Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Taking and giving responsibility as a project sponsor

Taking and giving responsibility as a project sponsor
Project governance is the serious business of taking responsibility for leadership.

The mindset of many executive sponsors toward projects is simple:

1) When you can, get it over with.

2) If at all possible, evade responsibility.

Which means that when things go wrong, project sponsors often offer a response that begins and ends with the words “It’s out of my control.”

However, there’s an alternative.

Taking responsibility

As a project sponsor, instead of defining the minimal requirements (accountability), outline the maximum possible action you can take (responsibility).

Successful projects and their benefits will not be achieved by organizations with executive sponsors that do the minimal requirements. The race is won by those that figure out what they can do, and do it.

Accountability is done to you. It’s done by the system, by those that want to create blame.

Responsibility is done by you. It’s voluntary. You can take as much of it as you want.

Giving responsibility

“Use your best judgment.”

Organizations have a very hard time saying this to their employees.

They create an endless series of scripts and rules, procedures that force people to not care. They promote the response “I’m just doing my job,” which is the precise opposite of “I see the problem and I’m going to fix it.”

As an organization hits a sufficient size, it will increase rules in order to decrease responsibility.

They’ve gotten big enough that they no longer trust the people who work for them.

In a way it's understandable, as there are only two choices available to any large organization:

1) Hire people who make no original decisions but be damn sure that if they are going to run by the book, the book better be perfect. And build in reviews to make sure that everyone is indeed playing by the book, with significant monitoring and consequences in place for when they don't.

2) Hire people who care and give them the freedom and responsibility to act. Hold people responsible for the decisions they make, and trust their judgment.

However, the only way to really deliver large and complex projects is to hire human beings who care … and to give them the authority and resources to demonstrate that.

Once you’ve got that, it’s pretty easy to get things done.

Promoting responsible project governance

Executive project sponsors are responsible for project governance and when their mentality is to avoid responsibility, the chances of project success decrease substantially. Similarly, when organizations don't show trust in those on their team and allow them the freedom to act, it fosters an environment of apathy.

The alternative is much more promising. Project sponsors can (and should) be truly invested in their work, caring deeply about the project and taking action when the need arises. Confident that they're backed by their organization and trusted to do what's best for the project, they do whatever it takes to keep it on track. This alternative lays a foundation that is conducive to project success.

In a nutshell: Large and complex projects need people that take responsibility … and organizations that give them the ability to do so.  

Posted on Wednesday, September 11, 2019 by Henrico Dolfing

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