It’s 4:30 PM and you are sitting at your desk when your phone buzzes. You’ve received a message from a loving spouse or a good friend which makes your eyes narrow and your lips purse in annoyance: “What do you want to do for dinner?” After you’ve calmed yourself, you come up with the clever response: “I don’t know, what are you thinking?” It’s a miracle we don’t all go to sleep hungry.

So why are questions like this so annoying? “What’s for dinner” is both an open-ended question and one that passively transfers responsibility. Clearly, this is not an efficient way to make dinner plans – but this same communication pattern plays out in the nonprofit space too frequently when staff members are working on a new project like choosing and implementing new database software. Open-ended questions and no assigned accountability can derail or delay the implementation of your next project.

Open-Ended vs Closed-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions in and of themselves are not evil – but there is a time and a place. Open-ended questions are best when you are doing preliminary research. During this phase of your project a variety of opinions is an asset, and limiting responses can prematurely shape the project outcomes. Open-ended questions are the most mentally taxing and require more effort from the respondent.

Closed-ended questions have an explicit outcome. Think about how you feel when you get a message like “Should we have pasta or tacos for dinner?” Pretty good, right? That’s because the mental space has been narrowed. How do I feel about pasta? Good. How do I feel about tacos? Even better. Let’s have tacos. Likewise, you could ask your coworkers, do you like layout A or layout B better? The downside to closed-ended questions is that you might have left out an option you didn’t think of.

Responsibility and Accountability

The other issue with “What do you want for dinner” is that it is unclear whose job it is to decide. One great tool to put in your project management toolbox is the RACI Matrix. A RACI Matrix, also known as a responsibility matrix, is used to describe the role that any person or team should fulfill in the completion of a task or activity. A RACI matrix usually takes the form of a spreadsheet with the roles forming x-axis and the deliverables occupying the y-axis. So what does RACI stand for?

          Responsible – the person(s) who do the actual work.
          Accountable – the person with final approval of the work.
          Consulted – the person(s) who have information which can contribute to the work.
          Informed – the person(s) who will be informed of the project’s progress.

The power of assigning roles to individuals solidifies the quicksand of expectations we all can feel during a project and allows the team to work efficiently without having to guess how they fit in.

Your Next CRM Implementation

Let’s take a look at how these strategies would play out for the most universal task during a CRM implementation: data migration.

Instead of sitting around a conference table and asking, “What data should we migrate?”, you assign the two primary roles to the task. Answering the questions of who will ultimately be accountable and who will be responsible for the data migration immediately lets everyone know who has authority and who has been assigned the work. You then decide that everyone who works with data at your social sector organization should be consulted and that your executive director needs to be informed of the project’s progress. The cone of uncertainty has narrowed and the quality of both your open-ended questions and closed-ended questions should improve. The responsible party can start asking questions like, “What data do you need in our new CRM to do your work?”, during the discovery phase and, “Should we migrate people with bad contact information?”, as you near your goal.

RACI Dinners

While it’s probably going too far to go into project management mode for dinner every night, my wife and I alternate who is responsible for dinner every night with pretty good results. It’s taken out a lot of the confusion for us. Similarly, by relying on direct forms of communication with clearly defined roles, you may save your next project from being dog’s dinner.