IT scapegoats and blame

Some folks avoid taking personal responsibility for their role in failed projects by shifting blame to innocent bystanders.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

Some folks avoid taking personal responsibility for their role in failed projects by shifting blame to innocent bystanders. IT failures blogger, Sarah Runge, dissects the scapegoat phenomenon with accurate insight (emphasis added):

This is often a sorry consequence of failed or derailed IT projects. Everyone is responsible for the project and no one is accountable for its outcomes. This issue will become even more apparent as the project progresses. Over a period of 1, 2 or 3 years people will either leave the organization/project or will otherwise forget who was actually accountable for having made the critical investment and planning decisions in the first place. So what can project sponsors do when they get that sinking feeling that an IT project is heading into deep waters? Hunt for scapegoats!

Unfortunately, organizations typically identify vendors, project managers and CIO’s as the obvious parties (read scapegoats) responsible for under-delivered and over-budget IT projects. In actuality, the causes generally lie in the camp of the C-Level, senior executives and presidents themselves. Why? Because strategic decisions to invest in IT systems are always made at the top level of an organization. They should instead be asking themselves where they messed up and analyze whether, why or how their IT investment and project decisions were under-analyzed, under-scoped, under-supported, under-communicated or under-trained.


In my opinion, people who create scapegoats are both dishonest and morally reprehensible.

If you work in an organization where senior management regularly shifts blame, I urge you to find another job! As they say, "from poison roots doth grow a bitter fruit." Well, I just made that up, but seriously, don't stay in a position where scapegoating is accepted practice. Life is too short to tolerate such nonsense.

If you're wrongly blamed for failure, consider the following advice. However, be careful to avoid over-alienating colleagues in your quest for truth, because that may increase your personal risk:

  • Dispassionately analyze your role. If you contributed to the problem, recognize it and learn from your mistakes.
  • Take the accuser aside to ascertain facts. Without anger or casting blame, work with this person to analyze the issues and understand his or her perspective. Be sure to maintain a productive, cooperative spirit in such conversations, hard as that may be. Talking is usually the best way to ease tensions.
  • Finally, let it go. Unless the issue is genuinely significant or your job is threatened, it may be wise to let it just settle down and go away naturally. Most likely, everyone will soon forget the whole thing. Don't hold a grudge or seek revenge!

Smart leaders use failed projects as a springboard to improve future performance. Lousy ones abdicate responsibility by ignoring negative political behavior that perpetuates cycles of failure. What kind of manager are you?

[Image from iStockphoto.]

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