Published in “Project Times” website, August, 2012
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Is accountability a key component to project management? Only if you want to succeed! I often make the mistake of assuming that project leaders and team members understand the critical value of accountability (as I believe it is bedrock to success); however, it isn’t necessarily true. Recently I received feedback about the importance of accountability and the focus on results, and so I thought it prudent to focus on the why and how of accountability.
Without accountability, there’s no reason to lead a project or be on a project team as you’re doomed for failure. Yet this isn’t nearly as easy to achieve as it might seem. Often, the members of a project team report to a different organizational leader, and so direct authority can be non-existent. Also, often, project tasks are considered 2nd priority to day-to-day responsibilities. Thus, how do we ensure accountability for project management? A few keys to success include: 1) Set expectations. 2) Track progress. 3) Integrate with performance management processes.
Set expectations: In my 20+ years of experience across multiple industries, I’ve found it is easy to assume that project expectations and goals are clear when they are vague at best. How can they be vague when you have a written document with tasks and accountabilities? Just ask yourself a few questions: 1) If a mini-crisis arises (such as a potential late shipment or a machine issue), will your project lose focus? 2) If a team member’s direct manager needs a report or action item completed, will your project lose focus? 3) If your project comes into conflict with department priorities, will your project lose focus?
Most times, I see these issues derail projects. It’s the rare exception where a project manager and executive sponsor think through the potential conflicts, determine priorities and communicate clearly upfront. In these cases, not only is the projects successful but typically the other needs are addressed as well. Think about the 80/20 – which of these types of situations are most likely to occur? How will you handle them? Bring the team and all related parties into the loop as to the priorities, reasoning and process for resolving issues. Miraculously, your project will exceed expectations.
Track progress: Tracking project progress sounds like motherhood and apple pie; however, what could be more integral to success? If you don’t know how you are doing, how will you know what to adjust?
How do we accomplish this? It is not sufficient to wait to track progress until the project results timeframe. Instead, track the progress of milestones especially critical path milestones. The 80/20 of your effort should be on these key milestones as they will drive success. If you aren’t sure how to track progress without the end result, ask questions. Find out how core team members or project recipients would “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 a roadblock. Be all over it!
Don’t just track task timing. Review the level of quality / result of the task. Review costs. Review service levels. Ask for feedback. Ask your customers.
Integrate with performance management processes: People focus on what’s measured. Does their performance on your project make a difference to their career success? How can you ensure integration with the performance management process?
There are several approaches to achieving this objective: 1) Publish and communicate metrics on a frequent basis – preferably weekly. 2) Partner with the organizational leaders associated with your project team members. Make sure the project objectives are a part of each team member’s regular performance management process. 3) Make sure the priority of your project is clearly understood in relation to other projects and day-to-day responsibilities. If this means your project is 2nd priority, address upfront. What backups exist? How else can you fill gaps? 4) Clearly communicate the value to the project team members and the rest of the organization. 5) Provide continual feedback (both positive and constructive) and back up with rewards, recognition and performance discussions.
Without a doubt, those companies who consistently deliver project results will outperform their competition. Accountability plays a vital role in ensuring success. Will you put forth the effort to institute accountability practices in your project?