In our last guide, we shared our favorite role clarification process, the DACI Method:
Driver: The person responsible for a specific activity or result.
Approver(s): The final decision-maker(s) on the activity.
Consultant(s): Provides input and feedback along the way.
Informed: The individuals who receive updates and information.
Simply pausing to ask (and ideally also document) each project’s Driver, Approver, Consultants, and Informed individuals will already improve how well you collaborate and communicate at work.
Want to get even more mileage out of this simple role clarity exercise? In this guide, we lay out the difficulties that tend to come up when teams use DACI and how to avoid them so you can spark effective collaboration instead. After all, creating a better world for animals starts with creating better workplaces for the humans trying to help them.
Pitfall: Multiple Drivers Some people designate multiple Drivers when they value highly collaborative collaboration methods or low-power-distance/flat hierarchy way of working. But just as driving a car is tough to do with multiple people at the wheel, so is project management. Multi-driver initiatives often suffer from confusion, inefficiencies, tasks slipping through the cracks, and missed due dates.
Pro-tip: Designated Driver To create effective collaboration in your workplace, designate a single Driver. Think of them as the point of contact or keeper of the work. If you want to avoid getting stuck in a high-power or low-power dynamic on your team, involve Consultants and rotate Drivers across projects or time periods.
Pitfall #1: Approver Bias While it’s generally more efficient and effective to have a single Approver, there are some cases where relying on one decision-maker creates too great a risk for bias.
Pro-tip: 2+ Decision-Makers For high-stakes decisions (such as hiring, promotion, termination, compensation) or cross-functional decisions, designate at least two decision-makers and one tie-breaker.
Pitfall #2: Over-Approving For maximum agility and engagement, it’s best to have the Driver serve as the Approver for their own work since they generally have the most context to inform decisions. If the decision is high-stakes or prone to bias, then separating the Driver and Approver can serve as a good checks and balances mechanism. Separating the Driver and Approver can also be useful when the Driver lacks necessary context or expertise to make an informed decision, for example when someone is new to their role or the organization. So, in short: separating the Driver and Approver should ideally only happen in a small number of cases or for short periods of time. Once you document your DACIs, it can shine a light on spots where a single individual is Approver for a great deal of work, causing burnout, bottlenecks, and limits to other people’s learning and engagement. It can also highlight a pattern of Drivers and Approvers being different on a regular basis, which can cause engagement and decision-making quality to suffer.
Pro-tip: Approver Transfer Plan To transfer more Approver rights to the Drivers of the work, create a deliberate transfer plan. New team members can start out as Drivers, with more skilled or experienced leaders serving as Approvers for a planned period of time or until the Driver can demonstrate observable skills or knowledge. Next, the Driver can “graduate” to co-Approver. And in time, the Approver can become a Consultant and, eventually, Informed.
Sample Approver Transfer Plan:
Approvers: Joyce + Han + tie-breaker
APPROVER + CONSULTANT:
Pitfall #1: Under-Involving A common DACI tension is when Drivers don’t involve Approvers and/or Consultants early enough or frequently enough in the process to ensure alignment. The result is often inefficiencies, frustration, a sense of being left-out for the contributors, and a sense of being micromanaged or mistrusted for the Driver.
Pro-tip: Calibration Checkpoints As part of the project planning process, Drivers can pre-schedule these calibration checks with their Approver(s) and Consultant(s):
0% point: The most important checkpoint is before any work begins. This is an ideal time to align on goals, needs, constraints, expectations, and a shared “definition of done.”
30% point: It also helps to set aside a checkpoint at the outline or plan stage of work to ensure alignment on the proposal.
60-90% point: Depending on the nature of the work, one or two more checkpoints are generally helpful. For best results, clarify what type of feedback or input you expect at each phase.
100% point: Once the work wraps up, review the final deliverable and/or results to celebrate, learn, and/or adjust your plan.
Pitfall #2: Time Crunching Another frequent challenge between Drivers and their Approver(s) and Consultant(s) is a failure to anticipate how much time the collaboration will involve and when the collaboration points will happen. This planning omission causes time crunches, stress, delays, and harms quality of work.
Pro-tip: Pre-Schedule A simple solution is to set aside time for collaboration in advance, either by pre-scheduling coworking time or by reserving time to respond to requests for feedback, input, and other forms of collaboration.
Pitfall: Accidental Exclusion In our haste to make progress, it can be easy to leave out individuals who may be impacted by our work. Though the exclusion may be accidental, the result can be diminished trust, resistance to change, and harm to impacted individuals.
Pro-tip: Impact Check To involve the right Consultants, pause to ask: “Who may be impacted by this work?” “Who has relevant context or expertise?” “Whose perspective might we be lacking?” When in doubt, ask who would like to consult and in what capacity.
Pitfall: Silence & Surprise Though the Informed role might seem least important to keep in mind, it often represents the largest number of people. How these individuals are informed often determines the overall success or failure of the initiative. But all too often Informed employees either receive now news at all or an (unpleasant) surprise without enough context or preparation.
Pro-tip: Map the Plan To make sure Informed individuals actually feel informed, share a visual map of your plan, including when and how they can expect to hear from you. It’s also a good practice to share how people can give input or ask questions, if they’d like.
Sample Project Plan:
March - May
Will share via email once approved
Will present at company all-hands
Will share via email once approved
Will hold Ask Me Anything Mar 5
How to get started:
To amplify your team’s DACI skills, share this guide and hold a brief retrospective to discuss where you have sufficient role and decision-making clarity and where there is friction or confusion. Explore tweaks to your current process (including considering the pro-tips in this guide) and select one or two to implement.
Wishing you delightful alignment ahead!