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Accountable vs Responsible: What’s the Difference for a Project Manager?

What Does Accountable Mean?

Accountable means being completely responsible for what you do and being able to give a satisfactory reason for it. It also implies that you are liable for the consequences of your actions, whether they are positive or negative. In other words, if something goes wrong, you are the one to blame and you have to answer for it.
In a business sense, accountability refers to the individual who has the ultimate authority and ownership over a task, decision, or outcome. For example, as a project manager, you are accountable for the delivery of your project. You have to ensure that the project meets the agreed scope, budget, schedule, quality, and stakeholder expectations. You also have to report on the project status, risks, issues, and changes to the relevant stakeholders. If the project fails, you are the one who has to explain why and what can be done to fix it.

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What Does Responsible Mean?

Responsible means having control and authority over something, someone, or a team and the duty of taking care of it, them, or the individual(s). It also implies that you have the skills, knowledge, and resources to perform the task or role effectively. In other words, if something needs to be done, you are the one who has to do it or delegate it to someone else.
In a business sense, responsibility refers to the individual or group who has to execute a task, decision, or outcome. For example, as a project manager, you are responsible for managing your project team, ensuring that they have the necessary guidance, support, and resources to complete their tasks. You are also responsible for communicating with your stakeholders, managing their expectations, and resolving any conflicts or issues that may arise. If the project succeeds, you are the one who gets the credit and recognition for it.

How Do Accountable and Responsible Relate to the RACI Matrix?

The RACI matrix is a common tool used in project management to define and clarify the roles and responsibilities of the project team and stakeholders. RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. Each task or deliverable in the project is assigned to one or more of these categories, as follows:
Responsible: The person or group who has to perform the task or produce the deliverable. There can be more than one responsible for a task, but each responsible should have a clear understanding of their role and expectations.
Accountable: The person who has the ultimate authority and ownership over the task or deliverable. There can be only one accountable for a task, and they are the one who approves or rejects the work done by the responsible. The accountable is also the escalation point for any issues or risks related to the task or deliverable.
Consulted: The person or group who has to provide input, feedback, or expertise for the task or deliverable. They are involved in the decision-making process, but they do not have the final say. The consulted should be kept in the loop and informed of any changes or updates related to the task or deliverable.
Informed: The person or group who has to be notified of the progress, status, or outcome of the task or deliverable. They are not directly involved in the task or deliverable, but they need to be aware of it for their own work or interest. The informed should receive regular updates and reports related to the task or deliverable.
The RACI matrix helps to avoid confusion, duplication, or gaps in the project team and stakeholder roles and responsibilities. It also helps to ensure that everyone knows what they have to do, who they have to report to, and who they have to communicate with.

How Do Accountable and Responsible Apply to Different Project Management Methodologies?

Different project management methodologies may have different approaches to defining and assigning accountable and responsible roles. For example, in a traditional or waterfall project management methodology, the project manager is usually the accountable and responsible for the entire project, from initiation to closure. They have to plan, execute, monitor, and control all the project activities, deliverables, and resources. They also have to manage the project team and stakeholders, ensuring that they are aligned and satisfied with the project objectives and outcomes.
In contrast, in an agile or scrum project management methodology, the project manager is not the accountable or responsible for the entire project, but rather for facilitating and coordinating the project activities, deliverables, and resources. They have to ensure that the project team and stakeholders are collaborating and communicating effectively, and that they are following the agile principles and values. The project manager is also known as the scrum master, and their role is to remove any impediments or obstacles that may hinder the project team’s performance or delivery. The accountable and responsible for the project outcomes are the product owner and the development team, who have to define, prioritize, and deliver the product features or user stories that meet the customer needs and expectations.

Conclusion

Accountable and responsible are two important terms that every project manager should know and understand. They describe the level of authority and ownership that a person or group has over a task, decision, or outcome in a project. They also help to define and clarify the roles and responsibilities of the project team and stakeholders, using tools such as the RACI matrix. Depending on the project management methodology, the accountable and responsible roles may vary, but they are always essential for ensuring the project success and satisfaction.
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