Chapter 59. On Accountability

Jason Wong

Accountability comes up a lot when talking about engineering organizations. Everyone wants to know how to hold engineers accountable. In my exploration of this topic with folks, I’ve found that the term accountability means something different to everyone. There are some folks who use accountability to mean an ability to explain. There’s a slightly larger set of people who use accountability when they really mean ownership. And then, there are a large number of organizations that use accountability to mean a mechanism to blame and punish people when they “don’t perform.”

This topic is difficult because discussions on accountability so often originate from an implicit, forgone conclusion. Something is going wrong at my company, let me roll out some accountability measures to prove that X team is not doing their job. Accountability becomes an externalization mechanism that very conveniently directs a leader’s problems outward rather than inward, skipping over the people with the most influence on an outcome: the leaders.

I talk a lot about the importance of alignment and contextualizing problems in my management practice. The idea is that communication is key, as is building narratives around why a project is important for the company and why it should matter to my engineers. The idea is that you can avoid a whole host of problems just ...

Get 97 Things Every Engineering Manager Should Know now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.