How a Responsibility Matrix Can Help You Manage Projects

When a project is hampered by duplicated work, poor lines of communication, and the right hand not knowing what the left is up to, a responsibility matrix can be the key to untangling the mess. Get-It-Done Guy explains.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #332

It's getting to be fall and at Bernice's Green Growing Things plant store, it's time to start this year's renovation projects. Unfortunately, the action resembles a French farce more than a well-run project.

Bernice decided that the Audrey 2s aren't selling fast enough. Customers are apprehensive about plants that actually demand food on a regular basis. So she told the team last month, "We need a price promotion and window display for the Audrey 2s." Europa, Melvin, and Thomas jumped into action!

Unfortunately, action isn't what gets things done. Coordinated action gets things done. Europa arrived at the window display with a hose connected to the back room sink, ready to water the plants. But Melvin was already there with a pulley and aqueduct solution he rigged up out of his Lego™ Engineering collection. Europa wants to use her hose. Melvin wants to use his Legos. This is not going to go well.

Fortunately, it isn't going to have the opportunity. Because as Thomas was carrying an Audrey 2 from the holding pens to the window, he left his skateboard right where Europa was about to ... [Sound of a skateboard crashing into shelves.]

Oops! This chaos must be stopped, pronto!>

"Need to Know" Matters

The problem is that Bernice simply issued a broad desire and everyone leapt into action without taking the time to figure out what needed to be done, and who needed to do what.

This happens often. A new product is launched and the sales people are promising one thing to customers, the engineers are building something else, marketing's input is getting to the design team after critical decisions are being made, and everyone gets very disgruntled. "Why didn't you keep me in the loop?" says everybody, to everybody. The answer, of course, is "Because I didn't know you needed to be."

Sometimes there's another answer, which nobody says out loud. "Because keeping you in the loop would slow down my part of the project immensely." If you sometimes think that, you're not alone - but you're probably wrong. Keeping someone in the loop may slow down initial decision-making, but cutting them out of it might cause bigger problems later that reduce buy-in to the program. They may even result in outright sabotage and rebellion later.

Make Responsibilities Explicit

Instead of jumping right into action when a new initiative affects different people and/or departments, get everyone together and create a responsibility matrix. It's quite simple. First, you create a matrix. I like to use a spreadsheet. Each row is labeled with a project step, decision, or issue. For example, "Find outsourcing vendor" or "Choose advertising color scheme." Each colunmn is labeled with the name of a person or department.

For every row, put an X in the columns of the people who need to be involved in that project step. Once you've filled in all the Xs that make sense, in one compact sheet, you have a complete overview of who needs to be involved in each aspect of the project.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.