used successfully at both a macro and micro level. Sometimes you just need to assign individuals involved in the project to one of the four roles so they are aware of the base expectations. For more complex initiatives, you may need to get more detailed, assigning team roles at the project milestone or even task list.
PITFALL: Too many Rs
SOLUTION: We’ve all heard the “too many cooks in the kitchen” line before, and this is it. Collaborate intentionally, but be mindful to balance the load of responsibilities. You don’t want one stakeholder to end up with too much of the project assigned to them, and alternately, you don’t want one part of the project to end up with too many head chefs but no supporting line cooks.
PITFALL: Stakeholder Overcommitment
SOLUTION: Whenever possible, minimize the sheer involvement across activities. For example, change “responsible” to “consulted”, or “consulted” to “informed” to pinpoint the true need for involvement. When you look at your plan, are there moments when the Accountable team member is likely to get bottle-necked with too many things to review? Look out for those moments during project planning and find solutions ahead of time to reallocate the workflow.
PITFALL: Role Ambiguity
SOLUTION: Be sure all stakeholders approve their role and responsibilities before the project is fielded. This buy-in from stakeholders is a key to keeping a project moving forward and not revisiting discussions about communication or accountability.
PITFALL: Waiting too long to inform the Informed
SOLUTION: Informed shouldn't mean in the dark! If you wait until the end of your project to make sure you’re in sync with your Informed stakeholders, you could be in for some unanticipated turbulence. We recommend establishing set checkpoints with Informed stakeholders at the beginning, middle and end of the project or during clear milestones to maintain alignment throughout.
Though deceptively simple, The RACI matrix offers a way forward with role clarification, lines of demarcation, and alignment to help keep projects moving ahead with maximum efficiency. From deprivation studies to in-home visits; shop-alongs to IDIs, quant surveys to focus groups, ALL research projects need clearly defined roles and communication pathways before fieldwork is started. Set your next project up for success with this RACI model.