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.
The one person with whom the buck stopped
At the end of the day, it's about results and efficiency. DRIs work conceptually because they leave no room for ambiguity about who has the final say on all questions that arise within a project or team.
Assigning one, ultimately responsible person to a project might seem to impair our ability to collaborate effectively at first glance, but that's misleading. The DRI should be wholly invested in their assignment and welcome collaboration in order to succeed. While they're empowered to make all final decisions, they should know how and when to trust in the experience and judgment of their teams and peers.
Of course, when things do go wrong, it's also the DRI who (usually) takes the fall as was the case when Scott Forestall, then iOS senior vice president, was forced to resign after he "refused to sign the letter apologizing" for Apple's infamously error-laden Maps app redesign in 2011.
As a manager, when you are thinking of assigning or even promoting someone to a DRI, there are some suggested characteristics that you should keep in mind. Mike Brown in his November 2015 article, Project Management – 8 Characteristics of a DRI, lists the following:
The DRI is also part of a team, a team needs to be motivated and aligned on achieving the steps to get to success. The DRI will also be responsible for making sure the team gets there.
Following on from the last two sentences, a DRI should be able to articulate the objectives, check progress and give and receive feedback. This will ensure the DRI can change direction or plan ahead to avoid any setbacks.
At GitLab we communicate and work asynchronously, you can read more about it on this page.
One thing to consider when a DRI needs to give or receive feedback is that they may not be the actual manager of the other members of the team. Giving or receiving feedback is tough and we have looked at this in our previous Guidance on Feedback Training.
How do you go about it when you are a peer in addition to being a DRI?
Different organizations use different methods of assigning responsibility; one of the most popular is the RACI Matrix, which outlines who the Responsible-Accountable-Consulted-Informed folks should be on a decision or project.
GitLab's implementation of a DRI for decision-making means that we have evolved the RACI matrix to RADCIE. The Responsible and Accountable person is the DRI, and given that Everyone Can Contribute, the Consulted and Informed people are Everyone.
There are extenuating circumstances where we do approvals for coordination, but they are extremely rare, and it is the responsibility of the DRI to recognize the need and continue to move the project forward.