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Getting Out of the Role of Babysitter

Posted by: Timm J. Esque | Posted on: November 9th, 2011 | 3 Comments

I recently ran across someone else’s project management blog lamenting how the  role of PM can sometimes seem like glorified babysitter. This can be particularly true on projects that cut across organizational boundaries (are there any that do not?).   While each project is a key responsibility for the PM, there may be contributors to the project who see it as a distraction from their “real job”.  What can the PM do other than systematically nag these contributors about the tasks assigned to them?  This is essentially a question about what PM’s can do to create accountability.

The best dictionary definition I’ve found for the word accountability is:

The quality or state of being accountable; especially: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility to account for one’s actions. top blackjack

What I like about this particular definition is that it identifies the two very different reasons people are willing to be held to account- out of obligation or out of choice (willingness to accept responsibility).  We’ve been polling our workshop participants and other audiences for over a year now about which they would rather have – a team of people who feel obligated to meet specific assignments, or a team of people who have chosen to make sure this project is a success.  Guess which team PMs would rather work with?  We wouldn’t ask of course unless we had some recommendations for what the PM can do to create an environment where contributors will choose to take responsibility.

Creating an environment of responsibility, and ultimately accountability, begins at the very outset of team formation.  What the PM can do here is to communicate effectively to prospective and/or assigned team members not just what the project is, but why it is worthwhile and important for this project to be a success.  As the leader, you are role modeling choosing to commit to the success of this project.

Next it is imperative that you have a way to ensure all of the contributors participate in creating the project plan.  We recommend a technique called Map Day which is described in detail in my book No Surprises Project Management (ACT Publishing, 1999).  Map Days can be very structured events with every contributor present for one or two full days, or they can be less structured 1-3 hour events.  The key is that contributors leave with clarity not only about their specific role, but also about their interdependencies with other roles – the other members of the team.  It is our experience that when people see where they fit into the larger project picture, they choose to take responsibility for more than just the part they have direct control over.

The third critical thing the PM can and must do to create an environment where contributors choose to take responsibility is to deliberately turn the project plan into a network of personal commitments between team members.  Personal commitments will generally need to be made and reviewed on a short interval (often weekly) basis, so this last step is not something you complete in the up-front planning meeting, but rather a process that continues throughout the project.  Anyone who has committed to complete something in the current week, is expected to show up to a very short review meeting and declare if they are done or not done.  This meeting is also where new commitments for the next 2-4 weeks are made.  The expectation for team members to hold themselves and each other accountable in these brief meetings are set back in the early planning stage, when people realize they are part of a network of people dependent upon each other in order for this worthwhile project to succeed.   We’ve been helping PMs implement these practices for over 15 years now, and this works!  Why be a babysitter when you could be a leader? real money slot machine app

Comments (3)


  1. Tom - Reply
    November 10, 2011

    This technique is so simple someone might think it is trivial when in fact it is actually the only way to effectively keep the team on track to deliver as close to plan as possible.

    We found at TI many years ago that forcing what we called peer reviews immediately improved our ability to get things done on time and correct the first time. Knowing other cubicle mates are depending on something has a tangible impact on performance. sign up bonus online casino

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  2. Donna Dobrovich - Reply
    November 10, 2011

    As an Executive and Leadership Coach, I work with the area of accountability and commitment quite a bit. I think all three of your suggestions go a long way in creating greater accountability. The first engages people at a deeper level (big picture and purpose), the second increases involvement and choice and the third provides a great structure for accountability. I think the Map Day concept that you talked about has an additional benefit (more than one I’m sure). In a Map Day type of process, people are not just commiting to a PM or a schedule on a piece of paper. They are commiting to each other which adds a very human element to the process. Very few people want to let fellow team members down. This will cause them to be more conscientous about the commitments they make and manage those commitments better. Map Day also makes the interdependencies very apparent allowing people to visually see how the completion of their deliverables (or not) impact others as well as the project as a whole. This process contributes to creating a team that spans departments or functions (not just a group of people that happen to be assigned to the same project). I think the human element is so important and not often addressed in traditional project management. Your methodology really contributes to building a stronger team of responsible adults – so no babysitters are needed!

  3. David Arella - Reply
    November 12, 2011 winpalace us

    I’d like to echo your thoughts with three related ideas for building real accountability: wheel of fortune casino game online

    (1) Accountability begins with a conversation, not a delegation. The proper start to a conversation that results in real accountability is a request (e.g. Can you get this done by June 1st?). The requestor / manager assumes the persona of a customer instead of “lord and master”. Having started the conversation with a question, instead of a statement, the requester must then wait for an answer before proceeding. It’s a dialog after all, not a monologue.

    2) Accountability often involves negotiation. The performer must answer the request including sharing their capabilities and concerns. Most managers assign tasks and expect accountability to follow along as part and parcel of the assignment. In effect, they are saying “I am assigning you this task and am holding you (the performer) accountable for getting it done on time”. This is a one-way statement, not a dialog. The performer has not actually “answered”. The performer has made no personal, nor public ownership of the task. In a subtle sense, the accountability for completion of the task still rests with the manager who then must spend his time closely following up the assignment (e.g. “babysitting”). In order to accept accountability, the performer must be afforded the opportunity to negotiate their delivery commitment.

    3) Accountability shifts to the performer. The result of a proper dialog should be an explicit agreement, a specific commitment by the performer. The performer [willingly] takes on the accountability for timely and successful delivery of the request. And having done so, it is now the performer’s responsibility, not the manager’s, to closely track and follow up the task. The ownership of the task has shifted to the performer. Of course, the manager is still concerned with an on-time delivery, but rather than relying on frequent reviews of task due dates and the weekly “how’s it going” query of each performer, the manager now relies on the performer’s ownership of the task to prompt update reports. If the delivery is on track, the manager need not ask. If the delivery is threatened, the manager relies on prompt notice of a problem by the responsible performer. The key is to shift the dialog from the requestor saying “I am holding you accountable” to the performer saying “you can count on me”.

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