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“Great combination of hands-on exercises and simulation software to analyze how to make improvements in the work place”

AMR Elsersy,
Consolidated Contractors Co.


Who's on First? The Importance of Roles in Processes

Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 1.07.56 PMWhen you’re first doing a business process improvement project understanding roles in the process is critical. That’s because often employees don’t know who is responsible for a certain task in the process, or there are two people responsible for a task (so who is really responsible?), or they don’t know who to escalate a concern to, or there are too many approvals in the process. Clients find that clarifying roles and responsibilities is an one early improvement opportunity.

How would you know if roles are a problem in your process? Here are some easy ways:

With the Business Process Improvement (BPI) team:

  • Document the current state process using a swim lane process diagram. Discuss the process and see if there are lots of handoffs, or many approvals (often gateways or decision diamonds).
  • Figure out if there is unnecessary wait time between roles.
  • Determine if there are misunderstandings or errors when the task moves between roles.

Then use a RACI chart to help you understand the roles at each step and decision. The RACI helps to see where there are missing roles, where roles overlap, where there are too many approvals, and where consolidated roles might be needed.

The RACI Chart (Figure 1) is a common method for looking at:

  • R – Who is Responsible for each step. This is the single owner who is accountable for getting the task done and driving to decision.
  • A – Who makes the Approvals. The Approver is the individual who is accountable for approving a proposed decision. (In an automated process it could be designated by decision rules.)
  • C – Who the process needs to Consult with (not actually shown on the swimlane diagram).
  • I – And who the process needs to Inform about the task or decision (also not shown on the swimlane diagram).

Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 1.19.47 PM

The RACI table shown in Figure 1 is the standard format. To make one, first write each task and decision or gateway in the left hand column of the spreadsheet. Then put the names of roles in each swimlane as columns two – x, as many as are needed in the process. For each task in the left column identify what role has the R and put that R under that role in the row that goes across. If more than one role has responsibility, mark a second R. If there is no one designated with an R, leave the R off that row for the task. Then look again at the same task and see if there is an A. (It would usually be followed with a gateway.) Mark that role with the letter A. There could even be a second A. If there are others in the roles that consult, mark them with a C. If there are others that are informed later, mark them with an I. There is often more than one C or one I in a row. Each task should have an R, but not necessarily an A, C, or I.

As a team, discuss what the RACI table shows you. Look first at the R’s to see that each task has at least one R. If there are no R’s or multiple R’s associated with a task, then the task has unclear responsibilities – no one is assigned or there are multiple people responsible. There may be multiple A’s in one row or over the whole RACI chart, which may indicate too many approvers. Does each approver provide value—or is the approver just a rubber stamp? Too many A’s will slow down the process.

Extensive consulting roles (many C’s at a step) necessitate a lot of time collecting all those opinions. What does each C think he is providing – input or a solution that will be used? RACI issues in the current state should be added to the cumulative issues for the process.

As a BPI team, discuss possible improvements. Consider how to get rid of too many A’s. Could they be switched to C’s; in this situation the R talks to the A ahead of time (and the A therefor becomes a C) and then the R can make the decision on his own. Or could the R informs an A later and then the A becomes an I and the R makes the decision on his own again. Where we have removed A’s, we are following an important “Rule for Redesign” – namely Drive decision making down to the lowest level.

Part 2 will describe how to use a RACI on the Redesigned Process Model.

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10 comments to Who’s on First? The Importance of Roles in Processes Part 1

  • Mallikarjun

    What stage of the BPMI project does the approach of creating RACI and getting rid of A’s is more meaningful and effective?

    In some cases redundant A’s sneak in to the process and continue to exist in a well established process. It may be because they were used in the place of C’s or the additions were overlooked in an effort to improve process compliance and are already automated. I was part of such a process in my previous job.

    In such cases the process becomes burdensome over time. What would be your suggestion to overcome such a hitch!


  • Tanaiia Hall

    The RACI chart seems like a good way to go beyond having one column with the “Owner” or “Responsible” party because there can be layers such as, the distinction between “Approval” and “Consulting” roles which have different impacts on the project moving forward if there is disagreement. I think that this is also an effective way to help keep team members focused and to make an SME with more expertise in a certain area the “A” over a particular decision if there is a difference of opinion for example, how to apply a technical change in a system when Finance and IT disagree. The “R” and the “A” in this case might be IT for the portion that involves the technical execution of the requirement.

  • Swapnika Kamle

    The RACI method seems like a perfect example to start with understanding who’s on first. Often team members from different departments involved in one process are not aware of who’s doing what. RACI is a way to bring all of these members in a room and brainstorm the maps and I-4 lists. This method will also clearly mark who’s responsible for which step leaving no grey area and this is also a great way to identify and capture broken and loop holes in a process

  • Jas Johl

    The RACI chart appears to be a great way to keep track of roles in a project — How can you document approvals and handoffs clearly in a process map, or how do you take a RACI chart and add it to your process map?

  • Sonia Kissi-Ndri

    In the Business Improvement Process, the RACI chart is a useful technical tool to analyze both the As-Is/current and the To-Be/ Future models. It plays an important role identifying missing roles as well.
    In As-Is model, RACI chart can have too many A’s and this can problematic and should be listed as cumulative issue on the I-4 Lists of Issues.
    Too many A’s is not only an issue but an indicator that the process needs to be redesigned.
    The Rules for Redesign are principles to identify missing roles in addition of eliminating too many Approvals, and adding value.
    In this particular case, the Rules for Redesign will promote pushing the decision making down to the task performer (lowest reasonable level) as much as possible or allowed by the business. Such Redesign will eliminate too many approvals and waste time, reduce hand-offs and wait time, not without adding value.

  • Sarah L

    I’ve found the RACI framework to be a really useful tool in project management and can see it adding value to BPI in both the diagnostic stages and during process redesign. When documenting and reviewing a current process, a RACI table can help to capture nuances that might not surface when developing a high level process model or even a swim lane model.You may find informal, unnecessary approve (A) and inform (I) roles that waste time, or inconsistencies in the responsible (R) parties (e.g. too many R’s, a step lacking an assigned R, or variability in who takes this role).

    Reintroducing the RACI table when redesigning a process or proposing changes can help to ensure role clarity moving forward and provides a visual focus to a conversation about how to limit everyone’s involvement to the minimum necessary.

  • Hinde Belemlih

    I think the RACI chart is very useful tool specifically in identifying steps/tasks and the responsibilities for each stakeholder which can be scrutinized for opportunities for improvement.

  • Amulya Datla

    The RACI chart is a great way to document roles and responsibilities, especially when roles cross over and it becomes harder to determine who is responsible or should be visible to certain tasks and projects. It also helps to visualize what areas within a current process may be overlooked by key stakeholders or have too many stakeholders involved due to role ambiguity.

  • Nice article, thanks. Absolutely agree about the importance of clear process roles. The RACI chart is a hugely helpful way of identifying where process roles are being missed. We wrote about process roles recently, and how they can break down internal silos, leading to better customer experience. Nice related quote: “Process owners can travel your organization just like customers and help to uncover and remove bottlenecks.” Here’s our article:

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