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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Ward

Don’t Be a Bottleneck: RACI to the Rescue!

Have you ever heard the phrase, “just because I assigned it to you, doesn’t mean you have to do all the work!”? I think we all have, and sometimes it seems counter intuitive especially when your team is made up of only a handful of resources. How are we supposed to complete an assignment without doing the work?

Dependent on who you are and who said it, it’s either a confusing or empowering statement. The word “assigned” can be interpreted as something different based on your role, professional maturity/ experience, and cultural norms. In our role as marketing consultants, we’re assigned tasks daily to ensure our clients achieve successful outcomes efficiently and without disruption. We wouldn’t be effective without some fundamental agreements about roles and responsibilities.

Let’s be literal for a moment. According to Merriam-Webster, in the context of a project or work assignment, “assign” means: “to appoint as a duty or task. ” This isn’t very helpful at work without context or a clear understanding of expectations.

On large project teams, we have a dedicated project manager and kick off the project with a formal RACI chart to ensure everyone on the team is aligned on role and task expectations to move forward as coordinated team. But what about those smaller projects or skunk works teams? Who has time to develop formal assets? In fact, many smaller projects many not even have a formal Project Manager!

Just because you don’t have a PM assigned to create a RACI for a four-man team doesn’t mean you can’t implement the principles and achieve many of the benefits. At minimum, on any working team of more than one person (you only need three for a party!), you must identify who is (R)esponsible and who is (A)ccountable for each task or assignment. Outlining who to (C)onsult and who to (I)nform within a small project team doesn’t add any value as you’re already doing this along the way.

Making sure the RA is clearly stated in your task list or project plan helps maintain clarity in roles and responsibilities without introducing unnecessary confusion. It can also keep projects moving forward without hearing the dreaded word “bottleneck”.

Here's how to keep small projects successful without a full-blown RACI chart:

  • Identify Key Tasks: Start by identifying the key tasks or activities within your small project. Focus on the critical elements that require clear roles and responsibilities.

  • Clarify Roles:

    • (A)ccountable: Designate one person who is ultimately accountable for the success of the project. This person takes ownership of the project's overall outcome.

    • (R)esponsible: Assign specific tasks or components to team members. Each task should have a clear owner who is responsible for its execution.

  • Document Roles and Responsibilities:

    • Create a simplified document or chart that lists the (A)ccountable person for the project as a whole and the (R)esponsible individuals for specific tasks. There are no rules stating someone can’t be both!

    • Describe the (A)ccountable person's high-level responsibilities, such as overseeing the project's progress, making key decisions, and ensuring that the project aligns with its objectives.

    • For each (R)esponsible individual, document their specific tasks, deadlines, and any critical details related to their responsibilities on a shared task list or project tracker.

  • Communicate and Discuss: Share this document with your mini team at the start of the project and ensure that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities. Hold a discussion to clarify any questions or concerns.

  • Flexibility and Transparency:

    • While maintaining clarity in roles, also emphasize flexibility. Small projects often require adaptability, so team members should know that they can seek input or collaborate as needed, even if it's not formally designated as "(C)onsulted" in a RACI matrix.

    • Encourage transparency in communication. Team members should openly share updates, progress, and any challenges they face.

  • Regular Check-Ins: Schedule regular check-in meetings or updates to review progress and discuss any adjustments or changes in responsibilities. This informal review process ensures that everyone remains aligned with the project's goals.

  • Record Decisions and Changes: Keep a record of key decisions and changes in roles and responsibilities, even if it's a simple document or project log. This documentation helps maintain clarity and provides a historical reference for the project.

  • Emphasize Accountability: Stress the importance of accountability within the team. The Accountable person should take ownership of the project's success, making decisions as necessary to keep it on track.

  • Keep It Simple: Remember that for small projects, simplicity is key. Don't introduce unnecessary complexity, or documentation, that could slow down the project.

By using RACI principles in a simplified manner, you can still achieve role clarity, accountability, and transparency without overburdening the team with a formal RACI matrix. The goal is to ensure that everyone knows their role, the project stays on track, and responsibilities are clearly defined, even in small, agile, or informal project settings.

The next time someone “assigns” something to you and you don’t have a PM to help guide you on what that means, don’t be afraid to level-set and look super-smart by asking, “Am I (R)esponsible or (A)ccountable for this task?” Our team finds great success in making small changes and transparent communication. Hopefully your team can benefit from some of our learnings as well!


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