Chip Neidigh

Decision Rights (part 1)

We were going at it cats and dogs.  Jim had hired me to run a change project for a client, and our views on how to best support the client were diametrically opposed.  We were both frustrated, and fiercely arguing our points of view.

At one point, I asked, “Wait, Jim, whose decision is this?”  He paused, reflected, and then said, “It’s your decision, Chip.”  I breathed a sigh and calmly said, “OK, please go ahead.  What input would you like me to consider in my decision?”  The tension in the room evaporated.  The discussion instantly morphed from a fight into a consultation.  And I was better able to really hear his points.  Clarifying authority for the decision made the difference between stalemate and progress.

A powerful tool for clarifying decision rights is the RACI Chart.  In this tool, participants in a decision process each have one of 4 roles:  Responsible, Approver, Consulted, or Informed.  This graphic explains each role:

Rules to follow which increase the likelihood of success using this tool:

  • One and only one Approver per decision.
  • The Approver must get the input of those in the Consulted role before making a decision.

Here’s an example of a RACI chart that describes roles in a project budgeting decision process:

Let’s look at line 2 and imagine that a Project Manager makes an unbudgeted purchase of $4,000 without talking to anyone on the project team about it.  Does the CFO have the right to object about not being consulted before that money was spent?  No.  According to this RACI, the PM is authorized to make those decisions (unbudgeted spend under $10,000) solo (serving as both the Responsible and Approver).  The PM might consult with others before spending that money, but isn’t required to.

How about line 3?  The Project Manager believes that spending $16,000 on a change management consultant will get the (delayed) project back on track.  The PM describes the idea to the Project Sponsor, who says, “Yes, good decision.  Spend the money.”  What should the PM do?  The PM should (respectfully) tell the Project Sponsor that the CFO is the approval authority for the decision.  Then the PM can make the case to the CFO by framing up options and recommendations.  In this case, the Project Sponsor doesn’t get a vote, but she gets a voice.  The CFO has the one vote that counts for this decision.

Make sense?

Why would anyone use a RACI Model?  In the next post, Decision Rights (part deux), I’ll discuss some compelling advantages.

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