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I'm frustrated with my work in the last months and not sure if it's time to start searching for a new job or at least try to transfer to another team or not. Are there other options?

My boss blames me repeatedly for things which aren't in my scope. E.g. something is not prioritized by the Product Owner although I signal to them that the change is important and not implementing it will have a negative impact. I'm the head of dev team. When the negative impact appears I hear: "Why haven't you implemented that?! It speaks negatively about you that you didn't" from my boss. I explain that it was a Product Owner's decision that we shouldn't work on that. (We are trying to follow an orthodox scrum). It was in writing, so it's even easy to prove. And I hear that I should know better.

Or he says he will lead a topic within my project. He participates in and leads all the meetings on the topics. I participate as a support. Then a decision taken during the meeting results to have some negative consequences. And I hear: "I understood from you that it was ok", although it was him taking the decision, not me. Frequently these decisions are taken against my explicit warnings, but: he's the boss, he decides.

I'm frustrated by these constant comments and losing my motivation every day more. I've tried asking him explicitly about my responsibilities but he contradicts himself. He says I shouldn't do more than the tasks assigned to me and then that I'm responsible for everything that happens on the project, although we also have a project manager and all the scrum roles and I have no power over other roles. I am pro-active, which he himself acklowledges, I'm signaling issues and risks, trying to convince people when needed, but I can't be held resonsible for everybody else's decisions. Unless I'm made into the Project Manager. But then it should be communicated to everybody.

It's my second boss on the same project. With the previous one we had a role division we tried to stick to. I wasn't happy with everything but I didn't feel bullied.

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    Are there any negative consequences like bad performance review? For me your bosses words from the examples you gave sound like words of frustration that things didn't go well, but not necessarily blaming you directly for that.
    – Dmitrii Z.
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 11:16
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    @DmitriiZ., my first performance review with this boss is due in a few months. For now, it's just my feeling totally unhappy about work.
    – user53297
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 11:21
  • @user53297 - Sounds like you should sit down today and request a preliminary review. This way you understand, if your performance is actually being effected, or if the boss is just stressed with the situation they have been dealt.
    – Donald
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 16:52
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    What exactly is your question, here? It's pretty clear that the situation sucks, and you've explained it pretty well, but what's your question?
    – Ben Barden
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 19:39
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    @BenBarden: The question "Are there other options?" In other words: "Can I do something to change the situation or can I only remove myself from the sitation? If there is something, what?"
    – Make42
    Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 19:17

5 Answers 5

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Well, quite frankly, you said you are following orthodox Scrum. But you don't.

You have a manager making decisions, you have a dev lead supposed to make decisions and you have a project manager. All roles that do not exist in Scrum.

My best guess is you had a hierarchical organisation once and then someone came along and told you Scrum works better. And then you "did Scrum". Except that you didn't. You kept the manager. You kept the dev lead. You kept the project manager. That's like giving your horse drawn carriage a combustion engine, but still leaving the horses tacked in the front, because you couldn't bring yourself to tell the horses and the driver that they aren't needed in a motor vehicle.

So you aren't actually doing Scrum. And one symptoms of that is that you are confused, why your boss expects things of you, that should be other people's responsibility in Scrum. Well... they would be, if your jobs would cease to exist and you would actually do Scrum. As long as all those people cling to their old jobs, nothing will change, you have not changed to Scrum, you have just added an additional layer that maybe does Scrum, which is confusing to say the least. I mean with all those bosses above them, how is the Product Owner ever going to make meaningful decisions for their Product?

Maybe you could start with yourself. Describe what your job responsibilities are. If you are doing Scrum by the book, there should be nothing left for you to actually lead meaningfully. If you have multiple Scrum teams you might grow into some kind of cross-team architectural role, but that would not be a leadership position. If your company employs so many Scrum teams that their paperwork alone (hiring/firing/approving leaves) is enough work for one person, you might actually be titled "Manager development" correctly, but then you would have nothing to do with actual development or project management.

So sit down a quit break and ask yourself: what is your job after transitioning to Scrum?

Your boss certainly has not transitioned to Scrum. They still act as if you are the "development lead" of old. In a way, that is hardly surprising, considering you are, at least by name.

For your boss to successfully take part in Scrum, you will need to fill your roles with meaningful responsibilities. Normally, dev lead and project manager will become obsolete with Scrum (not neccessarily what they do, the work still needs to be done, but the actual job title).

Either you come up with new responsibilities and write them down and discuss and agree upon them with your boss... or you will need to integrate into the Scrum framework. Or it will stay as it is now, confusing and frustrating for everybody.

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    Well, yeah, obviously you would have problems with a PO, since they are responsible for parts of the job that a dev lead normally does. There is no dev lead in Scrum. If you have a dev lead in your company, then either you aren't doing Scrum and your PO is frustrated, or you are doing Scrum and the dev lead is frustrated. May I ask what your role is defined as? What do you do as a dev lead?
    – nvoigt
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 17:41
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    no dev lead in scrum? that's new to me. unless you're using "dev lead" as different from "technical lead". In my world "dev lead" = "technical lead" and neither is the same as "dev manager".
    – davidbak
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 1:13
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    @davidbak There is no technical lead in Scrum either.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 5:28
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    @nvoigt - Whether it's a strictly defined role or not, there is, in almost every instance of Scrum, at least a de facto tech lead and a de facto PO. There's always going to be someone leading the development of a feature or one dev that just knows the product best. At the same time, a PO is essentially whoever from the business is pushing for the feature. Sure, these roles might be filled by the same or different people with different titles but they always exist, at least in my experience, in a de facto capacity, even if they don't exist on the org chart. That being said, your answer is good. Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 10:22
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    I would hope there is no "de facto" PO, but instead an actual PO by job title and work they do. On the other hand, I have worked in three companies and 5 different Scrum teams, none of which had a tech lead. I would consider a "de facto" tech lead a major dysfunction of a Scrum team.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 10:25
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Your boss is blaming you for decisions that he made against your explicit warnings. That's really all you have to know to actually understand the situation.

As far as assigning blame goes, your boss doesn't care what is and is not your role. He doesn't care what you actually did or did not do. He doesn't want to hear that the decision was made by someone else because you're here, and you're hierarchically under him. He wants to be able to blame someone else when things go wrong, and as you are his subordinate, he'd prefer to blame you.

Basically, him blaming you is a power play that he uses to make himself feel better and assure himself that it's not his fault. He doesn't want you to do any more than your tasks because, as your boss, he doesn't want you to do more than your tasks. He wants to assign 100% of the resources you have allotted for work to finishing the tasks that he needs you to finish. On the flip side, he asserts that you're responsible for everything, because if you're not responsible for everything then there are things that he can't blame you for, and he wants to be able to blame you for everything that might possibly go wrong.

It might not just be that. It's possible that this is some sort of a backwards effort to browbeat you into becoming a magical creature who will ensure that the project succeeds gloriously without problems while not ever admitting to him that you're doing more than your assigned tasks (and therefore not being able to take credit for doing any more than your assigned tasks, so that he, instead, can take credit for all of that success as a result of inspired leadership). If so, it's probably not something he's doing consciously. As @FreeMan points out, he may also be trying to set you up as a scapegoat to sacrifice in case someone from higher comes looking... though that one's more likely to be at least somewhat conscious. It's possible that it's both.

Regardless, this is not a healthy relationship, and your boss doesn't want it to be a healthy relationship. If it were a healthy relationship, he'd have to stop blaming you for things that aren't actually your fault, and he likes being able to do that.

So...What's your question?

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    It's also possible that the boss is setting the OP up to be the scapegoat for when his bosses come to him asking why the project failed, was late, whatever. It's always best to get decisions in writing, and if they're made verbally, to put them in writing in an email to all involved - "Hey team, here's a summary of the decisions made in the meeting earlier today, if any corrections are necessary, let me know ASAP, otherwise, we'll move with this." The boss is playing CYA, OP might as well, too.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 15:46
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    @FreeMan Yes, except that with what you propose, the subordinate is not submitting to the scapegoat role and is openly challenging and (implicitly) threatening the boss by laying out the facts openly where he can no longer be the scapegoat but it is also very clear who is. Even if he is right, he may very well lose. This can easily backfire. Cover your bases. It is not always about who is right but who is better friends with whom. Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 7:07
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Not ideal.

I think the best you can do, is to call it out directly when it's happening and refer back to your previous "role and responsibility" discussion.

Example: "Hey, boss the product owner wants to XXX but I think that's not a good idea and YYY what be better because ABC. This is one the cases we talked about: I can as asked by the Owner or I can do YYY anyway, but this will have some impact on resources. What do you want me to do?"

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  • and put everyone in copy (including the product owner, maybe even later the boss even above if it does not work)
    – gazzz0x2z
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 12:48
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    While I agree that it will solve this person's problem, if they actually did this, I can see the Product Owner with a post here on how they are not able to do their job properly anymore and how this is frustraing and confusing :)
    – nvoigt
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 13:08
  • Hilmar, I actually did that in the past. As mentioned in my post, I can prove that I suggested everything he blames me for not happening. I understand the clue of your advice is to do it the moment it's happening, but judging by what has happened so far when I did that, he won't reply. Then he will blame me and if I bring up that I brought that before he ignore that and tell me I'm being defensive.
    – user53297
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 13:39
  • @user53297 "Hey team, here are the decisions taken at the 10am meeting today. If I've got anything wrong, let me know and I'll issue a corrected email. Otherwise, we'll move with this." Then, if he doesn't respond, it's acceptance. If he tries blaming you, just bring the email with you. Of course, this is confrontational and will likely end poorly for you, but if it goes over his head (you may have to take it there), you're covered.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 15:50
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It sounds to me like you need to put your foot down. Regardless of whether what your team is doing fits the definition of scrum or not, your current role is as Development Lead and sometimes that means taking a strong stance against decisions that will negatively impact the product.

It seems clear that what your boss wants is for you to weigh in more heavily on decision making at the top level. If you have to argue for long periods of time against someone trying to make a bad decision, then so be it. It will be much harder to be blamed for not doing what is right after an hour or two of you saying no while outlining all of the reasons not to take a course of action.

Since you are the most senior technical employee on your team it is your job, and obligation to your company, to ensure that the technical course being taken is sound. Likely your boss would be much happier with your performance even if you vehemently disagreed with them about technical direction. Just so long as you have good reason and back it up.

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  • This is definitely the case if the things the Product Owner is not prioritizing are needed technical rework. You should be routinely doing a certain amount of incremental rework as a matter of course, and that is not a product decision. If your Product Owner has not matured sufficiently to understand that, you shouldn't include that in the list for their prioritization. That is orthodox Scrum, as it's an immediate consequence of the "product owner chooses stories" and "devs decide the tasks" structure.
    – Adam Burke
    Commented Dec 16, 2021 at 0:36
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It sounds like it's time to polish up your resume and start interviewing

Sounds like the boss is a person who reflexively* blames others for outcomes, not for wrongdoing. This is emotionally abusive behavior, and it sounds like it's taking its toll on you. I'd definitely start looking for another job. Up to you what your personal red line is, but it sounds like it may have already been crossed.

*Or it may be deliberate manipulation rather than a personality failing. Either way it's abuse.

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