Does RACI have a place with agile teams?

Why do we need a RACI?  Scrum is all about empowerment and autonomy isn’t it? Surely conformity is going back to the turn of the 20th century Taylorism. Well I beg to differ and have hit this conundrum quite a lot last year so I penned a few thoughts on the topic and also my experiences once I tried it, both good and bad. But before we get into all the interesting stuff lets start with a quick recap.

What is RACI

Although RACIs may be associated with some waterfall, PRINCE2 type managerial burden they are actually simple matrix’s that can be created in less than an hour for even the most complex programs of work. The idea been that it will show what role is responsible for what business/SDLC function.

We list out all the actions that our teams do where we require input, permission or guidance and then overlay the RACI definitions to allow us to map out who is on the hook for what.

We have 4 definitions of a person, they are either:

  • Responsible: person who performs an activity or does the work.
  • Accountable: person who is ultimately accountable and has Yes/No/Veto.
  • Consulted: person that needs to feedback and contribute to the activity.
  • Informed: person that needs to know of the decision or action

The diagram below shows the flow of information as I tend to coach it – note that it isn’t always two way as you may expect.

Figure 1 the flow of information between the roles
Figure 1 the flow of information between the roles

Once we’ve done that you’ll end up with something like below. With that it’s clear what part everyone plays in getting the value out to the customer. And that should be the main reason for this, it’s all about customer value, not imposing a hierarchy to gain back control from trying agile ways of working.

Figure 2 example of a program RACI

But I only have a single Scrum team

For a single scrum team this may seem like quite a bit of a overhead and I’ll probably agree. The only benefit I see is for newly formed teams still in the ‘storming’ phase of working. Some clear definition on roles and responsibilities could help add structure to the team.

What if I work in a regulated market?

Now this is where I think RACIs add real value beyond giving the Project Manager something to do. Regulated industries behave very differently to others. Whether it is finance, aviation or pharmaceutical – these market sectors do not have carte blanche to do whatever they please, regardless the investment behind the program. All are regulated internally by audit departments, externally by a mix of professional bodies, government oversight committees and also external audit firms . And that over sight applies to every country these countries operate in – not just the country where the product or service is produced. Failure to adhere to this imposed regulation may result in fines and loss of license to operate in that jurisdiction – imagine as an airline you got told you couldn’t fly into or over the United Kingdom!

People are fearful of adopting agile in these environments due to misconceived ideas about it been too complicated to work through all the regulations and rules that they currently follow. May I add, regulations that companies currently follow at great expense due to inefficiencies in working practices.

A RACI should help here in 2 different ways:

Firstly – they force you to understand the environment you are working in and what is actually needed by the regulators. You may currently produce a 10 page feature definition document for every new released feature when actually you could automatically use the Feature definition in your ALM (Application Lifecycle Management) tool. Or who looks after the release of a Feature rather than always chucking it over the fence to the Operations team because that’s what you’ve done for the past decade.

Secondly – once you know what has to be done you can decide the roles that need to be involved. It may turn out that a few people on the program control everything that needs to be done. So themes like; single points of failure, WIP and de-centralized decision making should be at the forefront of your mind here. Imagine that, a decision matrix from the waterfall era actually helping promote decentralized decision making!

By having an agile ways of working mapped to a RACI it will make live a lot easier when your scrum team gets audited by your internal audit team or via one of the big 4. As it will give them something to start with and allow them to easily give feedback which can be captured on the RACI and tactically implemented straight away.

Doesn’t this conflict the ethos of Scrum?

Is this too prescriptive and does it not stifle all the autonomy that Scrum and agile ways of working talk about? I don’t think it does for a couple of reasons.

Mainly there are very few high performing self autonomous teams out there. Probably less than 5% of teams I’ve coached in the less decade fall into that category. So for those 5% it’ll be a conflict, but for the lions share of the other teams it should help not hinder.

Furthermore by been clear on who does what it should speed up the delivery of value to the customer by reducing ambiguity and wait times. Plus in typical PDCA fashion if you aren’t seeing improvements or benefits then you have a something tangible to change, rather than the tacit understanding of “well Lisa normally does it when Chris is away but it should really be Sam”

Is this relevant for a COVID era of remote working?

Remote working and distributed teams are nothing new. But the gargantuan shift we have seen over the past 10 months has definitely taking its toll within companies. Those with established good agile practices and clear responsibilities within their teams have managed to keep going and deliver value. Those with ambiguity or a culture of no one taking ownership have had their problems exacerbated as now all this is trying to get sorted not in face to face meetings but by people hiding behind Zoom or MS Teams.

Doing anything remote is a lot harder – anyone tells you otherwise is doing you a disservice. But change is possible via Zoom. Recently I introduced a program RACI from the comfort of my farmhouse office to a global client. Multiple countries, multiple time zones, multiple suppliers. Plus the program benefitted from the conversations and learnings that happened as we produced the RACI in workshops. All the tacit information suddenly had to be shared literally across 3 continents.

Feedback, Feedback, Feedback

When scrum teams do their sprint demos it tends to fall into two camps: every man and his dog turn up to give feedback or it is just the team demoing to the PO alone. A well defined RACI will allow the whole program to see who should be their to give feedback and who just needs to be informed. We aren’t trying to shut people up and not gain feedback – it’s just some peoples feedback is vital to make sure we are building the right thing. So it’s important those people, and indeed everyone else on the program know what they are responsible for.

Does the new Scrum guide change anything?

With the updated scrum guide link here a few online agilists have tried adding facilitator to create a RACI-F guide. I can see the intentions but I think this is moving from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’. We could add coaching or training, the list could be potentially endless. So the short answer is no.

Summary

It’s easy to dismiss a RACI as some command and control document from a legacy era – but that would be shortsighted and foolish. A well crafted RACI will prove to be a useful artefact that will actually set your Scrum team free. Give it a try and let me know how you get on.

Adam J Mitchell

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