We’ve all been there: an hour and a half into a 45-minute meeting. You’re trying to reach a consensus but as one department makes a suggestion, the next disagrees.
Customer success insists the next product should be geared towards students; sales thinks their parents are a better demographic. Content marketing started out by spitballing potential names until someone brought up the latest Process Street post and they all got sidetracked discussing whether it’s better to use odd or even numbers in a post title. Social marketing is scrolling through newsfeeds and graphic design isn’t even sure what they’re doing in this meeting at all.
It should have been simple: get everyone together, brainstorm ideas, then form a game-plan and timeline to use moving forward. Except no one can agree on anything and, at this rate, the only accomplishment the meeting will have made is wasting everyone’s afternoon.
Group decision-making is complicated. Fortunately, there are processes for that.
You may have already read our post on DECIDE, which is a great decision-making process for individuals. However, what works for an individual does not necessarily translate to a group. In this post, I’m going to introduce you to one of the most popular group decision-making frameworks: DACI.
The DACI (Driver, Approver, Contributors, Informed) decision-making framework is a set of processes geared toward doing just that. As a variant of the RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) responsibility matrix, DACI’s emphasis on decision clarity for complex projects often makes it the go-to framework for product managers.
That’s a lot of acronyms all at once, huh?
Don’t worry. We’ll take it slow – or you can jump straight to the point:
- Group decision-making: yay or nay?
- What is DACI?
- DACI and Atlassian’s Team Playbook
- How to create your own DACI framework (with free template)
- Other ways Process Street can streamline your decision-making processes
Let’s get some decisions made!
Group decision-making: yay or nay?
I’m not going to sugar-coat it: group decision-making can be a hellish experience if it doesn’t go right. Anyone you ask will have at least one story about a group member who never showed up to meetings, or getting stuck finishing all the tasks alone at the last minute, or interpersonal dynamics gone wrong, or a slew of other mishaps.
That isn’t to say it’s all bad, though. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been stuck on a problem, floated it around my colleagues, and was able to find a solution in minutes with their input.
Sometimes it takes the hivemind.
Let’s break it down:
The disadvantages of group decision-making
When it comes to group decision-making, there are a few key problems that crop up:
- Time cost;
- Risk of “groupthink” (more on this in a sec);
- Group polarization;
- Diversity, or lack thereof;
- Personal dynamics.
It’s worth taking a closer look at each of these, and considering how to address them. For many organizations, group decision-making is simply a fact of life. If a particular group isn’t able to overcome its internal complications, that can lead to problems for the organization as a whole.
Group decision-making takes time. Generally speaking, an individual can reach a conclusion much sooner than it takes a group to do the same. In situations where a decision (and the subsequent action) must happen quickly, having to consult a group first can make things even more difficult.
Risk of groupthink
“Groupthink” happens when the majority, or an aggressive minority, of group members, pressure others to adopt the same viewpoint. If this happens, dissenting views, alternative actions, or even additional information could be suppressed if it doesn’t align with the accepted perspective.
Similar to the “groupthink” phenomenon, group polarization occurs when the group adopts more extreme solutions than the individuals alone would be comfortable with. This could be a result of a “groupthink” dynamic, or it could be attributed to a perceived lack of accountability; individuals feel less responsibility or more protection as part of a group.
The most typical problem with groups and diversity is a lack of inclusive representation in a deciding group, particularly if those who will be most affected by the decision aren’t involved in the decision-making process. However, having a diverse group isn’t an instant fix. Groups with a large amount of diversity can also need more hands-on management in the early stages to overcome social barriers and biases individual members may have towards each other.
If you have a group of four – A, O, E, and U – who need to make a decision, but Person A and Person O have an unrelated long-term conflict, it’s likely that conflict will spill over into the decision-making process, either intentionally or unintentionally. At the other end of the spectrum, U originally trained E, and has considerably more time at the company than the other three. So while A and O will be primed to disagree with each other, E is likely to support U’s suggestions, or feel unable to object if necessary.
Advantages of group decision-making
It’s not all negative, though. Group decision-making can provide a lot of benefits for an organization, as long as the group is managed correctly.
Group decision-making offers:
- Superior solutions
A group is capable of generating far more alternatives than a single individual could come up with alone; with more alternatives, it’s likely that there will also be a larger number of higher quality alternatives, leading, ultimately, to a superior solution than any of the individual members could have come up with on their own. It also means the ideas will be vetted more quickly and thoroughly with more eyes examining them at once. That way, ideas that aren’t viable will be noticed and dismissed early on, allowing greater focus on the higher quality alternatives.
- Varied expertise
Much can be gained by utilizing groups of mixed expertise. Often, when we’ve been doing something for a long time, we get into certain patterns and habits that we can’t let go of, even if there are more efficient ways to do the same thing. By having junior and senior members work together, the group – and each of the individuals – has the benefit of both experience and a fresh perspective.
- Diverse strengths
The primary goal of any group is to identify the individual strengths of those involved and the best way to use those strengths. To use our little group from above, E is an excellent writer with debilitating stagefright. O, on the other hand, is a charismatic speaker. When this group has to deliver their presentation, it makes sense for E to approve the script and O to deliver it, maximizing the group’s overall success.
People are more committed to actions that they’re involved in. If they’ve been involved in the decision-making process to bring those actions to fruition, the case is even more so. With group decision-making, the number of people involved in that decision increases, which means more individuals within the organization are invested in making sure the outcome is successful.
This one’s simple: the more people work in a group, the better they get at it. This is true whether they always work with the same group, or work with several different groups. Individuals learn to cooperate and collaborate, develop confidence in communicating ideas and defending their perspectives, and have previous actions – their own, and the other group members’ – to reflect on when making future decisions.
Do you need a decision-making framework? (And why the answer is yes)
Group decision-making frameworks are a set of processes and principles designed to streamline decision-making within an organization. The idea behind these frameworks is that by clearly defining roles and responsibilities within the group, individual accountability can be maintained, and overall consensus can be reached more efficiently and with less conflict.
Every one of the disadvantages I mentioned can be dealt with – easily – with effective process management and optimization. Processes make sure events and actions follow a tested, proven procedure that works. Having an established process also ensures that steps aren’t skipped, corners aren’t cut, and everyone gets their chance to contribute.
Sure, you can make group decisions without using a framework. You might even accomplish all of your goals. I’ve worked in groups that just clicked and everything ran smoothly. I’ve also worked in groups that were absolute trainwrecks from the start.
In the first case, the framework may or may not have had an impact on the interpersonal dynamic, but it did keep us on track and reduced the chance of human error. In the latter case, having a framework was the only reason a decision got made at all.
You don’t plan to crash your car, but you still wear a seatbelt.
DACI is a product manager’s best seatbelt.
What is DACI?
DACI – pronounced day-cee – is a variant of the RACI framework developed by Intuit in the 1980s. Since then, it’s rapidly gained momentum in fast-moving, cooperative companies as a way to increase their group decision-making turnaround.
The benefit of any responsibility matrix is that it clearly outlines who is responsible for what and when, eliminating the confusion and endless debate that can come with group decision-making.
DACI vs RACI: What’s the difference?
RACI focuses on who is responsible for completing a task; DACI is concerned with who drives the project to conclusion. It seems like a small difference, I know, even just a matter of semantics, but the concepts of responsibility and drive are crucial in considering which framework to use.
RACI is the foundation of responsibility assignment matrix (RAM) frameworks, originally called a linear responsibility chart (LRC). Originally conceived in the 1950s, RACI has gone through a number of changes with over a dozen variations created since its initial development.
The RACI acronym stands for:
- Responsible: Who is responsible for completing a task?
- Accountable: Who is accountable for making sure the task is completed?
- Consulted: Who is consulted during the task?
- Informed: Who is informed about the task’s progress?
In the RACI framework, multiple people can be responsible for various tasks. Let’s say you want to start a podcast for your brand and you choose to use the RACI matrix. We’d have something like this:
- Responsible: Content team provides material
- Accountable: Audio team releases episodes
- Consulted: Management approves key decisions
- Informed: Subscribers emailed
That framework may work if the groups are small, or the project is fairly simple. On the other hand, with DACI, only one person can act as the driver. DACI stands for:
- Driver: Who drives a decision to a conclusion?
- Approver: Who approves a particular decision?
- Contributor: Who contributes to a decision?
- Informed: Who is informed about the final decision?
For product managers juggling different tasks on various fronts, DACI clarifies who the ultimate decision-maker is and prevents bottlenecks from occurring when tasks don’t complete at the same time.
DACI and Atlassian’s Team Playbook
Software company Atlassian aims to “unleash the potential of every team,” supporting the idea(fact) that great accomplishments require great teamwork.
One of the plays in their Team Playbook (there are loads of plays for teams there, so definitely check it out!) is a DACI model which is a slightly expanded version of the one I use in our free template (walkthrough below).
Atlassian’s DACI play is divided into eight steps with approximate time lengths for each step. Combining this play with our DACI template is an effective way to get your team started with DACI on the right foot.
According to the play, the entire DACI process should take a little over an hour (15 minutes for prep; 60 minutes to run). The eight steps are:
- Prep (15 min): Create a collaboration document in Trello, Confluence, or similar workflow management software, and share with your team. Be sure to include how the decision may affect any compliance regulations as well as a risk management plan in your documentation.
- Set the stage (5 min): Recap the decision and goal for the session. If your group hasn’t collaborated before, it’s a good idea to incorporate some team-building exercises to get the communication ball rolling.
- Driver (5 min): Decide who will be the Driver.
- Approver (5 min): Decide who will be the Approver.
- Contributors (5 min): Identify all the Contributors.
- Informed (5 min): List anyone affected by the decision who won’t be directly involved in the process.
- Create a plan (30 min): Outline the information you need (due date, data, options, etc.) to make the decision. In some cases, such as product launch or supply chain decisions, performing a gap analysis at this stage can help identify missing knowledge or other weak areas that need to be addressed.
- Wrap up (5 min): Delegate assignments and close the meeting.
As you can see, the process itself is fairly straightforward and ensures that the initial kickoff meeting doesn’t get side-tracked from the main objectives. Remember: this meeting isn’t to make the decision; this meeting is to organize a plan for making the decision.
If your group is working remotely, or if tasks will largely be completed independently, using some sort of team management software such as Slack, Hubstaff, or Process Street will keep everyone on the same page and on schedule.
So, how do you create your own DACI framework for your groups?
How to create your own DACI framework (with free template)
I’ll walk through the different tasks and elements of creating a DACI framework for your organization, using our free DACI framework checklist. If you would rather grab the checklist and get to work, though, simply click here to add the template to your free account!
Step 1: Initial setup
First, you need to set up your planning document. This document will be where you record role assignments, decisions that need to be made, and tasks that need to be completed.
The most efficient way of doing this is through a shared digital document using documentation software like Google docs or Quip that you can add users to as the project progresses. It would also be useful to create a prioritization matrix at this stage to keep everyone in the group focused on the most important choices first. (Prioritization matrices can also be incredibly helpful in resolving disagreements over proposed options, which can save valuable time during your kickoff meeting.)
If you’re using our DACI checklist, this is even easier. Process Street allows you to assign checklists to different users or groups within your organization. Depending on the permission settings, you can also control whether they are able to view the entire checklist, or only a single task, which is beneficial if you have freelance contributors or external vendors who are only necessary for a specific task.
An added advantage of using Process Street for your documentation is the ability to integrate with other communication channels, like Slack or Intercom, and export data to Google Workspace, Excel, or other apps. Internally, we use these features a lot to improve team communication. For example, we have several Slack bots that post the results of completed checklists into the relevant channels, making it easier for all of us to stay up-to-date with workflow progress.
As you can see, the first task prompts you for basic details about the project:
- Decision to be discussed
- Date of meeting
- Meeting location
- Name of person who created checklist
Step 2: Meeting agenda and action items
As with most meetings, it’s important to have an agenda of what needs to be covered so the meeting doesn’t get derailed with irrelevant discussions or unrelated issues. Document the items on your agenda. These are not necessarily the tasks that need to be completed in order to make the decision; rather these are the steps that need to be taken to determine the right course of action.
Once the essential details of the meeting are entered, the meeting can begin and attendees can discuss what tasks need to be completed in order to make a decision.
In the example checklist, Bright Star Marketing wants to hold a company retreat and needs to make decisions on the venue, budget, and dates. Under the “action items” task, there is space for these items to be entered, along with individual due dates that can be set using the date form field.
The checklist template includes fields for three action items, but this is easily customizable if you need more. Once you go to “edit template” from the template dashboard, you can use the drag-and-drop menu on the right side of the screen to add whichever form fields you need.
You can even apply this change to only one checklist, or all active checklists based on the template simultaneously with one click. This template does include a few features that will help save time and make the DACI framework more efficient for you and your team.
First up is the Approvals feature. With this feature, information can be authorized or denied by a guest or member of your organization.
As you can see in the DACI framework checklist, the Approver needs to approve the project proposal (check out our guide on the types of proposals and how to write them) after the kick-off meeting before work can begin. Once the task(s) is completed, the assigned user can view what’s been done, and either approve or reject (and optionally add comments) the task. In the case of rejection, the original user is notified to review the comments and make changes.
Step 3: Implement workflow
The following three sections of the checklist are each geared towards the different roles involved in making the decision. Using Dynamic Due Dates and Task Assignments, each of these tasks will automatically be assigned to the correct individual with a due date based on information already entered into the checklist.
Dynamic Due Dates allow you to set due dates based on information specific to the current checklist. In the case of our example checklist, the Driver needs to have all of her tasks completed by January 16. The Dynamic Due Date has set January 16 as the due date for the Driver’s “Report progress” task. Dynamic Due Dates have been used to set all of the task due dates within the template.
Task assignments have also been automatically allocated. Dana was specified as the Driver in an earlier task. Once her information was entered, she was automatically assigned to complete the Driver’s section of the checklist. She will be notified by email that she has a task to complete, and the checklist will appear in her Process Street inbox.
Step 4: Announce the decision
Once the decision has been made, all that’s left is to let the Informed (those affected by the decision) know what’s happened. You’ll need to choose the best method to do this for your project – in person, social media, video call, etc. – but this checklist incorporates an email function.
Information entered into the checklist previously has been collected into a standard email. At this stage, the Driver just needs to hit send.
The email draft will automatically open in their email program, allowing them a chance to proofread the email before sending the project report to the necessary recipients.
And, with that, you’ve successfully completed the DACI decision-making process!
Other ways Process Street can streamline your processes
Whether you choose to use DACI for your group decision-making, choose a different framework, or develop your own, Process Street can help you document the process so you can easily repeat it every time a group decision needs to be made. However, it’s important to standardize your process documentation, as well, so your processes are accessible and understandable by everyone in your organization.
Aside from the features already mentioned, our checklist templates incorporate the following:
- Conditional logic;
- Rich media;
- Integrations with 2,000+ apps;
- Form fields;
- Extensive knowledge base.
Check out the webinar below for more on what Process Street checklists can do:
Group decision-making can be a frustrating and tedious process that leaves everyone a little bit unhappy. With the proper framework, however, not only can you ensure the process is time-efficient, but everyone participating in the process will have a chance to contribute and be heard. This will keep personal conflicts from intruding on the process, and from developing as a result of the process. Even if an individual’s or team’s initial suggestion isn’t adopted, the DACI framework will provide detailed documentation on why an option was chosen and how it is the best option possible.
Whether your organization uses group decision-making only occasionally or on a daily basis, the DACI framework is an invaluable tool for standardizing your decision-making process.
How do you approach decision-making in your organization? Let us know in the comments!
Leks Drakos, Ph.D. is a rogue academic with a PhD from the University of Kent (Paris and Canterbury). Research interests include HR, DEIA, contemporary culture, post-apocalyptica, and monster studies. Twitter: @leksikality [he/him]