The Consequences of Shifting Responsibility Without Delegating Ownership in Software Development Teams

0 15 min read Project Takeover


Tech & Business

Accountability is the conscience that makes you aware of your peers, teammates, and those around you and makes you feel responsible toward them. However, ownership is when you take responsibility and establish ground rules to follow up on a task’s deadlines and motivate yourself and software development teams to do better.

In contrast, delegation means you’re entrusting another peer with a part of your work. For instance, a manager may pass some of their work to others, and the team member may accept to perform it.

Exercising accountability, ownership, and delegation in the workplace can optimize the execution of tasks and empower everyone on a software development team. They also promote focus and commitment toward delivering quality results and sticking to deadlines.

Let’s dive further into these concepts and understand how they play a crucial role in software development.

The Concept of Accountability

Accountability means taking ownership from an individual and giving it to the team. It keeps you on track and aligns your goals with that of your team. However, if accountability is used as a reprimand or accusation, people shy away from it and avoid being accountable at all.

And no matter how misrepresented or misunderstood a situation might get, software development teams can’t afford to let things go south. So, development teams need both accountable team members and leaders to keep things in check.

With this concept in mind, how does accountability impact a business?

Accountability lays the foundation for building a support system among your peers, integrates trust, and creates fruitful bonds with your coworkers.

From project management to product management, every team should strive to cultivate a culture of accountability because it’s the glue that keeps everyone together and working towards a defined vision.

Especially for startups seeking to climb up the ladder, accountability plays a pivotal role in the equation. So, how can startups create a culture of accountability? Let’s find out.

1. Start at the Top

What most software development companies fail to understand is that accountability starts at the top. When business owners, managers, and upper management don’t model accountable behavior, employees won’t follow it either.

So, higher authorities should be the first ones to embrace this behavior as it’ll set a narrative for the subordinates to follow.

2. Practice Consistency

Consistency is key when you’re promoting accountability. Imagine your software development team working on a complex project. There’s a set of clearly defined goals for the software engineers to follow, deliverables that have to be met by the product development team, and clear instructions for every team.

The key to landing on project deliverables and tracking progress is consistency. It paves the path for accountability in case of any potential challenges and helps to provide timely feedback and guide teams on what they’re doing.

3. Promote Ownership

Ownership means taking responsibility for a task assigned, no matter what the outcome is. It means that you know how to keep yourself on track, do what is needed, and make sure others can count on you for what you took ownership of. In this sense, accountability and ownership go hand in hand.

Accountability is being answerable for the results of our actions, the decisions we make, and the subsequent outcomes. So, in a practical sense, ownership drives accountability. When everyone in the team is inclined toward owning their mistakes, they’ll naturally become more accountable.

It also enhances a sense of commitment among your team members, fuels a drive for dedication, and helps each person take the initiative.

4. Highlight Lessons Learned

Developing accountability by taking ownership is a learning curve. You won’t get the hang of it at once. It’s a concept that involves many dynamics. So, just admitting your mistake or that you did something wrong isn’t enough.

Accountability highlights the mistakes you’ve made and fosters a culture of continuous learning. So, admitting to your mistakes and repeating them while staying in the same blame game loop doesn’t promote “enough learning.”

Accountability breaks this vicious cycle where instead of blaming others or admitting your own mistakes, you do something about it.

5. Use Agile Methodologies

Agile methodologies like Jira can help you track tasks, monitor progress at every stage of the development process, and create a culture of accountability. But how do they ensure that?

jira software screenshot
Jira’s Board

Jira’s agile boards, such as Scrum and Kanban, provide visual representations of your team’s work in progress in the form of cards that move across different columns representing various stages of the development process. This transparency enables you to check the status of each task and who is responsible for it at any given time.

Similarly, establishing clear roles within the team, such as Scrum master, product owner, and development team, helps you ensure team members take ownership of their assigned tasks, allowing you to foster accountability.

Examples of Accountability Beyond Control

Some instances may be out of your team’s direct control. However, that doesn’t indicate you aren’t responsible for how they turn out. Let’s look at some scenarios that fit this situation.

When Working with Third Parties

When you’re working on a new product or service, there’s an entire team of software engineers, product managers, marketing people, and more behind you.

Developing software means relying on a lot of external resources: libraries, APIs, cloud networks, frameworks, and whatnot. If, for instance, these dependencies don’t meet your set criteria and turn into problems, they’ll impact the entire team’s performance.

You’lll be accountable for not choosing the right dependency, mitigating any risks, or looking for suitable alternatives that would have allowed software functions to run seamlessly.

Cyber Threats

You have no control over any external threats, malicious attacks, phishing, or anything that steals data. Today’s digital landscape makes software systems vulnerable to so many attacks.

In this scenario, should you really be accountable if something goes wrong?

While software teams implement every security measure they can, it’s impossible to control all security factors. Nonetheless, you’ll still be accountable for not exploring alternate robust security practices, adhering to protocols, or updating your software regularly.

Architecture and Hardware Limitations

Once the software is out in the market, factors such as how its architecture works, how all the networks connect to each other, which server it runs on, and more impact the user experience.

Even though you’re not linked to how the architecture works or have no direct control over the hardware, you’ll still be responsible for tackling such scenarios and accountable if operations do not run smoothly.

Volatile Market Impact

In some conditions, the software market can be very unpredictable and volatile. Consumer preferences, economic turndowns, or disruptions evoked by competitors can severely impact the deployment of a software product or service.

Even though market conditions are beyond your control, it’s still your responsibility to analyze market trends and adjust your strategies accordingly.

Economic Constraints

Budget cuts within the organization can affect how the software development project goes. Cutting down on resources, cost-savings, and funding limitations impact the narrative and turnout of the project.

Despite these reductions, you’ll still be held accountable for not optimizing the available resources or prioritizing tasks to ensure the completion of the project within the given limitations.

Handling Accountability for Things You Didn’t Take Ownership Of

You can’t be accountable for everything — especially for things you didn’t take ownership of. Being able to communicate and exercising transparency is key in such a situation. However, a team with a strong sense of ownership is always ready to help each other because they instinctively know their goals are the same and lead to the same objectives.

There’s always room to extend a helping hand and collaborate with the team to find solutions. Brainstorm ideas, explore other approaches, and try to find solutions when you face accountability on others’ part.

Also, it’s important to focus on what you can control. There are so many things that fall outside your realm of control. By delivering excellent work and maximizing efforts, you showcase your commitment, even when faced with external challenges.

The Concept of Ownership

Ownership is all about taking the first step. It shows that you understand you’ll be accountable for an outcome, even when others are involved.

Taking ownership of a software project does not mean you’re in charge. It also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust others. Instead, ownership means you care enough about the project as if you were the owner.

Plus, it also means feeling accountable for how your team delivers outputs and taking relevant actions to streamline these outputs.

Ownership vs. Accountability

Let’s take a look at the differences between ownership and accountability in the table below:

Indicates commitment to power through a projectMeans delivering what was promised, respecting terms and conditions, and taking ownership of the outcome.
Drives the willingness to complete a projectTakes responsibility for failure or success and acknowledges the impact on the software development team, product management team, or other teams
Demonstrates commitment and dedication to teammatesEarns respect from peers and increases trust
Means taking charge of decisions related to the projectBeing answerable to the outcomes of the decisions made and taking necessary actions to reduce the impact
Seek solutions to counter project challengesImprove team dynamics by assuming responsibility for addressing and resolving issues promptly with team collaboration

Determining Ownership: What Can and Cannot Be Owned

Ownership is an initiative you have to take as a team. It has to work toward something that is in the best interest of the end-users and manageable for the entire team. However, if done wrong, it can lead to disasters.

Let’s look at two real-world scenarios and see how to determine what can and can’t be taken ownership of.

1. Full Responsibility, Zero Ownership

If you’re entrusted with creating a mobile application, you might not get the decision-making authority. Your entire team will implement design choices and functionality decisions and take care of everything.

In this case, your team would be responsible for the app’s success or failure but has zero ownership over shaping the outcome. So, it’s important to establish clear goals and communicate with the decision-makers throughout the app development process.

Moreover, holding feedback sessions to address any concerns and seeking clarification can help ensure a high success rate for the end product.

2. Shared Responsibility, Shared Ownership

A software company has a bunch of teams — developers, UX and UI designers, quality assurance specialists, Q&A engineers, and whatnot.

Let’s say you’re entrusted with the task of building an e-commerce platform. All the teams take ownership of the project and collaborate closely till the deployment phase. Developers write the code, UX and UI designers create a compelling user interface, quality assurance specialists make sure the code is bug-free, and Q&A engineers test it.

So, regular meetings should be held to ensure everyone is on the same page and share the ownership of the end product.

The Concept of Delegation

software development teams delegation

Delegation is being a part of your responsibility (if you’re the manager) or transferring responsibility for specific tasks to another person in your team. From a managerial perspective, delegation happens when a manager assigns tasks to those working under their supervision.

Delegating responsibility means transferring your duties or decision-making abilities to another person or team.

For instance, if you’re in charge of managing the development of a web application, you might want to delegate one part, such as creating the UI of the app, to another team member.

The team member will have full autonomy over the decisions, what functions should be included at the front end, and set the project’s timeline.

How Delegation Helps with Accountability and Ownership

The main objective of delegation is to get the job done by someone else. It means that only a part of the authority is delegated and provides an opportunity for growth and development for the other person.

In essence, delegation in software development teams works by empowering team members to do the task they’re best suited to. It allows them to evolve and develop their own abilities and skills.

But how does delegation play a role in accountability and ownership?

Delegating some of your responsibilities to team members establishes clarification of what is expected of them. They know what their responsibilities are, what parts they have ownership in, and what their respective roles are. This allows everyone to know their areas of accountability.

Empowering your team by delegating autonomy also paves the path for skill development. It enhances their skill set and improves how they take on responsibilities, which expands their knowledge base.

Best Practices for Effective Delegation in a Software Development Teams

Let’s go through some practices you can implement for effective delegation:

1. Know What You Have to Delegate

Knowing what to delegate and who to delegate to is important. There might be some tasks that contain confidential information, so you’ll want to see what you can delegate without letting confidential information get out.

2. Know Whom to Delegate

Analyze your software team and see who has the necessary experience for the task. Are they confident to take on the task? Can they work independently? Are they willing to take additional responsibility, and are they interested?

It’s essential to consider their willingness too, and not only their technical knowledge.

3. Consider the Developer’s Goals

Know what your team members aspire to be. For instance, if you have a React wizard aiming to be a front-end specialist, you could delegate tasks for them to work with designers because these two professions frequently collaborate.

4. Empower Decision-Making

Delegating tasks is one thing, but giving others the power to make decisions is also important. This empowers your team to make choices on their own as per their own will and according to their responsibilities.

They also give your team a sense of accountability and encourage them to grow in their role.

5. Track Progress

jira cumulative flow diagram metrics
Tracking Progress Using Jira’s Cumulative Flow Diagram

Delegating tasks does imply trust, but it’s still important to monitor the progress of these delegated tasks. So, regularly take updates from the concerned team members.

Also, provide them with guidance in areas they need to improve, offer support, and address any questions or concerns they may have.

6. Recognize and Reward

Acknowledge your team members who successfully complete delegated tasks. Offer incentives such as rewards or praise to encourage them to keep up the good work. This not only boosts morale but also creates a culture of continuous improvement and accountability.

Impact on the Software Development Teams’ Process

Accountability, ownership, and delegation each have a crucial effect on the software development process.

Accountability sets the stage for satisfaction. However, it can be asked or even demanded but never be forced during the development process. In contrast, ownership is a personal investment and a personal initiative you take toward the success of the software.

From a software engineer’s point of view, ownership involves everything you can do over and above your regular duties to establish trust and confidence.

For instance, ownership for a developer means you should strive for quality. That doesn’t mean taking care of a few bugs. Instead, it’s also about documenting the code and putting the best code forward. This leads to a better and more evolving software development process.

Lastly, delegation helps to optimize all the resources and empower team members to make decisions on their assigned tasks. It enhances collaboration and allows managers to focus on high-level activities.

Lack of Clarity and Its Effect on the Software Development Teams’ Process

Lack of clarity in accountability, ownership, and delegation during the software development process leads to problems. For instance, most businesses these days are stringent about commitments, and clients expect a 99.95% SLA (service-level agreement).

In this case, it’s important to establish KPIs for whatever project you’re working on and invest in tools to measure KPIs so you have a record of what every team is working on.

A lack of clarity in these areas can lead to teams working on the same KPIs, which duplicates efforts and hinders productivity. It can also lead to missed deadlines, enable inefficient tracking, and make teams blame each other for failed outcomes.

Moreover, working in a silo is another factor that contributes to the failure of software projects. If teams work in isolation, there won’t be any clarity on what to expect from the end product, leading to software that does not meet the actual business needs or addresses the problems.

And one of the primary reasons for misaligned outcomes is a lack of understanding of the problem the software will solve. So, it’s essential for software teams to work collectively and ensure continuous communication.

How to Address These Issues

software development teams addressing lack of clarity

It’s important to overcome any issues that may arise as a result of a lack of clarity. Let’s look at some ways to address them:

1. Create Proper Communication Channels

There should be proper communication channels available within teams. Enhancing communication and welcoming open feedback helps to communicate transparently and seek clarification on provided tasks.

For instance, implementing a project management tool like Asana or Trello can help teams communicate better. It’ll also enable them to implement a clear communication channel where teams can provide updates, assign tasks, and seek clarification.

2. Clearly Define Roles

Each role for every team member should be clearly defined. This helps everyone own their mistakes and understand what they’ll be accountable for without any conflicts.

For example, developing a project charter helps outline the roles of every team member. This documentation can be shared with the entire team so everyone knows who is responsible for what.

3. Delegate Tasks to Suitable Candidates

Know who you’re delegating the task to and what they’re capable of. Delegating tasks to suitable candidates helps to avoid problems in the long run.

You can also conduct a skills assessment test because identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate will help you figure out who’s the most suitable candidate.

4. Establish a Monitoring System

An agile system where everyone can track their progress using a shared task management tool or software is the best way to keep everyone on the same page.

For instance, a task management system like Jira helps to create virtual dashboards and provide reports on task statuses, progress, milestones, and more. It’ll enable teams to identify and rectify potential issues.

5. Hold Regular Meetings

Establishing regular team meetings and feedback sessions to clarify what you expect and provide your team a chance to raise their concerns. This helps establish clear and measurable goals.

6. Convey Your Expectations on Goals

Convey achievable objectives and ensure they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). You should also regularly review these goals to maintain your team’s focus.

The Takeaway

Shifting responsibilities without taking ownership invites problems in software development, as without ownership, no one in the team will be proactive about goals. Plus, without responsibility and accountability, there will be no collaboration. And without delegation, there will be room for building trust and letting your team members grow.

So, ownership, accountability, and delegation matter for at least four outcomes: your team’s performance, motivation, nurturing the team culture, and professional growth. And they start from the top down.

Leading by example is the best strategy that works when working in a software environment. Because, at the end of the day, the main objective is learning how to produce positive outcomes. It’s this mindset that makes accountability, ownership, and delegation top leadership qualities.

So, it’s important to integrate all these concepts into your team or implement them at an individual level. They’ll encourage a continuous learning process.

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