When lack of clarity is killing your team’s effectiveness: RACI for startups

Anyone who’s been part of a fast-growing company has been there; Sometimes it’s a marketer who struggles to establish ownership over a website. Other times, it’s a team lead micromanaging projects. In the worst cases, it’s the founders incapable of getting out of the team’s way. The point is, something’s broken, and clear expectations and ownership are needed STAT.

Oh, I thought I was leading that?”

“You spent 3 days building what?”

“If you want to be in charge of [whawaawhawaa], fine. But then I can’t be responsible for how it performs.”

“…”


Over and over, I hear heads of marketing and customer success at SaaS companies all say the same thing in one way or another: They struggle to set and reach goals — because their hands are tied on projects — because there’s not enough company-wide clarity about what they’re responsible for. …I hear it all. the. time.

Establishing even loose roles for the various initiatives at your company is valuable — There aren’t many people who’d disagree with that. But establishing these roles isn’t only important for team leads or those those directly involved in a particular project. Clearly communicating project roles team-wide and even company-wide clarifies everyone’s role, to everyone else.

There’s a super simple framework that will end the free-for-all and give your team the ownership they crave and the clarity they need to be productive and effective: RACI.

…Bonus: This framework will also give team leads (and business leaders) a bird’s eye view of how individual team members are contributing. A super useful perk of this framework come ‘performance review’ time. But we’ll get to that later.

The RACI Framework

RACI is a type of responsibility assignment matrix. It isn’t new, in fact, it’s been floating around the corporate world for years. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the framework, and I have no formal training using it. Part of what I like about it is its simplicity and adaptability. It’s as useful to a family of 4 as it is to a company of 400,000. A friend and former colleague of mine Ryan Engley, introduced me to RACI a few years back and a lightbulb went on. I implemented it with my team (of 25 or so, at the time), and shortly after, we started using it nearly company-wide. Today, whenever I introduce a client to RACI something clicks. The value is quickly understood, and it’s quickly rolled out too.

I have yet to find something so simple and affective. Plus, startups love acronyms, so RACI will fit right in with IPO, MRR, AARRR, B2B2C, WYSIWYG and FML.

How it Works:

For every internal project, initiative or even task, you establish who will be Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed. Be it for website updates, a product launch, or sending a customer survey.

Know Your Role:

Responsible are those who do the work. They’re the ones who make sure all is smoothly on course, that everyone has what they need to make progress. They schedule the meetings, they make sure shit gets done. They’re also responsible for making sure the other people involved in the project are kept up-to-date. There should generally only be one person Responsible per project.

…If we use the example of a small startup announcing a new integration partner with a launch campaign, the head of marketing would be Responsible.

Accountable don’t need to worry so much about the details. They do need to know that the project is on track, after all, it’s their head that will roll if the whole thing goes sideways. They hold the ultimate power of veto. They remove roadblocks. They provide feedback when they’re asked. And, timely approvals so that they don’t slow anything down, or worse, derail. Again, generally there’s only one person Accountable per initiative.

…In our example, Accountable might be the CEO, or whoever the head of marketing reports to.

Consulted are the experts and specialists, there may be a few. They’re consulted for decisions that fall under their area of expertise. Their opinion on the larger project/initiative for the most part, is optional. I’ve also used Consulted to mean Supports — The specialists who do the work, when RACI is for a bigger project (using RASI or RACSI).

…For the many moving parts of an integration launch, the head of marketing might need support from a Consulted copywriter, designer, web developer, customer success, etc.

Informed on a project simply means they’re in the loop. Their work might be directly affected by the outcome of the project. They might just want to keep an eye on things. But their feedback and opinion are generally not expected, and not necessary. A few people may be Informed on any given project.

…Informed might be the CTO, head of product, sales or tech support.

Wanna know what’s cool?

The descriptions above don’t even matter that much. As long as you do so responsibly, you can change them to suit how you and your team work. There are something like 17 variations on the acronym, from PARIS to RASCIO. The important thing is that everyone defines them the same way. And, that those definitions are accessible to reference when they’re needed (and they will be needed).

6 Ways to Put RACI to Work:

  1. Share your RACI matrix with all the dept heads and leaders at your company. Tell them that you plan to move forward with RACI for your team and your team’s projects. Invite them to copy the document for their purposes but make sure they keep the role names and definitions intact (or change yours to match what you agree to). For the projects that cross departments, they’ll likely appear on more than one team’s RACI matrix.
  2. Encourage everyone to reference RACI for projects they’re involved in or interested in. The benefit of democratizing this information is so that everyone has access to every project’s RACI. It’s as valuable to those involved in projects as it is those who aren’t. Need someone to stay in their lane? Share the project’s RACI with them. Is someone struggling to gain insight into a project in another dept that directly affects them? Get them on the Informed list.
  3. Bake RACI into the planning, communicating and meeting process. Add RACI in the planning documents and templates you use internally for project or campaign briefs. Invite Consulted to project meetings. Make Informed’s meeting attendance optional but send them the meeting notes. Include Informed in cc on milestone emails or send them periodic “no action needed” project updates.
  4. Keep things clear when roles change, scaling the team or during internal restructuring. Things get confusing when new team members are added and roles change. At startups this can happen monthly, or even more frequently. It can start to feel like no two projects are ever executed in the same way. It becomes as though any semblance of process never has a chance. When introducing new people or roles use RACI to make it way easier to communicate how things are changing.
  5. Get a high-level view of individuals’ contribution and performance. Rather than relying on each team member to tell you what they’ve done or what they’re responsible for (self-advocacy can vary heavily depending on gender and culture), let the RACI matrix do the talking. Get a snapshot of what each individual on your team is working on. Too many projects? Too few? Are there any surprise standout performers?
  6. Use RACI as a catalyst for tough but necessary conversations. Maybe you think you should be in charge of an improvement project, say, your website’s conversion rate. You can use RACI as a discussion point for clarifying your needs and moving some stakeholders to Informed rather than bottlenecks. You can also use it to rein someone in who’s overstepping, or under-performing. And, when a project derails or fails, no one need look further than Accountable.

Start Somewhere

RACI isn’t perfect. It can take longer for some people to adjust than others, particularly those accustomed to inserting themselves in every decision (hardly uncommon when you’ve worn many hats since day one). You may reach a time when you need to nest RACIs within RACIs depending on the size of your teams and projects. And, it won’t fix a culture of chaos — RACI is not a cure-all.

But start somewhere.

Who’s in charge.
Whose head will roll.
Who no longer needs to feel like they’re in charge.
And, who should back-off and get back into their lane.

Clearly defining and communicating project roles company-wide can mean the difference between your team hitting revenue goals or feeling helplessly ineffective.


RACI is one of the go-to startup ops tools I share with my SaaS clients. If you’re interested in getting some worksheets or help implementing this or other frameworks — for SaaS marketing and customer experience — reach out to me or visit my website abettercx.com.

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