Who’s Responsible?

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>> Improve project management practices by increasing personal responsibility

At MacKay & Sposito, Inc. (M&S) we’ve invested heavily to improve our project management capabilities over the last few years. We updated accounting systems and project management software. We developed standards for project tracking and team resource loading. We held project management discussions and organized training.

All worthwhile activities. All poor substitutes for solid personal responsibility.

I don’t mean to be overly critical of our team. We’ve continually improved project management and client satisfaction. There is also no question that new project management tools help our employees manage projects better.

However, when we fail, the reason is usually that team members forget their personal responsibility to meet project budgets, schedules, and scopes. These failures happen at all levels— from draftsman to principal.[callout]… when we fail, the reason is usually that team members forget their personal responsibility to meet project budgets, schedules, and scopes.[/callout]

A couple years ago, one of my partners took an interesting approach to alleviate this problem. One evening, he drafted an “Employee Pledge.” This 11-part statement outlined the rules by which we would work together to meet client needs. The primary message: Each individual must take personal responsibility to ensure project success.

Example employee pledge statements included:

“As an M&S Employee, I commit to know the schedule, budget, and scope for all tasks I’m assigned.”

“It is my responsibility to request this project information.”

Cheesy? Perhaps. Necessary? Most certainly.

When originally drafted, the employee pledge encouraged plenty of discussion. It was posted on bookshelves, computer monitors, and doorways. It was discussed at employee and manager evaluations. It was also presented at new employee orientations. Like many initiatives, over time the pledge gathered some dust. It remains, however, our proclamation for personal project responsibility. Recently, I’ve refocused on the pledge with those employees I manage directly.

Project success is not the sole responsibility of project managers. Everyone must recognize the role they play in profitably delivering exceptional client service. New tools and processes are only a part of the solution.

This is a company culture issue. You can change your firm’s culture to one of personal project responsibility by:

* Hiring (and retaining) for it. Internal behavior can change dramatically when new and aggressive blood is added to the mix. Sometimes complacency is the biggest culprit. New energy kills complacency. A written employee pledge (or similar document) may be an indispensible tool for evaluating new hires. How does that new employee respond to such a statement?

* Providing solid leadership. Personal responsibility doesn’t stop at the top of the ladder. Are your firm’s principals focused on project budgets, scope, and schedules? An effective employee pledge would hold leadership equally responsible for project success.

* Being transparent. Certainly, a written commitment is one way to clarify and bring transparency to the issue of personal responsibility. Good project management tools and processes are another. However, the most effective way to clarify and bring transparency to personal responsibility is committing to regular and frequent discussions about project performance and success. This is a simple commitment, executed on a weekly basis through simple team discussion. Again, this starts at the top, with strong leadership.

If you hire and retain employees who take personal responsibility, provide leadership, and seek transparency in expectations and regular project communications, your firm can increase project team members’ personal responsibility.

These are my thoughts. I’m interested in yours. What efforts have you made to increase personal responsibility in your firm? Please send them to my e-mail below.

This article was originally published in the April 4th Edition of the Zweig Letter.

Derrick Smith is a partner with consulting firm MacKay & Sposito, Inc. (M&S), an infrastructure planning and design firm based in the Pacific Northwest. M&S services Water Resources, Energy, Community Development, and Geospatial clients and markets throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Derrick publishes regularly in several regional and national journals that focus on business development, project management, and human resources topics related to his industry. Derrick Smith’s thoughts and past articles can be found at www.derricksmith.net. He can also be followed @derrick_smith.

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