Is Agile Accountability an Oxymoron?

Added to People

Despite what some people may think, accountability and Agile are not mutually exclusive.


How does your organization incorporate accountability? Is it part of your organization’s value statement or part of your enterprise culture? Most companies and leaders I’ve worked with (Agile or otherwise) are not very good with accountability. Most are either too lenient (they rarely hold people responsible for their actions or inactions) or they are too micro-managing (they manage their team so closely that people are never given a chance to demonstrate ownership).

In its simplest form, accountability means that if I say I’ll do something, I do it. It is about accepting responsibility. Agile teams are not immune to accountability – to doing what they say they’ll do. A mature Agile mindset regularly demonstrates the characteristic of being accountable. Accountability is part of a healthy Agile culture. It is an individual responsibility, a team responsibility, and an enterprise responsibility. At the enterprise level, leadership must work at creating a culture of accountability and demonstrate that they expect people to hold themselves responsible, and will be intolerant of behavior, systems, and structures that don’t match those company values.

Individuals and Agile teams must also demonstrate accountability. So, what does that look like on Agile teams?

  • In addition to successful delivery, Agile teams need to be accountable for demonstrating progress on their Agile journey.
  • The Daily Stand-up helps make everyone accountable by providing visibility and transparency on work the team has agreed to do. It shows individual accountability to the team, and team accountability to the sprint commitment.
  • As servant leaders, Scrum Masters are accountable. They admit their mistakes openly and they are open and accountable to others for their role in the things that were not successful.
  • Team members are mutually accountable not only to each other for what they said they would do, but also for holding each other accountable to their team working agreement.

These are just a few ways Agile teams can demonstrate accountability. If accountability is a challenge where you are, begin with you as an individual. Behaviors are often contagious. When your fellow team members see you acting with a high degree of accountability, peer pressure kicks in and others will follow your example. When enough team members regularly demonstrate high levels of accountability, other teams will take notice and hopefully mimic this good behavior. Culture changes, such as accountability, don’t happen overnight. But culture change has to start somewhere. Why not start with yourself?


About the Author


Agile coach with Mindtree, passionate about the values and principles that make agility successful and sustainable. Hooked on all things Agile – whether at work or home. @AgileDK


This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They do not represent opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.