If you walk into the headquarters of a number of well-known leading UK companies and said “RACI Matrix” you would receive murmurs of acknowledgement.

I find that although many people have heard of, and use RACI, it is interpreted in slightly different ways.

I’m not sure this is ideal for helping manage projects and recommend an alternative; CARS.

Let’s start with an explanation.

Projects should be characterised by a planning phase before the “doing”.

Let’s plan what we are going to do rather than jump straight in. It’s often said that every day spend planning is ten days saved in implementation.

I’m not sure of the accuracy of this rule of thumb given all different project types but certainly agree with the sentiment.

So, one of the key stones of good planning is to break the scope of work down into deliverables and break these further into tasks and sub-tasks. Congratulations, we now have a great project plan!

The next key stone is to ensure there is clarity on who is doing what. It’s no good having a great plan if everyone is not clear on their roles and responsibilities.

Miscommunication and misaligned expectations are the foundation for many failed projects!

At a basic level, and appropriate for smaller projects perhaps involving a few people, we might keep things as simple as possible and just add an individual’s name against each deliverable or task. Now there is clarity on who is doing what.

Remember, if a task, action, issue, risk or change does not have an owner and a deadline then expect failure.

If we want to get more sophisticated we can build on just simply identifying the owner, or the person responsible for completing the work.

We can also identify those who should be consulted about a piece of work (often the forgotten end user) or informed about a piece of work being undertaken.

So to combat any potential lack of understanding we could turn to the RACI Matrix.

What is RACI?

RACI is an example of a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (a RAM…yes, another acronym!) and this is the version you are most likely to come across. I would recommend a variation on RACI and suggest you use CARS instead but let’s explain RACI first.

Diagram of the RACI Project Management Technique

So a RACI Matrix has a column of tasks with a list of team members running along the top row. The relationship each person has with each deliverable is then clearly marked as R, A, C or I as the example below shows:

RACI Matrix

In our project world the Project Manager is typically given the A – they are accountable for making sure the project progresses on track even though others might be doing the work.

Therefore only the Project Manager should have any A’s.

They might also do the work themselves so in some situations will also have the R. In these situations they are wearing two hats, having oversight of the project as Project Manager but also doing the work themselves….welcome to reality!

Others may have no direct involvement so can be left blank against specific deliverables.

This then leaves us with Consult and Inform. Which one you choose (if either, they are not compulsory) depends on the amount of communication. Consult involves two way communication; I ask your opinion.

Inform is just one-way; I tell you something.

What is CARS?

RACI is the classic example of a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM). There are many variations on this theme, so now let’s look at my recommendation CARS:

  • Communicate – a catch all for both consult and inform to identify anyone who should be communicated with regarding a task, typically an end client
  • Approve – as a PM how do I know this piece of work has been completed to the right level of quality? Maybe a trust the person identified as Responsible, if they tell me its complete then I’m happy. Maybe I need to approve that piece of work myself or perhaps a formal approval from a quality inspector, senior manager or group of people is required.
  • Responsible – just as in RACI above, this is the person doing the work. As a PM I want a single person marked down as R…who is my point person, who has responsibility for this task?
  • Support – often work is not undertaken by just one team member but they might be supported by others. This clarifies the role of other team members as assisting with the task, but not being the named individual who has overall responsibility

RACI Vs CARS

The Project Manager should always be Accountable so I don’t see a need to highlight this but RACI requires it, whereas in CARS I use the A for Approver(s) instead – much more useful.

I also want to split between my primary point person (the Responsible) and others who are helping with that piece of work. RACI doesn’t accommodate this, but CARS does with Support.

When using RACI people often end up marking all team members as a fairly unnecessary Inform. They should receive general updates on the project anyway so this tendency to overstate Inform just adds clutter to our matrix and not much value.

I prefer to focus on clearly identifying those people who we do need to pro-actively communicate with – hence the C in CARS rather than the C and I in RACI.

Whenever I recommend CARS to clients as an alternative to RACI they always go for this approach instead as they feel its much clearly, not so open to interpretation and fits with project based work much better, so it’s not just me!

So the next time you are involved in a shared piece of work, use CARS to ensure there is clarity on who is doing what…it’s another step the ladder of project success!