I thought you were doing that!

If you haven't got accountability right, you could look pretty stupid.

If you haven’t got accountability right, you could look pretty stupid.

Whenever I am called into a conversation on who’s accountable for this or responsible for that, things soon get out of hand as everyone starts to argue what “RACI” means and forgets about why they are there. By the way, it should be “ARCI”, but that doesn’t sound very nice.

Putting that aside, let’s look at this from a different angle, which looks at mind-set and behaviour. I came across this approach from a New Jersey company called London Peret Roche.

Accountable: what a person is accountable for; it includes WHO they are accountable to. If they aren’t accountable to anyone, they won’t be held to account and no-one will be counting on them.

Responsible: As a “grown-up”, I act responsibly. If I see a banana skin on the floor, I pick it up and put it in the bin, so no-one slips and breaks their neck. I wasn’t “accountable” for the banana skin; I merely acted responsibly i.e. as if I was the cause.

We all need to work together in programme and project teams and often are “counting on each other” to deliver or do certain things. If I spot something wrong in someone else’s area, I shouldn’t just ignore it, just because I’m not accountable. I should let the “accountable person” know and even offer to help them solve it, if I have the knowledge and skills needed. In programme and project teams we all succeed or fail together.

So let’s look at this in the context of a programme or project and see how this works.

The person who is accountable is not necessarily the person who does the work, but the one who sees that it is done. This is useful in planning projects. You should be familiar with the accountabilities of the project sponsor and project manager. The project manager is accountable to the project sponsor for managing the work on a day-to-day basis, ensuring the deliverables are in place at the required time, quality and cost. He or she cannot do it all, or in many cases manage it all. We all should also know how a project should deconstructed into life cycle stages. This decomposition can be followed through with major packages of work being made the accountability of a particular, named, team manager. These work packages may be divided into smaller work packages and ultimately into individual activities and tasks. This deconstruction is called a work breakdown structure. It is fundamental to good governance and planning and also forms the basis of reporting and escalations. So you see, accountability starts at the top and trckles down. If you aren’t clear on accountability, you have no governance in place.

In practice, single point accountability means every task, activity and work package at any level in the work breakdown structure has a person named as accountable for it. This has four advantages:
– It is clear what is expected of each person.
– Overlaps should be eliminated as no deliverable can be created within two different work packages.
– If a gap in accountability appears (due to loss of a team member, for example or a plain error), the next person up the tree is accountable to fix it.
– If scope, cost or time proves to be inadequate to create the deliverables, it is clear who is accountable for raising these issues.

In practice, accountability is shown in the way that project plans (bar charts) are designed. The examples given in the planning chapter (21) in the Project Workout, clearly show accountability.

In programmes and projects it is essential that accountabilities are clearly stated and are unambiguous so everyone knows who is called to account and who they are accountable to. Similarly, team commitment should be fostered, which promotes responsible and open behaviour by all team members. Knowing who is accountable is not about placing blame (blame games seldom achieve anything but angst), it should be about clarity over who is doing what and knowing who to talk to.

For more on accountability in The Project Workout 5th edition, Chapter 15.

About Robert Buttrick
Robert Buttrick is the author of the Project Workout. He has been providing advice and guidance since the publication of the first edition of his best-selling “flagship” book, the Project Workout in 1997 and now its 4th edition. The principles laid out in the publications, take a holistic view, ensuring that culture, systems, processes and accountabilities are mutually compatible. The book has been translated into French, Korean, Chinese, Russian and Romanian . . . but not yet into Latin! Robert received a Distinguished Service Certificate from BSI for services to national and international project management standards; he is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Chartered Engineer and an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management. He currently works as a consultant and is a Visiting Teaching Fellow at the University of Warwick.

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