Marketing Strategy

What Is the DARCI Accountability Grid & How Can It Save Your Next Project?

Liz Murphy

Director of Web & Interactive Content, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast

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What Is the DARCI Accountability Grid & How Can It Save Your Next Project? Blog Feature

Published on March 7th, 2018

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In the past 30 days, we've launched six new service-related website pages and a 10,000-word piece of pillar content on website redesign for IMPACT.

In the next 30 days, we will launch eight (or nine) new website pages, three new pieces of pillar content, and complete the first phase of a content migration, born of our merger with The Sales Lion. 

(Did you miss that newsflash about our merger? It's amazing.)

Given that I'm an only child, I'd love to say that this was all completed entirely by yours truly -- but that would be a lie and of course, you know that. 

As with any massive project, a team of incredibly talented people was involved in bringing the vision, content, design, video, and web components of all of these projects to life. 

I was, however, the project owner and manager of these initiatives.

If you've ever been a project manager, you know the most challenging aspect of any project is not managing the tasks, but managing the people so you will deliver on time, without blowing out your budgeted resource allocation.

That's where the DARCI Accountability Grid can help. 

Before we can unpack what DARCI is and why it's so great, however, I first want to talk more about why people are the problem with projects

Download My DARCI Worksheet

"Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before..."

Let's say you're working on a website project. You have a final draft of copy ready to ship to your design and development team, so you can start pushing your new site pages live.

You go to your boss, who you've been reporting to on your project's progress at each step of the way, and say, "Hey, this is ready for your sign-off, so we can go live!"

They pause. You hold your breath.

Then they respond with one of the following:

  • "I'm not the best person to ask about this."
  • "This looks fine, but has Jane seen it? Show it to her and then bring it back to me."
  • "You know, on second thought, get Jack to look at this -- he's probably a better resource."
  • "No, no, no, this is all wrong -- you should have consulted me on the strategy and wireframes first."
  • Or, my personal favorite, "Wait, why am I only seeing this just now?"

After your soul leaves your body, you hit your head on your desk until you can't feel feelings anymore.

Why couldn't they have told you any of this before you poured hours and hours of work into something they were always going to hate or pass-off to someone else who is also probably going to hate it?

Why did they waste your time?

Even when I was in my infancy as a content marketer, I knew how to generally assign roles for a project. You had your approvers and your do-the-thingers, and occasionally someone had to chime in to provide an additional opinion. 

But through experience over the years -- as well as a few very hard lessons of "trial by fire" -- I've learned that role identification in a project is what will determine how successful -- and not painful -- any initiative will be. 

The level of detail you need to get to, in terms of defining those roles, matters. 

If any of this sounds familiar to you -- chasing down elusive, never-ending approvals; constantly having to redo and rescope work; curling up into a ball and weeping silently at 3 a.m. over projects that feel like they will go on forever -- there is good news.

These are the exact project management problems that the DARCI Accountability Grid solves.

What Is the DARCI Accountability Grid?

A long, long time ago, a group of people much smarter than I am sat down at a conference room table and shook all their brains around until the DARCI Accountability Grid exploded all over the whiteboard in front of them. As they basked in the glory of their wondrous creation, angels sung to them from on high, and rays of light beamed down upon them from the heavens above.

(At least I assume that's what happened. I don't know where this beautiful thing came from. It just appeared -- but the angels thing sounded cool, right? Whatever, moving on...)

Basically, the DARCI Accountability Grid establishes who is accountable for what for any type of organizational activity or project. Moreover, the responsibilities of each of these roles are very clearly defined, so there is no confusion.

D: Delegator and/or Decider

The D for a project is the ultimate decision-maker. They have the right to veto or provide approval. This is typically a single person -- perhaps a department head, a VP, or a C-level executive -- but can sometimes be a governing body, like a board of directors. The D is also responsible for delegating work to the person in the A seat. (This is where Kathleen, to whom I directly report, lives in my projects.)

A: Accountable

The A is the person who is held solely responsible for whether or not the project gets done. They're the person reporting up to the D, but the D must also bestow upon them a level of decision-making authority and discretion that is in-line with how much accountability they've been given. (AKA, me.)

R: Responsible

The person or persons literally responsible for "doing the thing" on a project. So, if it's a design project, it's your designer. If it's an eBook that will be designed, it's the team of players overseeing content creation and design. If it's a website, you may have a team of subject matter experts contributing, copywriters, designers, and developers. (I sometimes have a role here with content creation. This is also the role Christine has had on our recent projects.)

C: Consulted

As opposed to someone who is contributing effort, like those who live in the responsible category, the C should be applied to those individuals who may be consulted or asked for their input. They do not, however, have final approval power. (Hi, Marcus & George!)

I: Informed

This last one is my favorite. The I is the person or persons who need to be kept informed of a project's progress, but here's the kicker: While they get to be kept in the loop, they are explicitly prohibited within this system from derailing a project based on any information they receive. Meaning, you're just giving them a heads up, not soliciting their feedback. (Hi, Bob!) 

Download My DARCI Worksheet

How to Use the DARCI Accountability Grid

Using the DARCI Accountability Grid to manage your projects is easy, in that the only way you really screw it up is by not doing it. But there are a few things about using DARCI you should keep in mind:

  • You don't have to fill every role for every project.
    You should always have the D-A-R roles slated, but often the C-I roles may be left empty, and that's okay. Only fill the roles that are required. Don't put too many cooks in your kitchen if you don't have to. 

  • Some people might play multiple roles -- that's (usually) okay.
    Typically, you'll see some crossover in the A-R roles. As I noted above, I spend most of my days in the A role, but I also throw my hat in the ring as a content creator, putting me squarely in the R role, as well. That's totally fine. But someone who is a D, for instance, shouldn't have any other role. 

  • Slating your project DARCI should be the first step.
    If you're going to be the A, as most project managers are, hear me when I say this: Before you do anything else -- call your first meeting, create that first wireframe -- you must fill this out. Do not, under any circumstances start your project without a complete DARCI. Otherwise, why bother using it at all?

  • Finally, get your approvals straight.
    Once you have your DARCI squared away -- and you're the A -- consult with your D to determine when they need to be solicited for approvals.

    For example, on some projects that need to be fast-tracked, Kathleen prefers to be at the very end, when all of the strategy, copy, and design elements have been completed with my oversight. On others, when we have more time -- or the project is more complex/new -- she may want to have an additional layer of approval with the first draft. No matter what approval schedule your D wants, agree to it in advance. Scattered approval structures are where projects go to die.

Start Using DARCI Now... Seriously!

Typically, I love to reserve my conclusions for some sort of mind-blowing takeaway or insight that leaves you breathless -- or at least makes you laugh. 

I don't have one of those for you today. All I can say is that using DARCI has drastically improved my ability to manage projects and get them completed on-time and to the satisfaction of others.

I will never run another project again without DARCI, and I fundamentally believe everyone should be using it. Including you. 

So, what are you waiting for? Download my DARCI worksheet and get to work!  

Download My DARCI Worksheet
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