Directly responsible individuals, (also called DRIs,) are the people responsible for making a specific decision or handling a specific set of tasks. The practice of assigning DRIs originated at Apple. Steve Jobs liked to make sure everyone in a meeting knew exactly what he or she was responsible for.
DRIs as a Crucial Project Management Technique
Great project managers assign directly responsible individuals because they know that the technique will help the project run more smoothly. Here are some reasons why using a DRI system can help your team succeed:
- A DRI system decreases the chance that something gets overlooked. Nothing will fall through the cracks because every item on your to-do list has a clearly defined person to do it.
- A DRI system helps you avoid duplicate work. You’re less likely to find that multiple people are accidentally working on the same task, unbeknownst to them. This saves time and a whole lot of frustration.
- It heightens the sense of ownership, as well as personal accountability. After all, no one wants to be the one DRI who failed to get his or her part of the project done. This sense of ownership also means that people can feel confident making a decision without getting input from others. If you know that you alone are the DRI for a particular area, you don’t necessarily need approval or buy-in from others.
All of these reasons boil down to the same thing: your project is more likely to proceed as planned. It’s more likely to finish on time and with the allocated resources. And people on the team are more likely to feel good about the work they’re doing, since a DRI system helps eliminate unpleasant surprises.
How to Assign, Document, and Use DRIs
Like anything, the DRI system takes some practice. The first time you use it might feel strange, but over time, it becomes a natural part of your project planning process.
Step 1: Assigning DRIs
You’re in luck because one of the best opportunities to start implementing a DRI system is when embarking on a new project. As you flesh out the different components of a project, clarify who’s responsible for each component. Some items may be obvious, while others may require discussion. If there are disagreements about who should play the role of DRI for a particular area, seek to resolve it immediately.
Step 2: Document your DRIs
Document your DRIs clearly and in a location that everyone can access. Here at Tettra, we like to use the “@-mention” to assign DRIs. The directly responsible individual gets a notification (by email and/or Slack) that they’ve been mentioned on a Tettra page, so there’s never room for confusion.
We also have a “DRI Overview” page for more evergreen areas of responsibilities. This includes areas like “processing refunds” or “scheduling team outings” and changes less frequently. Again, documentation is critical, so that new members on the team understand where their co-workers focus, as well as to let longer-standing employees refresh their memories when questions arise.
We have a Directly Responsible Individual template to help you get started.
Step 3: Use your DRIs to make decisions
Now comes the step when you start to reap the benefits! By referring back to your DRI documentation, you’ll save yourself time and effort. Remind your DRIs that they’re empowered to be the decider. Anytime a tough question comes up, remind the DRI that he or she is the person who should make the call. You can practice this even in mundane email circumstances.
For example, let’s say someone sends an email to a dozen members of the team and includes questions about a product feature. No more trudging through a dozen replies where everyone weighs in with an opinion. Instead, you can remind the group that they’d agreed on a DRI, and encourage that responsible individual to share some thoughts. Again, it may feel new at first, but it will save your team time and aggravation in the long-run.