The context behind the Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) is found in a lesson learned from Steve Jobs. Steve had a habit of making sure someone was responsible for each item on any meeting agenda, so everybody knew who is responsible.
“Any effective meeting at Apple will have an action list,” says a former employee. “Next to each action item will be the DRI.” A common phrase heard around Apple when someone is trying to learn the right contact on a project: “Who’s the DRI on that?”
The concept of DRIs is right at home in the culture at TripAdvisor. Each day I observe members of the Product Development team taking full ownership for tasks, both large and small, and driving them to completion. It’s one of the main things I love about working here. When I’m the DRI on a task, it can sometimes come with a bit of apprehension (*Gulp*, not 100% sure how I’m going to do that . . .but ok I’ll figure it out), or maybe with a bit of grumbling (oh man, I guess I gotta do that too), but being the DRI always comes with a sense of responsibility to the team.
Here are a few examples of how a DRI-mindset changes team behavior:
- When sending email, we are more deliberate with the use of To: vs. CC: fields. The DRI(s) are in the To: list. Everyone else is CC’d.
- When receiving email we tend to ask ourselves “am I understood by the team to be the DRI on this and should therefore take ownership of reply or resolution?” as opposed to thinking “someone else will probably handle this.”
- When working on a new or particularly complex problem where the DRI is not yet known, we seek to establish the DRI early in the discussion.
- When we gather in meetings, we always leave with action items or next steps. (If we don’t — we need to run better meetings!) Like Steve Jobs, we seek ensure a named DRI for each task.
The notion of the DRI is a fundamental component of the culture of modern product development teams. 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.