The Upper Management Scapegoat

I am a member of several project management and Agile user groups in the Indianapolis area, including the Central Indiana Chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMICIC), AgileIndy and Agile Games. As such, I attend many different conferences, discussions and presentations associated with Agile, project management and leadership. I find these meetings to be extremely worthwhile, as I am typically able to take at least one pearl of wisdom from each meeting, no matter the subject matter. I find that the individuals who attend these meetings are eager to share their experiences, resources and offer advice.

While I enjoy most aspects of attending these user group sessions, I am puzzled by one consistent theme I have noticed, something I have termed the “Upper Management Scapegoat.” It unfolds as follows… an intelligent, capable and obviously engaged employee shares an experience from their own organization. This experience is typically associated with some sort of challenge that was met with a less than ideal response and resulted in a negative outcome. Well-meaning peers offer their hard earned advice, and are met with a blanket response by the original commenter that their suggestion couldn’t possibly work because of “Upper Management.”

It boggles my mind how an extremely bright and resourceful Individual, who is part of a community of like-minded practitioners, finds themselves resigned to the fate of their superiors. While I understand the logistical considerations in not have a culture among managers that fosters the values of Agile, it is our duty as members of the Agile community to overcome these obstacles. It’s important to recognize that even small changes can have profound impact.

My advice? Begin by identifying the things in your scope of influence that you can control. These might include bringing end users into more meetings, or including your customer in more decision points. Maybe you could start with having honest conversations around development estimates provided by your peers. It could be as simple as reviewing what went well and what didn’t go well after an increment of work. While most Agile methodologies have specific terms for these approaches and concepts, in most cases, there is nothing that prevents us from engaging in them without “official sanction.” Agile philosophy is rooted in so many different approaches, concepts and frames of reference. Small changes can have a huge impact and you don’t always need someone’s permission to implement them.

What are your thoughts on the Upper Management Scapegoat? Share your thoughts below!

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