The Project Notebook

Project Management and Joint Accountability

© 2013 Ray W. Frohnhoefer, MBA, PMP, CCP

 

The Oz Principle was originally released around 1994, but the authors (Craig Hickman, Tom Smith and Roger Connors) felt an update was required in 2004 and also have a few sequel works that are much newer (Journey to the Emerald City, How Did That Happen?).  These books build on their original key principle – accountability.  In leadership roles such as Project Management, accountability is about assuming responsibility for actions and to be able to explain and be answerable for the resulting consequences.

This should sound familiar to project managers required to deliver project results.  Results can be achieved by looking within for cause, rather than in the actions of others. The authors suggest this is a great way to build leadership. The books are filled with great examples of how accepting accountability can pull us out of the “victim” thinking (e.g. it’s not my fault, I don’t know why this is happening to me, something or someone other than me and my actions made this happen) and achieve positive results. Some famous examples of leaders showing accountability include Jack Welch, Janet Reno, and Bill Clinton — embracing accountability helped them weather adversity and continue to get results.  Their past mistakes were left behind.

I had a recent example of this myself.  A “disruptive technology” solution was proposed by a client employee that could have diminished or even ended a long-time client relationship.  It would have been easy to “throw up my hands” and recommend going with what appeared to be an easy solution.  Instead, I looked at the problem from all angles, considered the client governance policies in place, and realized there were hidden costs in the proposed solution that would not have been discovered until the project was well down the wrong trail. I was able to put some talking points together for the client Project Director to successfully steer clear of the disruption.

To further show joint accountability, the client employee was invited to play a key role in a different approach.  There was no “blame”.  Everyone looked within and considered the best actions to create superior outcomes.

There is so much of importance in the Oz Principle for improving ourselves and our projects.  Accountability and project management complement each other. One immediate area that jumps off the page of the book is the notion of joint accountability. It’s the idea that in any team setting, when someone drops the ball, another team member is there to help put it in the goal. Many of the best practices we follow in project planning help contribute to creating an environment of joint accountability.

Pre-implementation Announcements and Messaging

Once the project charter is completed, it’s typical to get senior management to “stand up”, state some of the goals, and start the process of building the shared understanding of the work. Getting early and often messages out to the team members and other stake holders, almost like a public relations campaign, builds understanding. Where there is solid shared understanding, joint accountability can take place.

Implementation/Planning Meeting

This is the first time the identified project team is brought together as a whole to hear the objectives again and begin forming the initial project phases and requirements. Once again, clear and consistent communication about the goals and objectives brings everyone together.

Work Breakdown Structure

This is an area that many software, IT, or technology projects “skimp” with the belief it is too time consuming. This is an activity which builds capacity. Everyone works together to identify the work and understand how the work is building to meet the goals and objectives of the charter. More time spent in thinking through the work will assure all the tasks are identified and the team will know what needs to be done.

Other Planning Activities

Whether it is to develop a communications plan or a human resources plan, this is more team and capacity building activity. As common understanding of the project work emerges, the team is positioned for joint accountability.

Project Execution

Like the building crescendo of a symphony, project managers that spend time on the previous steps will have a bold and capable team. Everyone knows what needs to be done and is occupied by doing it.

The phrase “herding cats” refers to the impossibility of controlling a situation dominated by chaos. Rather than herding cats, the project manager is mentoring the team and helping with problem solving. Problem solving is not the same as moving from emergency-to-emergency (more chaos). With joint accountability, team members know what needs to be done, are doing it, and helping out others who are not helping the ball to the net. Sure there are sometimes “bumps” in the road, but the team works around them.

Creating an environment of joint accountability builds focus too — other peripheral tasks are now clearly second to meeting the promised deliverable. Now I’m sure many will scoff at the time these activities take. My assertion is that in the long run, these steps are very worthwhile. Taking some time on each will provide superior results in the long run.

It might be overly bold to say I never managed a project with lots of good planning that didn’t come in on time and on budget, but my record seems to speak for itself. So next time you are about to start a project, make sure you avoid herding cats and create an environment of joint accountability.

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© 2010-2012 Ray W. Frohnhoefer, MBA, PMP, CCP