Accountability, which is critical to every project’s success, does not mean a project manager must babysit, micromanage or browbeat people to get things done. Such tactics often cause strife and animosity toward the project manager. Rather than being the only person holding people accountable, a better approach the project manager can take is empowering the entire team to uphold the project’s accountability. Here are six ways to build accountability into a project:
Address Accountability at the Kickoff Meeting
The project kickoff meeting is a time to get the project team excited about the project and to set expectations for how the project is going to run. Setting accountability upfront as a foundational principle of the project is critical.
At the kickoff meeting, the project sponsor and the project manager make their expectations clear. The project sponsor notes how they’ll hold the project manager accountable and how the project manager will hold everyone else accountable.
Accountability doesn’t stop there. Building upon these points, the project manager lets the team members know that they expect them to hold them the project manager accountable as well. The project manager also notes how they expect team members to hold each other accountable. Calling out one another is encouraged, as long as all team members maintain professionalism and respect toward others.
These statements establish a clear system of accountability. The project manager is ultimately responsible for the project’s success, but to succeed, the project manager expects everyone to be accountable and to hold each other accountable.
Highlight the Interconnectedness of Tasks
Projects almost always include interdependent tasks. Some things need to happen in sequence to make the project successful. As a project manager lays out the details of a project to the team, the project manager should be intentional about highlighting how the tasks intersect.
Sometimes tasks run concurrently. It may happen out of necessity or in the interest of efficiency. After the tasks are completed, their work products are put to use in a subsequent task. The accountability structure works as in the example above. Those working on the subsequent task hold those working on the preceding tasks accountable.
By the project manager showing team members how tasks relate to one another and how each team member needs to do good work for the benefit of other team members, the project manager incentivizes team members holding one another accountable.
If one team member cannot start a task until another team member finishes their task, the dependent team member has a vested interest in the other team member’s success and will hold that team member accountable for timely and high-quality performance.
Get Public Commitments on Action Items
One of the reasons project managers hold team meetings is to determine the next steps based on how the project has progressed. When possible, things should go according to plan, but when unexpected issues come up, they need to be handled.
No matter who agrees to handle an issue, the team member who takes on the task, the project manager should document what is to be done and by when it should be completed.
The action item should then be included in meeting notes or in an action items log. Different project management philosophies do this differently. The key is to write down action items for future reference.
Publicly Follow Up on Action Items
When team members make commitments, the entire team must be able to rely on the task being completed. Writing down those commitments is great, but the tasks need to be completed.
As tasks are assigned, the project manager should follow up to ensure team members stick to their word. The best part of sharing accountability is that project managers do not have to be the bad guy.
Once the project manager has established an atmosphere of accountability, there is no need for the project manager to lambaste someone who doesn’t follow through. The group dynamics will take care of the situation. Peer pressure can work positively. The project manager merely needs to call attention to the action item and let the responsible person speak.
From time to time, the project manager may need to ask probing questions about why a commitment was not met, but usually, the responsible person will be forthcoming about mistakes, miscalculations or barriers and will make a new commitment to complete the original action item and possibly to atone for any lapse in performance.
Confront Poor Performance
A project team member’s poor performance is an issue project managers must deal with swiftly and diplomatically. If other project team members see poor performance being tolerated, their motivation will dip, and their performance will likely decline accordingly.
However, project managers cannot be buzzsaws cutting down poor performers when they don’t meet expectations. It is a balancing act between handling things quickly and handling them humanely.
Poor performance does not go away by itself. It cannot be allowed to linger, yet project managers must afford poor performers time to correct their behavior once it has been brought to their attention.
Escalate Performance Issues When Necessary
If handling poor performance one-on-one does not work, the project manager must escalate the issue to the team member’s supervisor. If that fails, the project sponsor may need to intervene.
Before escalating an issue to the project sponsor, a project manager should exhaust all other options. In the case of poor performance, the project manager should be specific with the project sponsor and make recommendations for resolving the issue.
If the project manager wants the team member counseled by a second line manager, for instance, the project manager should say so. If the project manager wants the team member replaced, the project manager should make such a request. The project manager should provide options and highlight the pros and cons of each option.