N – Don’t be a NARC: no project Accountability, Responsibility and Control

Accountability is one characteristic that is present every time success is realised on a project. Think about it. In a perfect world everyone would possess the requisite self-discipline to deliver in every situation. But the fact is it is not a perfect world. People avoid responsibility. People don’t like or want to be held accountable. Controls are often unused or not in place at all.

With accountability, we feel compelled to achieve what we say we’re going to do. When we accomplish something, regardless of how small it is, we get that endorphin kick and once hooked, we want it again.

Let’s ask the rhetorical question. Should project managers care about accountability? Only if you want to succeed!

narcLet’s state some assumptions. We are all intelligent people. The sponsors, project managers and team members on our projects are intelligent people. They understand the critical value of accountability to a project’s success. Am I correct in my assumptions or am I mistaken? If I am mistaken why is it the case that we (the intelligent people that we are) do not understand the value of accountability (responsibility and control) to a project’s success?

Before we get on to answering this question let’s paint the doomsday picture. If your organisation is a NARC organisation then (partially) quoting Henry Wadsworth’s poem (“The Day Is Done”, 1944) “It’s late, so let’s fold our tents”. Why? Because there is no reason to lead the project because the project is doomed to failure.

Why is (making) (asking) encouraging team members to take account so difficult? In no particular order and in no way meant to be an exhaustive list but often times the members of a project team report to a different organisational leader (remember the weak matrix organisation from last week’s post?) The implication being that the project manager’s direct authority is flaccid at best and non-existent at worst. The project is considered a lower priority to the daily (business-as-usual) responsibilities.

So how do we ensure accountability?

  • Set (clear) expectations.
  • Track (measurable) progress.
  • Integrate with organisation’s staff performance review system.

Set (clear) expectations

The outcome of setting clear (unambiguous) expectations is a matrix of tasks and accountabilities by role with named resources for each role.

How do you reach this outcome? Use people maps, influence maps, mind maps or whatever tool you are most comfortable with to capture all the people parts of a project. From it you can develop your RACI matrix. With it in place workshop and challenge your matrix and focus on real-life situations to make it real.

For each task in your matrix ask yourself a few questions for example:

  • If a business-as-usual issue occurs (from low to critical in business-impact/customer-impact) will the project team member lose focus on their assigned project task? Try and measure the impact if this happens.
  • If a team member’s (functional) manager asks them to complete a business-as-usual task (again) what is the impact?
  • If the project comes into conflict with a department’s priorities what will the outcome be and (again) what is the impact?

In most cases the outcome of such (real-life) scenarios will be to derail the project. As such it is an invaluable exercise to go through with a project team from sponsor down to think through the potential conflicts, determine priorities and communicate these decisions upfront and ahead of the project commencement.

Part of the exercise will also be to rank the likelihood of these situations occurring and weighting them accordingly.

The benefit to involving the whole project (ecosystem) team is the prioritisation, reasoning and process for resolving the issues becomes collaboration. An incidental (but invaluable) by-product is the sense of ownership that comes with inclusion. Miraculously your project will exceed (your/their) expectations!

Track (measurable) progress

Track progress! As Alexander The Meerkat says “Simples”. If you don’t know how you are doing then how do you know you are on track and worse if you are not on track how can you fix it? The trick is to not wait until the end but to track progress continuously. Pay particular attention to the most important tasks. Which ones are those? The answer is the tasks that are on the critical path. What is the critical path? Longest sequence of activities in a project plan which must be completed on time for the project to complete on due date.” (www.businessdictionary.com)

So track progress. Is Alexander right? Is it simple? It can be once you do it right.

Remember earlier we talked about a collaborative approach to set expectations. I would advise the same when it comes to tracking progress. Promote inclusiveness. Communicate it. Ask questions. Seek out opinions. You are tracking progress of the project. It is not the project manager’s soliloquy. Find out how core team members see progress. If critical path milestones are too far out, find out which tasks along the path to the critical path milestone are most likely to run into trouble. Don’t just track time. Track the result of a task against the criteria you (and your project ecosystem) have determined for success (be it quality, cost, service levels, performance).

Integrate with organisation’s staff performance review system

People focus on what’s measured. Does their performance on the project make a difference to their career success? How can you ensure it does? Integrate the performance of the people working on the project into their career objective settings and performance reviews.

There are several approaches to achieving this objective:

  • Publish and communicate metrics on a frequent basis.
  • Partner with the organisational leaders associated with your project team members.  Make sure the project objectives are a part of each team member’s career objectives.
  • Provide continual feedback (both positive and constructive), recognition and performance updates to the project team members and their managers.

Without a doubt accountability plays a vital role in ensuring success but it takes effort.  Will you put forth the effort to institute accountability practices in your project?

See you next time! If you have liked what you have read please like and remember to share.