A Rant About RACI

If you’ve ever worked in a large organization and especially if you’ve worked with or are a consultant, you’ve probably come across something called RACI. Or RASCI, or DARCI, or MOCHA, or any of its many variations. If you haven’t, don’t feel bad. As you’ll see in a bit, you’re better off not knowing.

Sometimes, it’s not clear who’s responsible for something getting done, who needs to be informed, who would like to be informed, and so forth. Sometimes, this is a problem.

In my household, we expect the dishes to get cleaned, but no one is assigned that role. It generally works itself out, but sometimes, the lack of clear roles creates contention. I won’t lie, when there is contention, I’m usually the cause. Fortunately, I live in a functional household, where we are usually able to handle the conflict constructively (i.e. I get off my lazy butt and do the dishes.)

Frameworks like RACI try to help people by defining a clear-ish set of roles and encouraging groups to agree on who has which roles when. The intention is good. I am a big proponent of being explicit about agreements.

Unfortunately, RACI is often more onerous than helpful. First, the distinctions between roles are not always obvious. For example, what’s the difference between “responsible” and “accountable”? I can draw a distinction between these two terms, but if I have to do that, then I question whether or not the framework is that useful in the first place.

Second, the roles are not always useful. The reason there are seemingly hundreds of variations of RACI is that folks are always trying to fill in the gap.

Third, people often end up conforming to the framework blindly without checking to see if it’s actually working for them. I have never seen a group successfully implement RACI or any of its variations. Of course, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. (If your group is successfully using RACI, I’d love to hear about it.)

Here’s what I’ve found actually works, both with groups I’ve worked with and healthy groups I’ve observed:

First, groups should have regular roles conversations, first to agree on them, then afterward to check in and make adjustments. In my working agreements template, I have folks do a simple exercise:

  • Write a bulleted list of your roles and responsibilities
  • Share them with each other, and let each other edit, add, or challenge until everyone agrees on each other’s list.

The key is not to simply do the exercise once and forget about it.

Second, groups should be clear about how decisions are made. It’s okay for this to be a shared role (i.e. consensus among two or more parties), but it’s important in these cases to talk explicitly about what success and failure look like. Again, the key is to check in regularly afterward and to make adjustments.