Kapos in the Corporate Labyrinth: Navigating the Hierarchy in Agile Development

Disclaimer: This article is purely intended for informational and professional purposes. It aims to contribute to discussions surrounding the roles within Agile software development teams and other stakeholders. The metaphorical characterizations used herein are strictly for illustrative purposes and in no way intended to offend anyone or downplay any role’s importance in a project or organization. I apologize if the use of a term associated with painful moments in human history offends anyone.


Navigating the Agile Universe often means interacting with a wide spectrum of personalities and roles – spanning development teams to external stakeholders. Many companies are making the shift from traditional project management roles, ushering in new figures like Scrum Masters and Product Owners. This evolution transforms the corporate landscape, but hierarchical structures invariably endure.

Whether you’re a Product Owner, Project Manager, or find yourself in an intermediate role, traversing this shifting corporate terrain can be daunting. Among the characters you might encounter on this journey is the “Kapo.”

What is a “Kapo” in the Agile Universe?

Historically, Kapos were prisoners in Nazi concentration camps assigned administrative roles. Drawing inspiration from Art Spiegelman’s masterful graphic novel, Maus, a “Kapo” in a software development context becomes a team member promoted to a managerial position due to affinity with higher-ups, not on merit.

Identifying “Kapos”

A “Kapo” diverges significantly from the servant-leader archetype. Their alignment is more towards a “chain of command” management style, where the primary function is to ensure smooth, unquestioning transmission of orders down the chain.

Maus by Art Spiegelman "A Survivor's Tale"
Maus by Art Spiegelman “A Survivor’s Tale”

Handling Kapos: Practical Tips

  1. Diplomacy: Master effective communication in the presence of a middleman. Bypassing the chain of command, however, could risk stepping on toes.
  2. Create safe spaces to communicate: Such environments cannot be assumed in every company or project we engage with.
  3. Communicate Effectively: Address concerns directly and professionally. Try to find common ground where both parties can agree, and build from there.
  4. Influence Through Empathy: Try to understand their motivations and concerns. This understanding can help you tailor your communication and influence strategy.
  5. Promote Transparency: Encourage a culture of transparency within your team.
  6. Use Data and Facts: Base your arguments on data and facts. This approach can help neutralize personal biases.
  7. Leverage Escalation Channels: If a Kapo is creating significant roadblocks, consider using formal escalation channels.
  8. Focus on the Mission: Keep the focus on the project’s mission and the value it will bring to the organization.

Evaluate Your Options

Ultimately, we all want to work in a healthy, respectful and productive environment. If you feel like you’re in a constant battleground, it might be time to reassess your situation.


Self-reflection is also key. Are we, knowingly or unknowingly, becoming an obstacle to the team? Are we adding an unnecessary step to the hierarchical ladder, diluting the value stream in the chain of command?

Navigating the corporate labyrinth is all about recognizing our roles and those of others, and finding ways to tread successfully for the team, the project, and ultimately, the customer’s benefit.

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