Just about all managers know that meetings need agendas. Most know that those meetings need to end with next steps/to-do’s. But how many know what DRI stands for and more importantly how the concept of the DRI can significantly increase the accountability and productivity of your teams?
I’m not sure when I first came across the Apple acronym DRI, which stands for Directly Responsible Individual – probably in one of the many books and articles I’ve read about Steve Jobs. Jobs and Apple have fascinated me ever since buying my Apple II in 1980, which ended up months later propelling me into the personal software development world.
Apple’s culture is unique in many ways. For one there is only one bottom line – the company’s. Unlike most large companies which have profit centers, subsidiaries, divisions and a plentitude of CEOs, Apple has just one CEO. Everyone is rowing in the same boat, in the same direction. That’s the top down view. But what about the bottoms up view? What happens day-to-day to keep Apple at not only the top of the tech world but at the top of the business world?
I venture to say that the DRI is a key contributor. TripAdvisor adopted the DRI concept from Apple and it’s very clearly explained in Matthew Mamet’s article on Medium, Directly Responsible Individuals.
Every action item from every meeting has an assigned DRI. Note the three key words: Directly. There’s no weaseling out of this one! You can not delegate it. You must do it! Responsible. The DRI is in charge and accountable. Individual. That’s a person’s name, not a team, not a group.
But DRI is not just for group meetings, it’s embedded in the Apple culture. When you want to know who to contact about a project you ask, Who’s the DRI?
Instead of emailing an entire team, emails go to the DRI and others are on the cc line. If you are the DRI and get an email then you take ownership of the reply.
It’s a maxim that the best culture of a company is to get everyone to act like an owner. At Apple everyone is. Even the staff at Apple stores get stock options, highly unusual in the world of retail. Only Starbucks also has stock options for its barristas. And the single bottom line illustrates better than any employee handbook that it’s one company, not an agglomeration of small companies, fighting each other to the death over resources instead of fighting competitors, and more importantly, focusing on their customers.
At TripAdvisor, and I imagine at Apple, whenever they are working on a new or challenging problem the first task is to establish the DRI. DRIs are a means to an end: accountability. And accountability itself is a means to another end: productivity. As Matthew Mamet points out that at TripAdvisor:
By seeking to create a culture of accountability with the group, we avoid dependencies on managers to tell the team what to do, and increase reliance on the team to self-organize and know how to proceed.
I’m not sure how many companies like TripAdvisor have taken up the DRI model, but if you are a founder it’s something I strongly advise you to consider. One problem I often see with a group of founders is the “who’s on first?” problem – “I thought Joe was doing, that.” “Oh, I though Jean was.” “Whoops! I was supposed to!” Founders often start up joined at the hip, but the sooner they separate and start focusing on separate areas of the company the better. Even founders need to be DRIs!