A crowd gathered around the man lying on the floor in the terminal at the airport, who had walked out of a store and collapsed. A few good Samaritans immediately started tending to him, one of whom yelled into the crowd, “Somebody call 911!” No one moved. Frustrated, and with more urgency than before, the good Samaritan pointed at a lady in the crowd and yelled, “YOU! Call 911!” She promptly took out her phone and made the call that eventually saved the victim’s life.
What happened here? Why didn’t anyone make the call the first time they were asked? Because there wasn’t any accountability. Asking “somebody” in the crowd to make the call translates to “somebody else will do it so I don’t need to worry about it.” However, once that direction was changed to “YOU make the call,” it became very clear who needed to take action.
How can this same problem of lack of accountability creep into your projects?
- Not Putting Names on Your Project Plan - When a project plan is first assembled, it may include a number of placeholders for who does what. For example, it will have titles or roles like Developer, Analyst, Product Owner, Director, or multiple other titles. You know the work needs to be done, but you may not know the name of who is going to do it yet.
Once that project plan starts to be worked, make sure to replace each placeholder with a person’s name. If, for example, the Developer placeholder is left as is, all of the developers would look around at each other and rightly assume somebody else is going to do that task. Naming a developer removes that problem.
- Not Assigning People to Follow-Up After a Meeting - We’ve all been in those great meetings where brilliant ideas are bouncing off the walls, people are getting inspired by each other’s input, and a real strategy and plan come into place. Everyone leaves and then comes together in a couple of weeks to be sadly disappointed that absolutely nothing has changed since the last meeting. How disappointing!
The way to remedy this is to make sure that each action is attached to or assigned an accountable person. This will usually be different than putting a project plan together. There may not be a resource pool of names to pull from, but a good way to start is to ask for volunteers. “Who would like to follow-up on this?” will generally get someone to raise their hand. No takers? You can use the “volun-told” tactic to pick someone in the room.
- Not Having a Clear Approval Process - Milestones in a project need to be signed off on by either internal stakeholders or clients. This could be for approval of funding, providing the okay on a design, or accepting the project as complete. Just like the examples above, it’s important to know exactly who is providing their approval. And, to make sure that you get that approval in whichever way your company policies dictate.
This is an easy one to let slip, and when it does, the consequences are disastrous. Consider this scenario. A client that you’ve worked with for years gives their verbal approval that the design for a project is ready to go. That’s good enough for you, because you have a great relationship with them and trust them. Next thing you know, they’ve taken a new position at a different company and someone else takes their place. This new person asked who approved the design, because it doesn’t meet their current objectives and needs to be redone. You have nothing to show them except the recollection of a verbal approval. Guess who is going to be redoing the design work?
That’s why it’s important to not only know who has the authority to approve, but to follow-through on whatever processes your company has in place to secure that approval.
You should develop a Project Manager reflex that immediately asks/answers, “Who is going to do this?” once an activity is identified. To take it to the next level, go ahead and throw in, “And by when?” You’ll end up with the triumvirate of project management questions (who, what, and when) that will ensure accountability.
Be sure to download The PMO Squad’s Free RACI Matrix template which will help you clearly identify not only who is Accountable, but also who is Responsible, and who should be Consulted or Informed. This is one more tool we provide to help you deliver projects better.
Most projects are not life and death like a medical emergency. But, you can take a lesson from that field and ensure there is one person that has clear ownership of a task, deliverable, or approval. This will help your project live to see another day.