Beyond Execution

Making a difference in project management by training, speaking and writing


The Underutilization of Tools: Responsibility Matrix

Posted by beyondexecution on September 26, 2010 at 7:43 AM

Sometimes going through the PMBOK can be quite illuminating.  A lot of people will look at this book as overly academic and theoretical in nature.  He really does have a lot of good information within it.  Sometimes there are some trouble in applying it to real-life projects, but many times there aren't.  One of these techniques is the responsibility matrix.  When it's used properly, it can be a very powerful tool to set expectations, to increase performance, and to enhance communications and accountability.


I'll illustrate this point by describing an example of when I used it before.  I had assembled my project team at the kickoff meeting.  One of the team members at that meeting had not been involved in the estimation and planning.  He was a very capable developer but was coming in raw.  As part of the kickoff meeting, I distributed the responsibility matrix around the table to each team member.  As most project team members will do, they look at the responsibility matrix for their specific name and see what's included underneath.  So my developer found several "A"'s attached to his name and asked what do these "A"'s mean?


This was the lightbulb moment.  This is when it dawns on your team members what you expect them to do on your project, and to not have their own ideas of what they should be doing.  So I explained to my developer that I considered him accountable for several of the deliverables listed within the project.  I also explained that accountability meant if there are any errors or problems that he should be the one to resolve them, regardless of who else had contributed to the deliverable.  He had some questions as well, and we have some good discussion on each other's viewpoints.  And in the end we had agreement of what his responsibilities were and what my expectations of him were.


And that's the beauty of the responsibility matrix.  Rather than the developer finding out later on what he was supposed to do, he found out and understood at the beginning of the project.  As you can see, this is a whole lot better than having some issue burst during the project and my team member claiming "I didn't know I was supposed to do that".  Because that's an excuse that burns project managers over and over and over again.


In the training that I deliver in public courses and on-site courses for clients, I am seeing that the responsibility matrix is becoming more commonplace in its usage.  That's definitely a good sign and a step towards having a well performing team.


Like many things about project management, sometimes we need to take the time to use some of these more academic techniques.  It's about finding the right way to use these techniques as opposed to dismissing them outright.

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