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Failed Projects: Who is Responsible?

PTimes_Feature_March16There have been some interesting comments regarding bad PMs.  One senior project manager asked “Should the project manager be held responsible for the results of a project or should the entire team be accountable, after all credit for success usually goes to the team?”  Of course, whether the credit for success goes to the team or not, really depends on the organization culture and the wisdom and ethics of the PM and upper levels of management.  But, that is a topic for another article.

First, let’s address the idea that there is a difference between the project team and the PM.   The PM is part of the project team.  Hierarchies and divisions based on roles are one of the common causes of dysfunction in projects and organizations.  So, credit for the success or failure of a project does belong to the project team, unless it is hamstrung by cultural and organizational barriers to success.

When projects fail they fail for any number of reasons ranging from irrational, unclear or changing objectives to poor performance.  Poor performance is the responsibility of individual performers, including project managers.  But, responsibility doesn’t end there; it is shared.  General management is responsible for making sure that the right resources (ones who have the capacity to perform their roles) are assigned to the project.  General management and project management process owners are responsible for making sure that there is a continuously improving process, supported by effective tools and policies that enable performers to do their jobs.  Remember, the best performers can be brought down by a poor process.

Individual performers (including project managers) are responsible for making the right level of effort and for making sure they have the skills that they need to perform.  They cannot rely on their organizations to give them the competencies they need.  It is a personal responsibility.  Individual performers are also responsible for following the process and for speaking up when they realize the process is broken.  They are responsible for acknowledging their errors, omissions, and weakness and doing what is needed to remediate them.

Project success is a shared responsibility among the project team which consists of all the performers, project managers, team leads, etc. from across internal organization units and partnering organizations.  It is also the responsibility of sponsors, functional managers, clients, executives and senior managers, who are part of the “outer team” and who set objectives, provide resources and establish and maintain an environment that supports effective performance.

Together these stakeholders perform individual projects, assess their performance, identify the causes of both success and failure and do the ongoing work of changing the conditions that address the causes.  When the concept of team is limited to what might be called the core team of performers the probability of success goes way down because those who perceive themselves as outside the team are less likely to be motivated to put out the effort to succeed and those who perceive themselves to be on the team view the others as outsiders who mostly get in the way.

Inclusivity and identification with the team promotes collaborative effort and accountability.

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George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.

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