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Developing Software? Get Accountability Right First

Software accountability offers a fresh perspective for creating and managing digital products, mainly by making processes more reliable and transparent for every stakeholder.

With the ever-growing customer demands, the future will be continuously defined by greater transparency and data privacy guarantees. But as software companies adjust, they often forget that it's not only about shifting their external strategy; they need to be looking inward, too.

Software accountability proposes a fresh perspective for creating and managing digital products, mainly by making processes more reliable and transparent to every stakeholder involved. According to Patrick Lencioni, a veteran team management author, accountability represents a clear sign of a successful, high-performing team.

These are the steps to weave accountability into the fabric of your business.

Know That Accountability Isn't Pointing Fingers
Accountability is more than just being answerable for one's actions. It refers to creating a culture, "where new ideas are welcomed, people from across the organization collaborate in the pursuit of common goals, where we train people to bring bad news so we can act on it, and where failures and accidents are treated as opportunities to learn how to improve rather than witch-hunts."

Prioritizing autonomy, competence, and relatedness (the feeling of being connected to others) is fundamental. When an error appears, the conversation can happen straight away, not with the aim to point fingers but to redirect. Ultimately, mistakes represent a chance to step up; they shouldn't be occulted but owned as a badge of an important lesson for the entire team.

Formalizing accountability in a comprehensive document is a much-needed investment for startups. At Octobot, we created a playbook where, apart from ground rules like "Don't assume that people know something they don't," we stress the importance of empathy. Team members should collaborate and try to comprehend each other to take the best course of action in any given situation.

Implement the Four Steps to Accountability
No matter your setup, know that accountability should be governed by absolute transparency. You can't hold people accountable unless you give them the information and tools they need to develop solutions they also feel empowered to execute. Here are four ways to get started.

Sow the Seeds
Starting small allows you to set positive dynamics and accountability structures to develop a healthy client relationship step by step. With smaller projects, you can also get results as fast as possible before scaling up.

A notorious mistake in software development projects is to go directly to the development stage. A lack of understanding and subsequent planning can have fatal consequences for your business, including soaring project costs, delays in timelines, or the launch of a product that no one will use. Don't underestimate initial diagnosis: Analyze how much information you have and what you might need to investigate to better empathize with users and grasp the project goals.

Set Up a Dedicated Team
If you have a team dedicated to one project at a time, you can drive more focus and engagement over time. However, always make sure the team has all the nuts and bolts to make independent decisions for success.

We had to learn this the hard way: In the past, we did not share all the necessary information with the team involved in each project. For example, we didn't see the need for them to know the value of the contract. But over time, we realized how vital it was for them to have these insights to set up more accurate budgets, plan over a set amount of time, or even lead better client negotiations.

Communicate Frequently and Openly
Today, 83% of decision-makers say that better sharing and communication are crucial for software development organizations. Therefore, you should encourage the team to discuss their work and share their decisions candidly to ensure the team's alignment and a common focus on the business priorities.

Scrum and other agile methodologies give you many touchpoint opportunities to ensure everyone is on the same page. The ceremonies (daily, planning, retrospective, etc.) should become open spaces where everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts, difficulties, and suggestions. Accountability thrives when people are transparent and supportive: Problems are dissected, and everyone understands their impact and collectively comes up with the best next steps.

Give Ownership
For true accountability, let the team know they can push back on requirements if they see a better way of doing things, as long as clients' interests are taken into consideration. Each individual should feel safe and inspired to speak up, brainstorm, use tools like mood boards, and share feedback openly. The equation here is simple: information + commitment + decision-making powers = accountability.

It would be against the very principles of accountability for startups to embrace it by simply incorporating a set of rigid rules. Being accountable is all about finding what works best for everyone involved – and as a leader of your company, your task is to observe this over time and take the necessary steps to help your team succeed.