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My manager is currently involved in a special project that I believe is doomed for failure. I know of numerous hurdles that are pretty much impossible to overcome at our level. I've tried to express them to him, but he's gung ho and charging forward. I know I've got a lot of knowledge he could use but ultimately the program will fail (I believe it to my core). I've kind of just pulled back and not really helped and I know he's kind of wondering why. Whenever he asks for my opinion I tell him the hard issues that we're not addressing and he just glosses over them. Any advice?

bflynn's picture

Advice given candidly and perhaps too bluntly - get in step soldier.

You have registered your doubt. Now your job is to support your boss to the best of your ability. You accomplish nothing by your non-support other than the possibility of being named a scapegoat for not putting your full weight behind the project.

When you doubt a project, then don't support the project, you look selfish. You look like you believe yourself to be smarter than your boss. Regardless of whether this might be true, it makes you look like a jerk. Paraphrasing Ben Franklin, doubt a little of your own infallibility. Are you [i]sure[/i] you're that smart?

First - apologize to your boss for not supporting him. Then step up and work your butt off for the project's success. Don't keep repeating your doubt, you'll be beating a dead horse. When those hard issues come up, be the first to step up to solve them and NEVER say "I told you so". When you express doubt, then step up to solve those doubts, you look mature and professional.

Your choice.

Brian

jhack's picture

I'll second Brian's advice.

You could offer to prepare a Risk Mitigation Plan for the project, as you've obviously given this some thought.

When you present problems or risks, you should always be prepared with a set of options and possible solutions.

John

tplummer's picture

I have issues when I bring up real problems that will tank the program and I get the "don't worry about that" with no risk management or hint of how we'll handle it. I akin it to a general stating to cross a river and the officer under him saying, Sir we need boats or a bridge, the river is too deep to cross by foot. And he says, don't worry about that, just cross it.

Isn't there some point where a subordinate is required to say whoa? Or as the subordinate are we to issue a concern and then follow orders without fail? Also, it's hard to put your heart into a project when you believe it won't succeed.

Right now I think the best thing for me to do would be to in private voice my concerns and why I don't think the project will succeed and then recommend I not work it because of my conflict. At that point he can require I help or accept my differences and let me work on another project.

Conflicted.

akinsgre's picture

It's certainly difficult to be in a situation where you feel like you have no opportunity for success.

In the end, though, you'll need to understand what is expected and what your definition of failure will mean to your boss. He may not be that stupid, and may know that a partial success/failure is acceptable.

He may not be willing to discuss this with you because you appear unwilling to help. Perhaps you need to discuss where you can help, rather than where you'll fail.

You could talk to your boss to find out why these risks aren't as significant to him? Maybe you need to find his objectives, and whether he is measuring success the same way you think he should be.

[quote="skinny0ne"]I have issues when I bring up real problems that will tank the program and I get the "don't worry about that" with no risk management or hint of how we'll handle it. I akin it to a general stating to cross a river and the officer under him saying, Sir we need boats or a bridge, the river is too deep to cross by foot. And he says, don't worry about that, just cross it.
[/quote]
Maybe the general knows something you don't? Maybe the enemy will capitulate as soon as your forces indicate they're willing to cross?

Maybe the general expects you to swim?

[quote="skinny0ne"]
Isn't there some point where a subordinate is required to say whoa? Or as the subordinate are we to issue a concern and then follow orders without fail? Also, it's hard to put your heart into a project when you believe it won't succeed.
[/quote]
If you were committed to trying your hardest to complete this project, and one of your subordinates began "not contributing" because they thought it would fail, how would you respond?
[quote="skinny0ne"]
Right now I think the best thing for me to do would be to in private voice my concerns and why I don't think the project will succeed and then recommend I not work it because of my conflict. At that point he can require I help or accept my differences and let me work on another project.

Conflicted.[/quote]
Will you send me your manager's email address, so I can submit my resume right after you do this?

Good luck.

jhack's picture

No one on the forum doubts that there are serious risks here.

The issue is how you respond.

I'll reiterate: saying that there's a problem without providing at least two or three possible solutions is not constructive. Your boss needs you to be a problem solver, not a critic.

akinsgre is also spot on about one more thing: failure is one form of success. Look up the case study on Sony's development of the Walkman. It was impossible. They failed over and over. And it became one of the most successful consumer products in history.

John

tplummer's picture

Good debate. Of course it's not black and white as this. I do know I should have handled the whole situation better from the start. For the moment, let's assume that as the subordinate that I have a lot of detailed knowledge of the project. Let's also assume I'm an A player. Big assumptions since you don't know me! Now let's flip the table and be manager and see what we can learn from this situation.

If an employee has genuine risks and issues with project. Don't just sweep them under the table. Don't just say we'll handle them later. Talk to them and really try to work out the issues and try to take their input seriously, especially when you really need their help to be successful. Be open and honest. And, sometimes there are roadblocks and sometimes as the boss you have to go with the final option of "because I said so". But first try to build consensus. A willing team where people feel included will do much better than a forced team.

To amplify more on my position, in the very beginning I did try to be a team member and work it. But after several discussions about my concerns I realized my boss wasn't taking my risks seriously. At that point I should have had a one-on-one discussion and have the conversation I stated earlier. I'm not worried about being fired. Our company doesn't work that way.

Thanks for the inputs!

jhack's picture

You raised the issues. Did you provide solution options? It's easy to be a critic (and many of the best technical people are also strong critics, especially of the folks one or two levels up).

"A" types typically have lots of detailed knowledge of projects and technology. Do you also have detailed knowledge of the firm's strategy? Of negotiations with key customers or prospects? Potential merger or acquisition activity? Upcoming restructurings?

Basically, are you absolutely certain that this is a pointless exercise leading to failure no matter what?

If you are convinced that:
1. you are being asked to commit career suicide by working on a death march project,
2. your boss is clueless about risks and comfortable with failure,
3. this project, even in failure, would have no redeeming value,
4. you will learn nothing and not grow in your career...
...why are you not looking for a more professional work environment?

John

shirgall's picture

One way to approach a dead end project is to turn it into a learning experience. Make sure you extract the most value for yourself and the company so that mistakes will not be made again. There are companies that deliberately try new things and "fail fast" to learn about new areas. Heck, when trying totally new things, you have to expect to fail on a few things.

RichRuh's picture

[quote]I'm not worried about being fired. Our company doesn't work that way. [/quote]

Try looking at this with a Mark & Mike matrix:

1. Boss succeeds without your help
Oh, my. You've just been branded as uncooperative, perhaps even lazy. Forget about being a part of the next great initiative. You may not be fired, but you're going to be "taking out the garbage" for a while now. You lose.

2. Boss fails without your help
You're not a team player. You may not get fired, but you'll never advance either. If your boss gets fired, nobody is going to promote the naysayer. You lose, but at least you have the satisfaction of being right.

3. Boss succeeds with your help
You're part of a winning team, and your boss helps you with your future goals. Win-win.

4. Boss fails with your help
Your boss is grateful that you tried. If your boss gets fired, you're at least seen as a team player who gave it his best.

This doesn't mean close your eyes and shout "rah-rah". But after raising your concerns, get on board.

Unless, of course, being right is more important to you than success.

--Rich

tplummer's picture

Thanks again for all your inputs. It's definitely changing my view a bit. I definitely should have handled it better. I should have been open and honest from the start and then worked it out from there. Big lesson learned on my part. And I like the M&M quad way of looking at it. Definitely shows there was probably more upside or at least it wasn't as bad as I was thinking it was.

As to the question of did I offer solutions to the problems? No. That was the point. I had no solutions. So, when I state the issues and I have no solutions, my boss doesn't, and other team members don't, and yet you're told to effectively ignore it, that's when I got cold to the project.

Just to tone down the discussion a bit, we're using very absolute terms like fired, or career ending, not a team player, etc. It's not that big. I'll probably get dinged a bit this year but I'm cool with that. Plus, I've managed to work several other important things that occurred at the same time for him and had my share of successes that I probably wouldn't have if I diverted 25-50% of my time to his project. He's already given me an award for something else I did. So, did I lose a few points? Yes. Did I kill our relationship? No.

RichRuh's picture

[quote]
Just to tone down the discussion a bit[/quote]

Always a good thing. Glad it was helpful, and sorry to get all riled up. :)

--Rich

bflynn's picture

[quote="skinny0ne"]So, did I lose a few points? Yes. Did I kill our relationship? No.[/quote]

Great way to look at it. Tell your boss - I'm sorry, I didn't have my head on straight about this project. I still think there are significant issues with its eventual success. What can I do to help?

Team player, humility, willingness to learn, open minded. I think this is one of those cases where technical correctness has to take a back seat to teamwork. If you're not part of the project, you will never get credit for your foresight. You probably do correctly see some significant issues, but you need help to solve them. You don't have to do them on your own.

Brian

WillDuke's picture

Skinny,

I'm trying to figure out how to say this nicely, but everyone else did too, and I think you're missing it. You're overstepping your bounds.

If your manager asks you to do something you do it. (Unless it's unethical or illegal.) This doesn't sound like it's unethical or illegal, you just don't think it will work. You let your boss know your concerns. That's good. Your boss heard you. Your boss wanted to proceed anyway.

Your position of not contributing at this point is untenable. If you worked for me I'd be getting rid of you.

thaGUma's picture

...what Will said. AND if you are good at your job come up with mitigation proposals to bring into play when your predictions come to fruition.
Do not play a part in hastening that failure even through inaction - it will only reflect badly on you.

On a side point, there have been many projects 'doomed' to fail only to be brought off by good leader with good managment and a good team. Don't be a nay-sayer. Chris.

tplummer's picture

[quote="WillDuke"]Skinny,

Your position of not contributing at this point is untenable. If you worked for me I'd be getting rid of you.[/quote]

Thanks for your insight. I feel bad for your people. WillDuke, please take your comments to another thread. I'm not interested in a flame war.

ccleveland's picture

Tom,

[b]BLUF:[/b] [u]You[/u] need to decide which of your actions will best benefit the company.

[b]On one hand:[/b]
[quote]There is nothing as difficult and as expensive, but also nothing as futile, as trying to keep a corpse from stinking. –Drucker[/quote]
What would really happen if you didn’t contribute all your effort into this “doomed project”? As you said, you’ve lost a few points. It seems that this project isn’t critical to your organization or business. Is time better spent elsewhere? Are you willing to take the heat of not helping [u]because you were working on other, more effective tasks[/u]?

While I like the idea of Rich’s 2x2 matrix, the “consequences” are biased towards helping the project. There could be other less severe and more likely possibilities as well. Also, the consequences don’t take into account the “opportunity cost.” What other successes can you be working on instead of this project and how will that affect your relationship with your boss?

[b]On the other hand:[/b]
Based only on what you’ve posted here, if I were your boss, and you “recommended” that you were removed from a project because of your “conflicts” [u]after[/u] I asked you to keep pushing forward, I would consider late stage coaching.

I don’t think Will was trying to start a flame war. It seemed to me, he was trying to make a dramatic point that you may have missed from the other’s comments: your actions appear to be insubordinate behavior. “Get in step soldier,” “…send me your manager’s email…, so I can submit my resume,” etc.

I understand that your descriptions are all out of context. However, thinking “my boss can’t be right, I can’t be wrong” is going to get you into trouble sooner or later. You’re much better off recognizing that your boss has a different perspective. He intends to make the project happen. You need to figure out where you fit into [u]his[/u] vision.

Best of luck. Please let us know how it goes!

CC

stephenbooth_uk's picture

I've been in similar situations before. What I've found to be best is to document your concerns discuss your concerns with your boss and document that you've had the discussion (starting off the discussion with an email along the lines of "I have some concerns about project XYZ that I'd like to discuss with you. My concerns are..." can be good) then, if they still want to go ahead, give it as much effort as you would if you had total confidence in the project.

That way if it works you're a hero because you saved the doomed project but if it fails you're the team player who correctly predicted the problems but gave it your best shot.

Stephen