Image Credit: View from pole position on the grid 18.04.2013 Bahrain Grand Prix / XPB <>
Grid position 1 (pole position)

In the last Process Pragmatist article, I described a few uses of responsibility matrices to improve organizational coordination and combat the avoidable problems of poor productivity, lost revenue, frustrated employees, and alienated customers that frequently arise when staff members lack clarity about who has responsibility for work. This article continues that exploration with another RACI grid variant, taking a deep dive into a detailed procedure and a free spreadsheet tool for automatically generating position descriptions that accurately capture work interdependencies.

I’ll start by talking about the advantages of this approach, then describe the work products it generates. I’ll then outline at a high level one approach to creating the responsibility matrix/position descriptions. Finally, I’ll present a detailed procedure for using the automated tool and a link to the tool itself.

Integrated Advantages

Plotting your positions on a grid can smooth hand-offs that may currently be tripping up your team, freeing them from wasting time on coordination and rework, and allowing them to start racing through their responsibilities. By integrating the creation of a shared responsibility matrix and individual positions descriptions, this particular approach has a number of advantages:

  • Engenders shared understanding of roles and responsibilities among employees, especially when the process of creating the responsibility matrix is done collaboratively.
  • For no extra effort, creates detailed individual job descriptions that accurately reflect interdependent work.
  • Since these position descriptions are automatically generated, they are always in-sync with the shared responsibility matrix, eliminating the duplicative work of updating both when work changes as well as any confusion that may arise from documents that are out-of-sync or written at different levels of detail.
  • When one position’s responsibilities changes, updating the responsibility matrix immediately highlights impacts on related positions, facilitating proactive adaptation.

The Products

Responsibility Matrix

The heart of the system is a variant of a responsibility matrix similar to the example below. Position titles are listed as column headers across the first row. Detailed job duties are listed one per row down a column. At the intersections of each duty and position, a code is recorded noting the type of involvement the given position has for the given duty. Optionally, related duties may be grouped together into functional roles, entered here in the first column.

Role Duty Pos. A Pos. B Pos. C
Financial Management Prepare annual department budget based on strategic & operational objectives. R A
Financial Management Review monthly budget-to-actual reports for accuracy. A R B
Continuity Management Develop & maintain business continuity plans. I R A
Customer Satisfaction Capture, analyze, & act on ongoing customer satisfaction metrics. S A R
Customer Satisfaction Capture, analyze, & act on customer satisfaction & feedback through semi-annual survey. C B

Duty Description Detail

Because so much service and knowledge work is interdependent, I typically specify duties in detail to avoid misunderstandings. However, if you’re starting from a very ambiguous understanding of position boundaries, it may be useful to proceed in multiple passes. Begin first by describing the work to be performed at a general level and go through the exercise of assigning involvement codes for each position. Once consensus is reached, break each high level responsibility description down into process and even procedure-level descriptions, repeating the exercise of assigning involvement codes to provide maximum clarity (especially useful in complex work involving multiple hand-offs).

In addition to the examples of duty description granularity demonstrated in this article’s sample matrices, the free spreadsheet tool provided at the end of this article includes more models in a set of sample duties for a small IT department.

Coding Position Responsibility

For the purpose of building position descriptions, I typically expand the number of involvement types from the traditional RACI set to allow finer grained distinctions.

Code Involvement Definition
R Responsible performs the work
B Backup performs the work in the absence of the Responsible party (provides fail-over redundancy)
S Supporting assists Responsible party in performing work
A Approving authorizes and approves work, ultimately accountable
C Consulting provides input before/during work
I Informed notified after a decision or action is taken

Many other useful variants provide additional alternative codings that may be useful given the dynamics of different organizations.

Position Descriptions

Mapping to Position Descriptions

The transformation from responsibility matrix to job description for a given position is accomplished by (1) compiling all duties in the responsibility matrix with an involvement type coded in that position’s column, and (2) prepending a unique phrase to each duty describing the position’s responsibility based on its involvement type. Representative phrases for the sample involvement types are illustrated below.

Code Involvement Prepend Phrase
R Responsible
B Backup Provide secondary coverage to: 
S Supporting Assists others to:
A Approving Approve work of others who:
C Consulting Provide input to others who:
I Informed Notified when others:

Putting all of these parts together yields the following position description for “Position B”.

Position B

Role Duty
Financial Management Review monthly budget-to-actual reports for accuracy.
Continuity Management Develop & maintain business continuity plans.
Customer Satisfaction Approve work of others who: Capture, analyze, & act on ongoing customer satisfaction metrics.
Customer Satisfaction Provide secondary coverage to: Capture, analyze, & act on customer satisfaction & feedback through semi-annual survey.

The spreadsheet tool provided at the end of this article automates compiling relevant duties and prepending the correct phrase to each duty description, allowing position descriptions to be compiled automatically from a completed responsibility matrix.

The Process

At a high level, the process of generating such a responsibility matrix and related position descriptions includes the following phases:

  • Planning: Produce a plan answering the essential questions:
    • Who is leading the process?
    • Which positions are included?
    • How will the position holders participate?
    • Who else is impacted by the decisions?
    • How will results be communicated to stakeholders?
    • Where will duties be sourced?
    • In what detail will responsibilities be captured?
    • What involvement codes will be used to record responsibility?
    • How & when will the results be reviewed?
  • Tool Preparation: Prepare the spreadsheet tool from the provided template.
  • Duty Capture: Generate and record the duties in the spreadsheet tool according to the plan.
  • Involvement Coding: Record the responsibility of each position for each duty using the selected coding standard.
  • Communication: Use the tool to create the position descriptions & communicate to internal & external stakeholders as planned.

The Procedure

The following procedure walks you through this process in step-by-step detail. (Clicking on a step reveals further instructions for completion.)

The Tool

With the work of assigning duties done in a responsibility matrix, there’s no need to create separate job descriptions for each position, except in writing a short synopsis or abstract for quickly communicating the scope for job postings or other purposes. The detailed description useful as an organizational reference in carrying out and evaluating work is already captured in the responsibility matrix, a quick transformation of which creates independent position descriptions. The spreadsheet tool linked below automates this process and is designed to be used in conjunction with the procedure above.

How do you keep your organization firing on all cylinders? Let me know what techniques you find effective for apportioning and communicating responsibility among team members using the Comments section below.