Product Teams: Whose Job is it to Decide? Whose Job is it to Deliver?

9 February 2011
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Great product strategies and innovative product ideas can be powerful drivers of company growth, but only if their execution is solid. I’ve been hearing recently from product managers about their difficulties with execution.  Those difficulties have been aggravated by tight resources and soft marketplace demand.  But there is a low-cost approach to improving your results with your product teams.

Some of the telltale signs of execution problems take the form of poor information flow and of people not being sure what they need to do.  For example, team leaders become indecisive; decisions take too long; when they’re made, they aren’t quickly translated into action; they’re second-guessed; executives are called in to resolve disputes; no one is sure who’s accountable for what; nobody knows who should be involved in making a decision; too many people are involved; information doesn’t get to the people who need it.  Or sometimes it’s the opposite – too many people are sent too much information; people go off-track with their efforts; conflicting messages get sent internally and externally, etc.

My View

Execution results from hundreds of decisions people make every day based on the information they have.  Execution problems can be often traced back to poorly defined roles: who’s responsible for making which decisions?  For taking what actions?  For delivering what sorts of information to those who need it.  People need to understand which decisions are theirs to make and in which others they have a different involvement. When it’s not clear whose decision it is, decision-making stalls, information-sharing is impeded, and the process descends into dysfunctional behavior – all at the expense of performance.

Recommended Actions for Product Managers and PM Department Heads.

  1. One effective approach uses the RACI model. It’s easy to use and it’s effective for making individual’s roles and responsibilities clear when you’re planning a product, a development project, a new procedure, or an organizational change. RACI stands for: R = Responsible, A = Accountable, C = Consulted, and I=informed.
  2. At the start of a project or a new phase of a project, identify the decisions, information, and actions that are needed to bring it to a successful conclusion.
  3. Create a matrix with the tasks – all the key decisions, actions and activities in the left column. Across the top row, identify the jobs/roles needed on the project. Enter R, A, C, or I in each cell of the matrix to identify the level of responsibility of each role for each item. Here are some examples and more details.
  4. There should be only one role or individual accountable for each decision, action, or information item. More than one will lead to confusion, disputes inaction, and delay. But, there can be more than one person responsible for taking action or creating the information needed to make that decision.
  5. Create a RACI chart for each stage of the project, or for each department involved in it.  Alternatively, you could create a RACI matrix for each department such as product management, engineering and marketing.
  6. Make creating RACI charts a standard part of your product development process, annual department planning process, or any change planning project.
  7. Engage people in the process of building those RACI matrices to enhance their understanding and to make sure they don’t feel as though it was imposed on them.
  8. Document the RACI charts and make them available to everyone involved in the effort.

RACI charts can help you avoid stalled decision-making, destructive second guessing, and diluted accountability; they can empower your team to act decisively.