Project Managers’ RACIsm Problem



By Timothy Grayson


Ottawa, Canada

Project managers are RACIst. Stereotypically applying RACI where it’s inappropriate should be recognized, reported, and restricted. If not only for the sake of your career progress, do yourself a favour and learn the limits of the model.

RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) is a good tool. Maybe too good. Like every good tool, it gets overused. After all, value in some places must mean value everywhere, right?

Does it though? RACI is a circumstantial model. Change the circumstance and the value changes. Besides, models are like metaphors: useful to a point, then—pushed too far, not so much. Models always break down, becoming harmful.

In many quarters where, by training and use, RACI is as comfortable as a college hoodie, the model gets applied irrespective of circumstance. I have observed R-A-C-I leaned on even to make ultra-fine grain distinctions to executives. The people doing so, having realized the value of RACI in their day-to-day, suddenly encounter its corresponding liability.

Aware of it or (often) not, project managers hoping to ascend to senior ranks are negatively affected by these situations. For development, everyone who learns about, uses, and abides by RACI charts should also be trained not only in the application but the appropriate usage environment. Let me expand.

Learning the Limits

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume the RACI is an organizational law—a fact, if you will, that reflects a certain bounded reality. The operative word is bounded.

“Bounded” points to how and why the model’s artificiality breaks down. By identifying roles and assigning to them specific actions, rights, and—dare I say it—responsibilities, the RACI model reflects the narrow environment of a project or other restricted operational milieu. Within the conditions of a self-contained group (team) with readily and clearly delineated parameters of responsibility and accountability, the model holds.

One can say, “You have to do this… but won’t pay the price of it not being done.” (Responsible) Or, alternatively, “You may not actually do it, but make sure it’s done.” (Accountable) The buck stops somewhere, and within a self-contained—bounded—environment, it’s easy to identify where.

When the glass walls are cracked, reality is unbounded and the logic of its RACI laws changes with the scale. Even in an open, broader environment, responsibilities remain fairly easy to parse. Responsibility, as practical action, ends at the point of somebody doing something. It’s harder with accountability because, as Bob Dylan knew, everybody serves somebody. Accountability is a state that, through the magic of hierarchy, is ever-expanding like the universe. While responsibility sinks to a resting place; accountability floats to its terminal limit.


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How to cite this article: Grayson, T. (2021). Project Managers’ RACIsm Problem; Commentary, PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue IX, September. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/pmwj109-Sep2021-Grayson-Project-Managers-RACIsm-Problem-commentary.pdf

About the Author

Timothy Grayson

Ottawa, Canada


Timothy Grayson is a (digital) transformation consultant and writer who lives near Ottawa, Canada. He has been innovating and transforming for 25-years in software, financial services, online travel, government services, and the postal system. He has digitally reinvented front and back-end operations covering small business and large commercial enterprises, the public sector, not-for-profit, and academia. Timothy’s particular expertise includes Digital reinvention; Transformative change management; Strategy and innovation; and Cloud, digital identity and cybersecurity.

Timothy is the driving force behind Institute X, an advisory serving private sector and government clients. These organizations recognize the complexity of the real digital transformation that’s affecting them and seek assistance. From Ottawa, Institute X serves clients around the world.  Contact Timothy at http://institute-x.org/ .