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Directly Responsible Individual
Directly Responsible Individual
Directly Responsible Individual
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Overview

There’s no denying the central role of collaboration in our connected world. But there’s also no denying that you’ve li ...

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Actionable Takeaways
  • Assign DRIs to projects and parts of projects. 

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Limitations

DRIs mean a single point of responsibility, but not necessarily a single point of thought or work. The risk with this model is that if someone is not the DRI for a task or project, they might not contribute as much, and instead focus on their own DRIs. In that sense, the risk here is inadvertently creating greater silos under the pretense of individuals taking responsibility.

In Practice

Cross-functional practice. 

Gloria Lin, a previous employee at Apple, advocated DRIs and implemented them at Flipboard. In a response originally posted on Quora, she explained the value to cross-functional teams: 

You want a DRI who is responsible for driving the team's sleuthing until the issue is solved. Often this is an engineering lead or an engineering program manager. Say it's mostly a mechanical engineering issue with a little bit of HW involved. Then usually a PD (product design) engineer will be the DRI, and they will work with the HW engineers to resolve the problem. If something keeps failing on the prototype testing lines, then you could have a TPM (test program manager) as DRI, working in conjunction with the Apple engineering teams, testing equipment vendor, and contract manufacturer teams.”

MobileMe and accountability.

In 2008, Apple launched MobileMe, an email system aimed to provide a seamless experience and knock BlackBerry from its business user lead. What’s that? You haven’t heard of MobileMe? That’s because it was a complete failure. 

The story goes that Steve Jobs promptly gathered the MobileMe team to a Town Hall where the relevant DRI was fired and replaced. It should be noted that advocates of DRI point out that firing those responsible is not the main purpose, practice or pay off for using it.  

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Origins & Resources

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, one of the major changes he made was to get rid of traditional business divisions, with their separate Profit and Loss (P&L) responsibilities. Jobs fired the general managers of these abolished business units and instead moved to a functional organisation approach under a single business-wide P&L, and this structure remains today. 

This runs against standard business wisdom that tells us that large corporations must be organised through multiple divisions, essentially run as independent business units, to promote accountability. Instead, Apple has focused on functional expertise and greater cross-functional teaming — which some argue is a key contributor to their culture of innovation. 

It might be argued that DRI grew in Apple because of the gap in accountability that grew from the lack of divisional responsibility. Either way, it’s an approach that can be adopted in any organisational size and structure. 

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