Plug Project Accountability Gaps

Of all the challenges PMP®s face, ensuring that project teams possess sufficient accountability can be one of the most difficult to overcome. If team members aren’t accountable for the progress of their activities, many complex or highly-visible projects quickly run into trouble.

Though accountability can be a thorny and recurring issue, a handful of approaches may prove useful. If your project team has encountered difficulties related to a lack of accountability, consider where communication flows, reporting structures, and the use of stringent project controls may help bring troubled projects back on track.

Accountability doesn’t extend beyond the established silos. In organizations where cross-functional teams are working across departmental lines, silos can be a real hindrance to success. Not only do they isolate the various groups from each other, limiting team members’ ability to communicate effectively and efficiently, they also frequently interrupt accountability efforts. As tasks transition from one group to another—design has finished their portion and now it’s time for engineering to begin working their magic, for example—accountability doesn’t always move as cleanly.

One strategy to help overcome the bottleneck created by silos and ensure robust accountability is to establish clear triggers for status updates or other communications. These may include potential changes to the schedule that are likely to delay activities, lingering glitches that still need to be addressed, or newly discovered problems that could require significant changes to the original project plan.

Accountability doesn’t go far enough up the reporting hierarchy. In cross-functional teams, those at the top of the organizational structure sometimes have scant connection to project efforts while frontline workers may be focused on little else. This can be a difficult structure to support, because the accountability trail for project activities often fizzles out before it gains meaningful visibility into items that are behind schedule or places the plan may be falling apart.

Several approaches can be used in tandem to increase accountability in cross-functional teams. The use of a matrix structure based on project activities, in addition to the organization’s normal reporting hierarchy, may allow better insight into outstanding tasks. In addition, identifying an individual in each department’s leadership group to maintain an accountability trail is useful in ensuring that activities stay on track and that problems can be properly escalated as needed.

Accountability is an afterthought. In teams where a formalized project management methodology isn’t used, accountability is typically conspicuous in its absence. This is characterized by situations where critical activities run far behind schedule for extended periods before anyone discovers there’s a problem. It also commonly leads to difficulty determining who should be handling a specific task or who is responsible for reporting back to the group on an activity’s status. Put simply, no one thought to make anyone accountable. When important items on the project’s timeline aren’t being updated as expected, or when another team member needs additional details, a startling amount of time and energy is spent just trying to figure out who has the necessary information.

The implementation of a structured approach to project management is key in creating true accountability across the team and ensuring activities move forward. One function of a proven methodology is the use of robust project controls, which help to monitor progress and establish accountability as a core trait built into each person’s area of responsibility from the earliest planning phases. Improved communication across the project team complements a good methodology, triggering a more finite understanding of where each activity stands and who is accountable for not only moving the task forward but also notifying the rest of the group if problems arise

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