Eating Dumbo with the RACI Model
How to use the RACI Model to break down projects to bite-sized manageable chunks of work
By Matt Mueller
In The Mindful Innovator we explored some of the challenges of completing innovation initiatives. And one of those largest culprits is project management. A initiative can seem so overwhelming that we do not know how to tackle it—leaving the project ignored for the sake of completing other projects and tasks that are easily completed. The RACI Model is one of the best ways to break apart a large project into manageable tasks. As mentioned in the book, imagine being one of Walt Disney’s executives the day after he dreamt about creating Walt Disney World. It is overwhelming to think of where to start and how to move forward. But taking Walt Disney World and breaking it into bite sized pieces makes it more attainable. Disney had to eat Dumbo one bite at a time.
The RACI Model Explained
Many project management systems are out there that can help move a project through each of the tasks that need completion. But one of the easiest models is the RACI model (Miranda and Watts 2022). The acronym stands for, Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. The RACI model is a matrix that helps to plan a project out by the task. Each task goes in the first column straight down the page and across in the top row are specific people or departments. In each of the inside boxes in the matrix can be any and all of the R, A, C, and I letters, or it can even be blank.
For the Florida project, we have a total of seven teams or people identified to help build the theme park. Walt Disney: one of the owners and the visionary. Roy Disney: another owner who brings structure and know-how to the table. A department of creatives that, well, are creative. Engineers who can figure out how to realistically bring a vision to life. Architects that can bring a level of detail to the design that they build. Builders that can secure the equipment and materials to execute the architect’s plans. And a logistics team that can holistically think about how people will move through the space.
In the task column, we need to complete seven tasks—broad for the sake of the example—to build the theme park and paint the vision of what we want it to look like. We need to engineer the rides because even though we know how we want a Teacup ride to look, we need to figure out how to make it work. We need to also develop the storylines for each of the rides to immerse guests and make it more than just a ride.
Those stories will determine what props we need to find or create to go along with the story and the functionality of the park, like the brightly colored playful lanterns that hang above the teacups. They will need to develop blueprints to share with the county to get approval to move into the building phase. Identify what location is best to build the park. Enough land needs to be procured for the vision, thinking of the details of how to attract the most guests, how much it will cost to clear and prepare the land, and a whole lot more. And we will need to pave roads to the park and walkways in the theme park to allow people to move around the attractions.
With the matrix built, you can assign each person an R, A, C, or I to their name, even more than one letter if needed. It is also possible to not have a letter, which means that the person is not involved with this task in any capacity. The vision of the theme park is complete, with Walt as accountable and responsible. Walt is very meticulous about what he wants since it is his vision. He is where the buck stops, which makes him accountable. But he also needs to be involved with decision-making for this task, which is why we marked him with a C for consulted next to his name. He will be heavily involved but not alone. His creative team is marked R
and will be responsible for designing the vision and creating illustrations and stories. Walt will provide feedback and give them new inputs for the creative team to work on. They will consult with the engineers and architects for the
vision of the theme park task because they will need to know the vision to help guide the creative team to realistic outcomes. If the creative team had the idea to send families into space as one of the attractions, the engineers need to push back and say we are not capable of doing that, but perhaps we can create a roller coaster in the dark that makes you feel like you are going to space, a la Space Mountain. For this task, they will inform Roy, the builders, and logistics and share the design with them when complete. The group responsible does not need their feedback or input for this task but needs them to take the vision once complete to bring it to life.
The second task of engineering the rides is handing them off to the engineering team once the creative team is complete with the vision. In this task, Mr. Know-How Roy Disney becomes the top dog and has the A next to his name. He will be accountable because he holds the checkbook and can guide a team in getting the vision to a buildable state. The engineers have the R next to their name because they are the experts that have the education and training in this area. They must take the rides like the teacups and figure out how to build them to meet the vision safely and effectively. The creative team is not off the hook yet. We mark them with a C for consulted because engineering may need their help occasionally to ensure they understand the intent. Engineering may also need to push back or make other suggestions when it looks like they may be unable to meet the vision. If the intent was to make the boat in splash mountain splash people on the bridge and the engineering team says to do that it would not be safe and people on the boat would get hurt, they may need to discuss other options, like putting water cannons on both sides of the slide that will shoot water at the people on the bridge. Creative may feel that this keeps the intent alive and is a solution that fits.
The engineers and the creatives together keep the vision strong. If they did not consult with the creative team, it would be very likely that the engineering team would lose this detail and may just create the standard log flume ride that you see in any other theme park. Of course, architecture is also consulted in this phase because they will be the next group to hand off this project with the task of designing the structures that the rides will go in. These two groups should be working closely to make sure there is cohesion.
Walt will only be informed on the engineering phase since he has already aligned with his creative team on the vision, and they will be able to ensure that it stays intact. Walt, at this point, would only slow down the process if he is providing feedback; his time is best served elsewhere as the two teams do the work. Walt will be informed when the work is complete and moving on to the next phase.
"You can design and create and build themost wonderful place in the world. But ittakes people to make the dream a reality." -Walt Disney
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