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The Takeaway: Tactical Advice For Holding Others Accountable

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

In our post What Does It Really Mean To Hold People Accountable, we spent some time explaining the essential elements of accountability: Goals, Authority, Consequences, and Measurement. These are focused mainly on managing the behavior of direct reports by encouraging managers to think through the underlying motivational principles that either promote or inhibit accountability. This article focuses more on the process of holding people accountable, providing an almost color-by-number toolset for managers to manage and track accountability on their teams. Two simple tools we highlight, Accountability Matrix, and RAIL are used successfully by our team and our clients to drive accountability on projects. We hope they can help you as well.

Communicate Who is Doing What: Accountability Matrix

The Accountability Matrix (or “DRCI”: Driver-Responsible-Consulted-Informed) is a simple tool that a team or manager can use to provide a picture of who is on the hook for which tasks or deliverables. In our introductory project manager training, we present this matrix where tasks (e.g., project tasks, to-do list, decisions) are listed in rows and the various roles (can be team member names, roles, titles, etc.) are listed as column headings. Each person’s expected contribution to each task is noted in each cell. For example, for a basic process improvement project, you might prepare a diagram like the one below. Keep in mind that how the assignments are made is debatable and depends on the project, but the key value of this tool is in communicating with the team and gaining commitment to act.

Here, the Sponsor is the driver for setting the high-level goals of the project, the Project Manager is Responsible for most project planning and reporting tasks, while the other roles are either performing other portions of the work, giving input (Consulted) or finding out about it after the fact (Informed). The roles are defined as:

  • Driver (D): The party who compels the action to be taken by establishing the goal, authority, and consequences for the action. He/she has the power of veto. Only one entity can be Driver for any task, activity or decision. Ideally, this is a single person, but can also be a committee, team or other entity with shared decision making authority.

  • Responsible (R): The individual(s) who ensures that the task is completed. If there are components of a task that are delegated to other people, the task should be broken into sub-tasks and assigned appropriately. The fewer R’s for a task, the better. A person who is responsible may also be a Driver.

  • Consulted (C): The individual(s) who need to be consulted prior to a final decision or action being taken. This is TWO-WAY communication. Consulted parties may not have a direct part in the task but are affected by its completion, and their input may be necessary.

  • Informed (I): The individual(s) who need to be kept up-to-date on progress, or informed after a decision or action is taken. This is ONE-WAY communication. Input from the informed party is not necessary.

Click below to download our basic Rail template.

Download XLSX • 12KB

Holding Accountable Involves Keeping Track: RAIL

The RAIL (Rolling Action Item List) is similar to a project plan but is a less structured, simple tool to keep track of tasks, decisions and miscellaneous to-dos that are not part of any organized project or initiative. The main point of a RAIL or any task list is to keep track of “who is doing what and when”. Typically a RAIL includes the following elements:

  • What needs to be done (action/task/decision)

  • How important is the task (priority rating)

  • Who has asked for this task to be done (driver)

  • Who is doing the work (responsible)

  • When is the task due?

  • What is the status (e.g., Not Started, In Progress, On Hold, Completed, Cancelled)?

  • Additional note/comment.

A RAIL can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. You can build it on paper, an Excel spreadsheet, Outlook task list, an online system, or a mobile phone app. In our experience, the most important thing is that it is actually usedonly the tools that are simple to learn and quick to update are used consistently over time.

Click here to download the template.

A More Structured Approach

Many common project management tools provide a structure for holding people accountable. Some of the more common tools include Microsoft Project and, Basecamp, and Jira. In our office, we use an online project and meeting management tool that we developed in-house to manage our projects, meeting follow-ups and task lists, etc.

We developed this tool because at one point when our project load grew beyond what we could keep track of informally. We realized we needed to better organize, standardize and automate our projects and office tasks. We tried a variety of project management software applications, but within a few months, we would be less inclined to go to the trouble of keeping the tool updated, and soon were back where we started (i.e., everyone managing tasks in their own ways). We found that at the heart of the problem was the extra time it took to set up and manage the tool itself and that for the laundry list of office to-dos and our smaller projects, only a few key functions of each tool were ever used anyway.

In looking at the “homegrown” methods we were using – most of which were Excel-based lists – we found one of our developers had built a web-based project tracking tool to manage his own projects. When the rest of the team tried it, it was adopted immediately.

The fact that it was web-based made it accessible anywhere, and it naturally included only the functions that we used in the majority of our projects (for large-scale projects we still default to Microsoft Project) and have dabbled with That marked the birth of internal preciseTRACKER™. After using it internally for a while, we added the ability to invite clients and share project progress and communications with them, schedule meetings, document decisions, and review accountability through the system. Over the years we have added to the functionality, and use it where appropriate to manage our projects. These are the tools that we use to support accountability in our office.

Click on the link below for a more detailed review of commercially available project management tools that might suit your needs. We hope they will be useful to managers in tracking accountability on their own teams.

Please contact us if you would like to learn more about the services we offer to help you handle the challenges you face.


About the authors: Paul Gillard, PhD and Rachel Radwinsky, PhD Paul and Rachel combine their strengths (or perhaps multiply their weaknesses) to occasionally produce joint blog posts. Because these typically take weeks of mind-numbing debate to produce, they are relatively rare.


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