Not making the right decisions at the right time” - this was cited as one of the top reasons for project failure in a PMI survey.
Indecision is often a result of poor communication and unclear roles within a project team. When you don’t clearly know who’s responsible for what, uncertainty rules.
This is why professionals, managers, consultants, and freelancers use DACI when working in team projects with multiple stakeholders.
In this article, I’ll explain how DACI works and why using it can drastically improve your team’s decision making.
What is DACI And What Does It Stand For?
DACI is a decision-making framework that defines the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders in a project and sets boundaries for clear communication. It stands for Driver, Approver, Contributor, and Informed Observer. Each role in DACI contributes to the decision-making process by sharing specific feedback and providing the relevant information requested from them. This reduces uncertainty and helps everyone in the team understand their roles and boundaries.
It’s important to remember that DACI is not a project plan. It does not tell you how to execute a specific strategy or solve a problem. Its only goal is to define the roles in a team and determine who makes the decisions and how.
This is why you can apply DACI to a wide range of scenarios including large scale projects, independent client work, or smaller tasks involving multiple stakeholders.
What Are The Different Roles In DACI?
Let’s discuss the different roles in DACI and what’s expected from them in a project.
In DACI, the Driver is the project leader who runs the show. They’re responsible for managing the team, calling meetings, collaborating with the relevant stakeholders, and ensuring the project is aligned with its goals and scope. However, they don’t have the approval authority. They don’t make the final decisions but make sure the decision-makers have everything they need to make the right call.
Approvers have the final say in a project’s decisions and are mainly responsible for its success or failure. They run the show through the Driver. They provide direction and get involved from time to time, but do not micromanage.
Contributors are people within or outside an organization with the expertise, experience, or skills to help in the decision-making process. They don’t have a direct say in the decision but the Driver brings them on board to provide input wherever necessary and help the decision-makers make the right choices.
These are observers who aren’t directly a part of the project and do not have a say in the decision-making. But the Driver keeps them in the loop because they’re directly/indirectly affected by the project’s outcomes.
The Responsibilities Of The Roles In DACI
I’ve briefly described the roles in DACI to give you a general understanding of how they tie in. But let’s discuss their responsibilities in more detail.
The Driver’s Role In DACI
Project managers are the perfect examples of a Driver. They’re responsible for driving the project home, defining its scope in coordination with the higher management (the decision-maker), and aligning the resources necessary to execute the project perfectly.
In addition, a project manager needs to keep all the stakeholders in the loop and engages subject-matter experts for their input whenever necessary.
As the project driver, project managers seek approvals from the project sponsor, usually someone in the higher management.
The Approver’s Role In DACI
Approvers are usually people in the higher management with the authority to make decisions. A project should ideally have only one approver, but sometimes there can be multiple approvers as well.
Approvers are the strategists who conceive the project and share their vision with the Driver for execution. They’re ultimately responsible for the project’s success or failure which is why they have the sole authority of making all the decisions
The Driver and Contributors can suggest changes but cannot challenge the Approvers’ decisions in any way.
Let’s clarify this with an example.
Suppose your company’s co-founders decide to revamp the website copy and nominate the Head of Marketing as the project Driver. In this case, the co-founders are the Approvers. They’ll share their vision with the Driver, highlight the problems they see in the current website version and describe the end product they want.
As the Driver, the Head of Marketing will control the project, assign tasks, build the team, engage freelancers, and seek the necessary feedback from any other departments.
But they’ll go to the Approvers for every major decision.
The Contributor’s Role In DACI
The Contributors are subject-matter experts or professionals with deep business insights the Driver brings on board for feedback. They’re usually the higher management executives and consultants who’ve previously handled similar projects.
The Driver chooses Contributors and engages them from time to time through meetings, live calls, and email/chat threads.
However, it's not necessary for the Driver to engage every Contributor every time. Instead, they can engage the relevant Contributors as needed.
Contributors can only provide input when asked. Plus, they cannot enforce their views on the Driver or the Approvers. Because, ultimately, they’re not responsible for the project’s success or failure.
Let’s understand this with the same copywriting project example we discussed earlier.
Suppose the project Driver (the Head of Marketing) decides to engage the Design Lead and Customer Support Managers as Contributors to the project due to their unique insights on customer experience.
These professionals will share their views whenever the Driver requests them to. In addition, they’ll help the Approver make the right choices through their recommendations.
But that’s where their role ends.
The Informed Observer’s Role In DACI
The Driver invites Informed Observers to keep them in the loop. They don’t have a say in the project’s decisions and cannot influence them in any way.
In the case of the copywriting project, informed observers can include the Sales Manager so that they’re aware of the new messaging of your site.
The Benefits Of Using DACI For Decision Making
Using DACI has several benefits for your business.
Minimizes Conflicts By Defining Boundaries
DACI defines the boundaries of every role and empowers the Drivers and Approvers to make the project a success. By making it clear who runs the show, DACI prevents conflicts and ensures that everyone plays by the rules. It means that even if the Contributors and Informed Observers are more experienced than the Drivers and Approvers, they cannot overrule their decisions. This allows the Driver to work with single-minded focus and deliver their best results.
DACI significantly reduces miscommunication by formalizing the communication channels and defining its protocols. The Driver is the one who controls everything, including communication. The Contributors can only intervene when the Driver requests them to. The Contributors can share feedback with the Approver or Driver but cannot force it in any way. Similarly, the Informed Observers, no matter how experienced, cannot jump in the project operations or communicate directly with the team.
Simplifies Decision Making
Ultimately, the decision making in DACI is the Approver’s responsibility. They can empower the Driver to make decisions on their behalf but the final responsibility lies with them. This simplifies the decision making process for everyone involved because the Driver knows where to take the instructions from. This is crucial in cross functional projects where multiple senior managers might be on the team with a junior project manager running the show.
Prevents Scope Creep
Scope creep often happens when there are multiple points of contact in a project. For example, a freelancer might finalize the project scope with the marketing manager and start working on the project. But when the content is presented, the sales manager might jump in with suggestions and request a revision. With DACI in place, this rarely happens because the Driver finalizes the scope with the Approver before assigning it to a freelancer for execution. If a Sales Manager is involved as a Contributor, they cannot directly request changes. This allows the freelancer (or anyone executing the project) to work with complete focus.
DACI vs RACI
Apart from DACI, there’s another popular project management framework called RACI used for assigning responsibilities and defining roles.
There are lots of similarities between the two and many industry experts consider them the same. However, there are some differences in how they define their roles.
RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed.
Responsible: The person responsible for executing the project, communicating with the stakeholders, managing resources, setting milestones, assigning tasks, and all the other necessary steps to make the project a success.
Accountable: This is the project owner who is ultimately responsible for the project’s success or failure. He provides the vision for the project. However, unlike DACI’s Approver, they’re not always the sole decision makers. However, in most cases their decisions are considered the final word.
Consulted: They’re the subject matter experts and experienced professionals who are there to help the Accountable and Responsible make the right decisions. Compared to DACI, they have a bit more freedom and can chip in whenever needed, but can’t make any final decisions.
Informed: They’re the people who should know what’s happening in a project but cannot participate in any way.
When you compare these roles with DACI which stands for Driver, Approver, Contributor, and Informed Observer, you can see that the terminologies might be different but they represent the same roles with slight differences.
Overall, here’s the core difference between RACI and DACI
RACI: Who is responsible for completing certain tasks?
DACI: Who decides on a course of action for a particular task or function?
RACI is focused on fixing responsibility while DACI offers a clearer decision making hierarchy. This is why Project Management experts Brian Lawley and Pamela Schure believe DACI is the better framework for modern product teams handling cross functional projects.
Why? Because it covers everything RACI handles but offers a more transparent decision making framework which is vital to a project’s on-time completion and success.
How DACI Works
So, now that you understand the different roles in DACI, let’s discuss how it actually works and what’s the process of implementing it to a project or task.
For most projects, you will already have your co-founder or functional manager as the project Approver. They’re ultimately responsible for the project’s success or failure and will need to do the initial team building.
Step 1: Assign The Project Driver
The first step of implementing the DACI framework is choosing your project’s Driver. This is the project Approver’s job, who will choose a project manager or a functional expert to lead the project.
Ideally, the Driver should be someone with strong people management, project management, and communication skills. They don’t always need to be subject matter experts because their main responsibility is to ensure their team executes the project in line with the Approver’s vision. However, being familiar with the technical aspects of a project is an advantage.
Once the Approver chooses a Driver, they need to brief them in detail on the reasons for initiating the project, the problem it should solve, and the expected outcomes and potential risks. The Approver can also suggest Contributor names to the Driver for the various stages of the project.
In addition, the Approver should also discuss the level of decision making autonomy they’re willing to give to the Driver and identify the areas where the Driver should never proceed without seeking their approval.
Step 2: Develop The Project Plan And Workflow
The project Driver should now create a detailed project plan that divides the project into major milestones and tasks. No need to assign deadlines or responsible resources for now.
In addition, the Driver also needs to develop the workflow that sets the rules for various project management tasks.
For example, here are some of the questions they should answer in the project plan and workflow.
Who will be the high-level project Contributors and Informed Observers. The Driver should finalize this in coordination with the Approver.
How will information flow between the Contributors and Approvers? Will the Driver brief the Approvers and Contributors together or convey the Contributors’s recommendations to the Approver?
When will the project kick-off meeting take place and who will attend?
What project management software will be used?
What are the official communication modes between the Driver, Approvers, Contributors, and Informed Observers?
How frequently will the Driver hold update meetings and who will attend?
How will the Driver request feedback from Contributors?
How will the Driver keep the Informed Observers in the loop?
How frequently will the Approver and Driver meet?
This step is critical because it will set the ground rules and determine the project’s future direction. In addition, a detailed project plan would help the Driver and Approver assign responsibilities more transparently.
Step 3: Assign Task Level Roles
Now that the Driver has a detailed project plan, it’s time to assign task-level Approvers, Drivers, Contributors, and Informed Observers. These roles are different from the project level roles but they’re equally important.
The project level roles are more strategic while the task level roles ensure that every task has a clear owner and decision making hierarchy.
Such detail might not be needed in smaller projects but it is critical in enterprise level cross functional projects.
Assigning these roles is the project Driver’s responsibility in coordination with the Approvers. The project Driver will assign the DACI for each task.
As a result, every task (or milestone, depending on the project size) will have a dedicated Driver responsible for executing it, an Approver responsible for its success, Contributors to provide feedback, and Informed Observers to keep in the loop.
You can have the same DACI for multiple tasks but if needed. But listing the tasks separately streamlines communication and simplifies accountability.
Step 4: Create Your DACI Matrix
Now that you’ve created the detailed project plan and assigned task level roles, creating your DACI matrix is easy.
The DACI matrix is a visual representation of your project and task level DACI roles. It provides you and all the key project stakeholders with a bird’s eye view of the various roles and responsibilities assigned to ensure smooth project execution.
It also helps you streamline communication since anyone can see the DACI matrix to identify the go-to person for a specific task.
A DACI matrix simplifies accountability and improves communication. For example, a quick look at this matrix shows that once the project reaches the Marketing Campaign stage, the Marketing Coordinator will be in charge. For the other steps, they’re only involved as an Informed Observer.
Similarly, the project manager is the overall project's Driver. But at a task level, they’re the Approver and ultimately answerable to the CEO/Founder who’s the overall project’s Approver. Without a DACI matrix, understanding these roles can be challenging.
Step 5: Execute The Project
Once you have the DACI matrix in place, you’re ready for project execution. The project manager can continue working on the project plan by assigning the deadlines, budget, and responsible individuals in line with the DACI matrix.
In addition, the DACI matrix becomes a part of the project plan document where every stakeholder can view it.
When you combine the DACI matrix with a detailed project plan, you automatically get the communication and decision making hierarchy. Everyone can easily see who owns a specific task in a project, who’s there as a contributor, and who’s the driver running the show.
So far, we’ve discussed DACI in a conventional project environment. But let me quickly share a couple of other scenarios where DACI comes in handy.
DACI Example #1: How Freelancers And Consultant Use DACI
Corporate hierarchies, workplace politics, and multiple project stakeholders are among the biggest challenges of freelancers and consultants when working with large organizations.
It’s common for organizations to bring freelancers or consultants on board and link them up with a middle management executive or a coordinator for any assistance during project execution.
But when the freelancer finally submits the project, a top executive joins the review team, raises several questions on the project’s original scope, and completely changes the project’s direction.
Naturally, freelancers find this extremely frustrating.
This is where DACI is a life-saver.
As a freelancer, you need to lock the DACI with your client organization before kicking off a project. Ask them to clearly identify who drives the project from the organization, who’s the approver, and who’s there only as a contributor or informed observer. Ideally, the Approver should always be a senior management executive with the highest approval authorities to minimize scope changes.
Once these roles are locked, do not let anyone’s opinion or inputs divert you from the original project scope. If there’s a strong push from a contributor, take it up with the project team and enforce DACI every time.
DACI Example #2: How To Use DACI For Remote Teams
Streamlining communication and decision making are the top challenges for organizations working with remote teams. You’re not in the same office building and cannot communicate as severely and as clearly as in-house teams.
As a result, different team members might not fully realize who’s in charge and whose opinions matter. This is why finalizing the DACI with your remote team is an excellent idea.
With DACI in place, you can develop a formal communication structure in which every task, change, or instruction reaches your execution team through the approved authority.
DACI clearly defines the roles of your team members and provides clarity on who is in charge. In addition, it prevents unnecessary intervention from senior executives who sometimes reach out directly to the execution teams.
How We Use DACI To Keep Projects Moving
Tips For Applying DACI To Your Projects
DACI brings clarity by defining roles and streamlining decision making. But if you’re implementing it for the first time, you need to do it the right way.
Here are a few quick tips to remember.
1. Take Your Team Into Confidence
Change always faces resistance. So, instead of forcing it on your team, take them into confidence. Help them understand the DACI framework and how it improves decision making. Explain the problems you’re facing and how adopting DACI would solve them. Show them examples of other businesses who’ve successfully used DACI to improve communication and decision making.
2. Seek Input From Your Team
Listen to your team’s perspective and what they think about implementing DACI. Listen to their fears and apprehensions, and try to satisfy them with your answers. One of the most common fears of employees is that a formal decision making framework won’t let them shine or discourage them from initiating new projects. Explain why this isn’t true and how DACI would actually help in highlighting their performance by making them responsible for well-defined tasks and projects.
3. Be Flexible
DACI provides you a complete decision making framework with well-defined roles. But you don’t need to implement it 100% even if your business doesn’t need it. The more suitable approach is to use its fundamentals to develop a tailored framework that works for your business and gradually move towards the ideal scenario.
4. Take DACI For A Test Drive
There’s no need to implement DACI across your company in one go. In fact, DACI isn’t suitable for all project types. For example, strategic decisions or projects that require a free flow of ideas aren’t the best fit for DACI. So instead of causing panic and backlash, apply DACI to your most well-defined projects first. Then gradually, as you find more success, expand its scope across the company wherever needed.
5. Use The Right Tools To Make Your Job Easier
Implementing DACI becomes easier when you have the right software and tools. Ideally, you’ll need to use a project management tool that helps the relevant stakeholders collaborate, review project updates, and use formal communication channels. Loom recordings also come in handy specially when handling projects with remote teams where you need to share updates or set the ground rules for everyone to see.