Why Accountability does not make sense

Accountability? No sense

Hi guys, in this post I want to get your help to understand why 99% of our management does not have any clue how companies or people work. Some time ago I worked for a company that went through a big reorganization. At that time I was an agile coach and my role changed a lot. The new management clearly stated there was no space for coaches in that organization, instead we need development managers for each team and product. They mention there was a big problem with accountability and development managers would solve that problem, when I listen that I just wanted to cry, I could not believe how much clueless people can be.

During several months the company had problems in putting out a product with great quality and top management continuously blamed development teams for all these problems, but in reality every six to eight months they did perform huge changes to the environment not allowing any stable environment for people to work on. So with the new re organization new persons were putted in charged and some of them came up with the idea that all the problems were lack of accountability, their solution?

Put development managers in all teams to create accountability.

In their view accountability was the problem and putting a person there as manager would solve all the problems. At that time I did not know if I should cry or laugh of such lack of understanding of how systems works. At that time I offered my help in order to help a couple of teams to improve but my help was refused, all the help that teams should receive should come from development managers because they were the ones becoming accountable for teams success so they should take care of everything.

At that time I asked:

But are we changing something in the way how we work? What big changes are we doing in order to succeed this time?

And without no surprise of course they were not planning to change much, they expected just because they someone is accountable, something would change even if nothing in the system would change. This is where I see that most of the times putting people accountable for something and not changing the system around is purely stupidity. You can put there 1001 different persons that most probably the outcome will be the same, if the system does not change the outcome will not change no matter who is accountable so for me most of the times accountability is a pure joke.

And now you may think that these people could bring new ideas and new ways of working, but in reality these people were already in the company and they changed from Line Manager to Development Managers, now instead of being responsible for people they were responsible for the release of the product but all the rest was exactly the same. So my question is if they were not able to help people before how can they help them now? My answer: they cannot!!!.

A lot of companies and managers think that accountability is the solution to make things work but in reality accountability is kind of useless if you do not understand how the whole system works around you, and this is one of the biggest problems of nowadays management, they do not have any clue about system thinking. This is a crucial area that managers need to dominate otherwise they will never understand how to take their companies into the right direction.

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Leave a Comment

  1. Reply

    Hey Luis!

    i completely agree with your post, and i completely disagree with your headline.

    Group accountability is the natural outcome of a proper team with a solid purpose. They simply become and feel accountable for their software if everything goes well.
    You are right about individual accountability, that can’t work in a complex system since there is no way of predicting the right thing to do in advance.
    On the contrary, there is group accountability – where every individuum feels accountable for the whole system, including the work of their team mates – and it’s the perfect tool for complex problems. It allows you to identify opportunities in the fabric of the problem, not only in the parts of the problem.
    I strongly believe in the power of (group) accountability and i would never do without it.
    But, of course, just like motivation or happiness, it’s an outcome. You can’t simply assign accountability. But you can provide an environment where it can happen.


    • Gus
    • September 10, 2014

    It’s a quite common scenario Luis, what these people are looking for is not actually accountability but someone to blame. Have a look at the CYA manifesto (http://mysoftwarequality.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/the-cover-your-ass-manifesto/) and see if you recognise some of your colleagues in there. :-)
    I like your new site, keep up the good work!

    • Reply

      Thank you so much for your nice comment :) And yes I agree with you :) They are just covering their own ass…

    • Christine David
    • July 15, 2014

    Hi Luis,
    very interesting story not isolated at all! It seems that the company you are writing about is coming back to the old management and organization style, turning away from agility and going back to the old authoritarian model. I just fear that this might be the new trend.
    Does it mean that agility did not bring the fruits company management was expecting? Or maybe not quickly enough? Or does it simply mean that both sides do simply not understand each other?
    Obviously they did not know why the results were not as expected and they could not understand why. Analysis does not seem to be upper management’s strength… Accountability might only be the excuse for the non achieved results, the only explanation they found and a re-organization is the answer.
    Can it be that pathways to clear and effective communication were never found between upper management and agile teams? That would be the reason why upper management put those development managers in place to have partners who could answer their questions. I am not sure that any company found the way … yet.
    If management is not able to understand and communicate with their agile teams, then maybe the agile method should explain a way to make agile teams’ achievements and problems understandable on time (before tragic management decisions are taken)? Understanding each other is in anyrelationship essential, the smartest has to make the first move.

    • Reply

      Hi Christine,

      Thank you so much for your long comment. I believe the problem was much more complex :)

      The company did grow too fast, and management never understood how to do software in large scale, and they were not able to deliver what they should.

      Then they say they are Agile but they are far away of even understand what Agile means :)

      I was not able to help them as a should and therefore they never understood where the problems were.


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