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Trying to remove the wiggle room

Projects@Work published an excerpt from Kimberly Wiefling’s new book evocatively titled Scrappy Project Management: The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces.

I haven’t read the rest of the book although I look forward to doing so after seeing the 80-second video she posted on Amazon.com (see what she does with the PMBOK!). To view it, follow the book link above.

And I like the title too. She is a scrapper in her video.

In this excerpt, Kimberly says that properly documenting and communicating roles will remove the “wiggle room” and make people take responsibility. This is an age-old claim. Here’s her words:

image of book coverMediocre organizations are often plagued by the rampant abdication of responsibility by the very people who are supposed to be leading them. At every layer of management, these evasive characters somehow avoid committing to anything outside of their minuscule comfort zones. They fog their agreements with weasel-words that foreshadow their impending failure to deliver as promised. Adding to the confusion, the roles of team members are not clearly defined on many projects. Like a body without a head, the team lurches fitfully toward some hazy destination, unsure of who’s doing what.
Most typical org charts don’t capture the complex relationships between people working on project teams. A Project Team Organization Chart can clarify who is leading the charge in each area. Regardless of the titles involved, this org chart focuses on the roles of individuals in the project, and on their relationship to the project team. The Project Team Org Chart has no dotted line reporting relationships, or crisscrossing matrices where people report to multiple managers. It aligns goals and roles, at least for the duration of the project.
By publishing this chart to the team, their functional managers, and beyond, you establish an expectation of leadership, teamwork and accountability to the project that is stronger than a position in some outdated hierarchical staffing diagram.

And here’s what I wrote at Projects@Work following her excerpt:

…and then everyone took 100% responsibility.

I don’t think so.

While I agree with Kimberly that clear accountability and transparency through documentation can help to drive accountability into any project, in my experience it isn’t the chart or the role assignments that creates a sense of ownership and personal responsibility—the sort of ownership and responsibility that fills the gaps between roles and accountabilities when things go wrong and stuff flies.

And LOTS of things go wrong all the time in those gaps.

The difference is whether people are willing to fill the gaps…

My 16 years of field study around shared responsibility on teams has lead me to a few fundamental conclusions:

1. Shared responsibility can be driven by focusing attention on larger chunks rather than smaller. For instance, I may be accountable for the BA role, but that won’t mean squat if the entire team misses the mark, so if we have done the groundwork for me to feel some ownership for the larger project, then I might expand my sense of ownership beyond everything-BA to everything-BA-and-project-success in order to help the team get the project done well.

2. Accountability ? Responsibility. Accountability is an agreement to be held to account for a process, operation, or result. Responsibility is a feeling of ownership. The first is external to you. The second is internal. In any arena of shared responsibility if your sense of ownership is not significantly larger than your assigned accountability, the gaps will go unfilled. More here:

http://www.christopheravery.com/blog/?s=%E2%89%A0

3. Our field-testing shows that Responsibility is not just a character trait that some people have and others don’t. It’s an observable, predictable, teachable mental process that works the same way in every human being. Thus responsibility can be systematically developed in any willing individual, team, or organization. We call it the Responsibility Process™.

In fairness to Kimberly, I’m probably being overly picky in my zeal to continuously point out the difference between single-point accountability and shared responsibility. And I do think her book really is about taking 100% responsibility as a project manager, and her project org chart is about holding project members accountable which is a key PM responsibility.

Kudos to Kimberly for her spunkiness. Read more about her and you’ll probably want to read her book too.

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