Directly Responsible Individuals (DRIs)

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Please note that this a new methodology that we are transitioning into over the course of Q3 2021. The prior methodology was using both an “Artisan” and an “Organizer”. See the updated version of that idea here:

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At Cantilever, each project has a “Directly Responsible Individual” (DRI). Instead of having two people share responsibility for a project like we used to, we appoint one. This person is included on all client communication (though someone else may be answering at times) and virtually all client meetings. They are the ones holding the torch for the client.

This individual is typically a PM type but can also be a designer/developer. If they are a designer/developer they may want to loop in a PM to help them with logistics, but they remain accountable for project success, not the PM. The PM works under them, basically.

A key framework for understanding the DRI the RACI framework (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed). Under that framework the DRI represents the “Accountable” party, but they may also be Responsible.

Andrew described it thusly:

Nikki and I have talked about meetings and projects before in terms of a dance. Somebody has to lead. If two people try to lead, the dance looks awkward, and you start stepping on toes... To my mind, the label of DRI just identifies who's leading.

GitLab has a great model:

Apple coined the term "directly responsible individual" (DRI) to refer to the one person with whom the buck stopped on any given project. The idea is that every project is assigned a DRI who is ultimately held accountable for the success (or failure) of that project. They likely won't be the only person working on their assigned project, but it's "up to that person to get it done or find the resources needed." The DRI might be a manager or team leader, they might even be an executive. Or, they may themselves be individually responsible for fulfilling all the needs of their project. The selection of a DRI and their specific role will vary based on their own skillset and the requirements of their assigned task. What's most important is that they're empowered. We may disagree, commit, and disagree, but we all have to achieve results on every decision while it stands, even when if trying to have it changed.

The DRI is accountable to the final results of the project. As such, they get to have final executive power on their projects. Our most frequent DRIs are our strongest leaders, but anyone can act as a DRI if they are willing to accept accountability for a project. People who act as a DRI are company leaders, and this is taken into account as a criteria of our career ladders.

In the case of a client with lots of needs, we may have a DRI for the client account as a whole, who delegates to other “Sub-DRIs” for specific projects within that client account. This is fine, so long as it is clear to all involved what the relationship is, and who is accountable for what. This would mirror the typical Account Director/Project Manager workflow at a traditional agency.

Each DRI must be mindful of how much accountability they can realistically take on. Overdoing it leads to overwork and stress. Each person’s tolerance and workload is different, so there is no hard-and-fast rule, but make sure to stay cognizant of what you are accountable for already before taking on accountability for anything else.

Reference Materials