A Responsibility Assignment Matrix (also known as a RAM or RACI Chart) is a project management tool that ensures consideration is given to Responsibility and Accountability for a task or decision, whose expertise should be consulted and who needs to be kept informed. Sitting at the core of the FIS PPP (Product Process People) Quality Framework is such a matrix.

THIS type of approach is moving beyond “best practice” – in the new building control approval process for certain building types, the applicant will be required to formally submit a number of prescribed documents, one being a “construction control plan”. This plan will describe the strategies for managing building work to maintain building regulations compliance, at the heart of this will undoubtedly be a clear Design Responsibility Matrix.

A simplistic way of thinking about the matrix is ensuring that there is clarity around the What, Why, Whom, When, and How of construction. When you think about the traditional construction process, this may not be that simple.

The architect tends to be the “what”, but ask them for clarifi cation about some fire detailing and you will quickly learn they are not the “how guy”. The main contractor is not the “how guy” either, they are more the “who” and “when” people – they drive the programme, but tend not to hold the competence to detail the work. With the lawyers and insurance companies reacting fastest to changes to the regulations and, according to research we have done with the University of Reading (see page eight), it is increasingly becoming the case that, the specialist subcontractor is providing the “how”. My concern is that whilst some may embrace this, it is not, for all, a strategic decision clearly laid down in a Design Responsibility Matrix. Many are falling into the category of the begrudging designer or perhaps even worse the unwitting designer.

A contract should not be the Responsibility Assignment Matrix, it should support one that is clearly thought out and communicated – and by communicated, I mean understood by all! It is a concern that despite the shift in contracts, few actually take legal advice or really scrutinise the reams of amendments that typify the contracts that they sign.

This is not a new problem, if we reach all the way back to the Latham report he referred to “design ambiguity” and “fuzzy edges”. One of the key conclusions he drew back then in 1994 was: “Teamwork cannot be achieved unless all sections of the process are committed to it. That must include consultants, on whatever basis they are retained and under whatever procurement route, especially as they often seek to transfer responsibility for detailed design to specialists.”

Latham knew, clarity of purpose and communication are vital to teamwork. But, when he was peering into the future, he couldn’t have foreseen the complication that the dreaded CC would provide. In an email chain it is too easy to CC everybody you have ever met – you told them – right? CC can stand for Crap Communication and you need to be very cautious about when to use it. Covering your back by CCing everybody is never the answer. CC has its place, it is a way to keep those on the RACI chart informed. It is never a mechanism to allocate responsibility or manage accountability and it is not the right way to consult. Too often we see a designer or QS who is contracted to sign off the changes cc’d in an email or people who should have been clearly consulted “missing the memo” – seeing is not the same as signing off.

This is also being addressed in regulation as new Building Regulation compliance requirements will include new responsibilities to ensure that the information provided is clear and unambiguous, in the case of High Risk Buildings, this will need to be digital. The guidance supporting implementation makes it clear that communication isn’t telling it is ensuring that it is understood.

Now I am not suggesting regulation will in itself change the way we communicate, but it certainly is a reason to think about the way we communicate and whether the way we communicate supports clarity of purpose and collaboration.