Holding ourselves accountable

In a project management context, accountability relates to the assumption of responsibility for actions, products, decisions, and policies, and encompasses the obligation to report, explain and be answerable for resulting consequences.

Accountability example

The allocation of accountabilities for key deliverables and outcomes must be clear, balanced across delivery dimensions, and aligned with appropriate authority to act.  Too often, project managers are little more than project “coordinators”, with limited authority over the resources assigned to them.

 Project accountabilities need to be clearly defined across the delivery chain, and three roles deserve particular mention:

  • Sponsors, for effective business adoption and realizing expected benefits
  • Resource Managers, for meeting their project staffing commitments
  • Project Managers, for delivery of project objectives (normally relating to scope, time, cost and quality).

 The establishment of accountability requires a clear request from one person and the resulting commitment of another person.  It assumes the requester may deliver consequences (positive or negative) based on the efforts to deliver the commitment.  Accountability enhances delivery reliability by providing:

  • Clarity – What is required and the condition under which it is to be delivered (e.g. when, how)
  • Commitment – An explicit agreement to deliver, by one individual to another, that removes ambiguity
  • Measurability – What one is accountable for is a tangible deliverable (rather than a task) – hence, what “delivery” constitutes will not be subject of debate.

 A clear understanding of accountability also creates significant benefits at the individual level:

  • Knowing what one is accountable for enhances the ability to prioritize work
  • Knowing to whom each person is accountable streamlines the route for negotiating unfeasible deliverables (the “escape” route).

 Practical implementation normally requires:

  • Integrated design of an accountability model to ensure that accountabilities across the delivery chain are rational, reflect the desired operating model and do not conflict – typically presented in a RACI table
  • Role profiles and job descriptions to reflect this integrated design
  • Accountabilities to be linked to performance measurement and management to reinforce desired behaviors.

 As exemplar project managers we need to hold ourselves accountable — by establishing accountability.

Alexander Lowry – PA Consulting Group

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