What is Accountability?


Hal's post about the meaning of project management got me thinking about accountability and how we use it in organizations. In the last three weeks, I've heard these definitions:

  • “I want to know who's accountable. Who do I get to fire if they screw up?”
  • “The testers/project manager/management team is accountable for the bugs. They let the developers put them in the product.” (Yes, in one organization, the testers, PM, and managers were all held accountable for the developers' practices. Amazing.)

I looked at dictionary.com, and found this meaning:

“Liable to being called to account; answerable. See Synonyms at responsible.

That can be explained: an accountable phenomenon. “

So when I think about accountability, I think of the person with the answers and explanations, and the person who can make things happen. When I look at the above blaming statements, I wonder why the person blaming the other people is so quick to escape responsibility or explanations. Inevitably, the person pointing the finger of blame is the person who has the answers and ultimate responsibility.

Here's what I think accountability is for managers and project managers:

  • The ability to see the current state, in all its ambiguity.
  • The ability to look for explanations of that state without blaming other people
  • The ability to work with people to change the current state to the desired state, learning about the project and the product as the work evolves

Accountability has nothing to do with blaming other people; it has everything to do with seeing the work and understanding how to move the work to the next state.

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