We can all agree that shared responsibilities are important on a project, but we should also have clear accountability. Someone must ultimately be answerable for the correct and thorough completion of the deliverable, and that should be a unique individual. In an Agile world, some companies still make use of project managers, with their role slowly shifting toward Agile coaching (if they haven't decided to become a product owner or a ScrumMaster). The project manager can help in scaling Scrum activities (in that case aiding the chief product owner).
Quite quickly, then, confusion may arise about who is responsible for what, and clarification is required — especially for the project manager, who may be asking, "What is my role in Scrum?" As described in Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, you must give the "rider" clear direction (and they like checklists) so that it can steer the elephant (your emotional side). In other words, sometimes you have to clearly state what people are accountable to and responsible for.
To address this reality, we decided to have a simple document that would describe roles and responsibilities for functional manager(s), ScrumMaster, product owner, Scrum team, and the project manager. But a list was not enough: We wanted clear accountability. Hence a RACI matrix seemed a nice way to clearly state who is uniquely accountable for what (RACI standing for "responsible, accountable, consulted, informed"). We had to twist the RACI matrix, though, because we wanted to highlight the fact that for some activities, facilitating/coaching was also a role. Hence we created RACI+F matrix. And in the Agile spirit of "individuals and interactions over process and tools," we thought that if we had to create such matrix and get buy-in, we would need to involve people and find a collaborative way to create it — in other words, use Planning Poker.
Using Mike Cohn's Planning Poker rules, we created cards with the letters R, A, C, I, or F on each. We discussed who, be it functional manager(s), ScrumMaster, product owner, Scrum team, or project manager, should be Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed, and/or should Facilitate activities during a Scrum project. The roles cover specific activities:
- Ensure consistency of Scrum practices across teams
- Provide vision and goal for the product
- Provide resources with the right skills and mind-set
- Prioritize and manage the product backlog
- Remove impediments
- Manage the release train
- Make sure Scrum practices are used and improved within the team
- Create, apply, and continuously improve the definition of done
- Report on time to management
- Define acceptance criteria
- Write acceptance tests
- Ensure quality of the product
- Manage risks
- Approve user stories (user stories that meet the acceptance criteria)
- Decide on release date and goal
Here is the RACI+F matrix we came up with:
Interestingly enough, as project management responsibilities were shared by the Scrum team, ScrumMaster, and the product owner, it became clear during our discussions that the role of the project manager was more about facilitating and coaching than anything else. Creating this RACI+F matrix also allowed the team participants to spend some time reflecting on and better understanding the roles across an Agile organization. Aligning our thoughts was a constructive exercise.
What happened next?
It didn't take long to find "riders" asking what they were responsible for and then saying, "Now it's clear to me!" — after weeks or months spent wondering what their role was. Our tech leads and engineers in particular wanted to know what was expected from them.
We also added this matrix to our project plans, making stakeholders now clearly accountable and responsible for activities. As we were using a stage-gate model of project management, milestone reviews provided the opportunity to make people aware of their responsibilities and educate them about Scrum, since they had to sign off on the project plans.
We found that, beyond meeting our initial goal of stating clear accountability, the RACI+F matrix helped us align our thoughts and educate and guide people across the organization. As we continue to use RACI+F, it occurs to us that perhaps one overall activity that could be added to the matrix is managing the project life cycle, from the Envisioning, Speculating, Exploring, and Adapting phases to the Closing phase (as described by Jim Highsmith).
Author's note: My thanks to contributor Emilia Ipate, who helped with this article.