Even a thorough project plan can leave room for confusion about individual duties. A RACI model--or a visual map of everyone's responsibilities--helps to prevent chaos.
RACI stands for responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed. That's four levels of "answerability." A RACI model is a table that lists the members of a team and delineates their level of answerability for every aspect of a project. Creating a RACI model is relatively simple, but there are all sorts of pitfalls that first-timers can fall into.
For guidance on how to avoid them, check out "How to Design a Successful RACI Project Plan" by IT management coach and consultant Bob Kantor. He provides various tips for building a RACI model, including: ensure that every task has at least one stakeholder who's responsible for it and no more than one stakeholder accountable for it; and share, discuss, and agree to the model with your stakeholders at the start of a project.
He also lists potential conflicts or ambiguities that need to be resolved as you look across each row and down each column, such as:
Too many R's: Does one stakeholder have too much of the project assigned to them?
No empty cells: Does one stakeholder need to be involved in so many of the activities? Can responsible be changed to consulted, or consulted changed to informed? That is, is the project stalling out because there are too many cooks in this kitchen? (If so, what does that say about the culture within which this project is being managed?)
Buy-in: Does each stakeholder agree to the role that he or she is being asked to play? (When agreement is achieved, include it in the project's charter and documentation.)
Consultant Maya Townsend provided a few more useful tips. "RACI is most valuable when things are starting to go wrong and people need a concrete, structured way to talk about who's responsible for what," she says. "At the beginning of a project, you can't always anticipate what responsibilities will be fuzzy. In the heat of a project, you can, and RACI helps people talk about the fuzziness without blaming and identify the best way to move forward."