Here’s a scenario: there’s a particular outcome that needs to be achieved (a feature that needs to be built or a tough deadline) and when the person in charge (a Project Manager, Technical Lead, etc.) lays down the plan to achieve it, the team follows it almost blindly in spite of their guts telling them it’s a bad idea. When it comes to actually executing the plan, it fails and here’s why:
For a problem (X), someone tries to apply an approach (Y) to achieve an outcome (Z). To begin with, you are assuming that (Z) is perfectly understood by all parties and that you are starting from a common ground. You’d be surprised how often this is not the case.
(Y) is what we are all looking for: a simple “silver bullet” type answer that will save time and money. In reality, assuming that hierarchy means wisdom or more experience is a path to failure. On top of this, you boss’ personal experiences, points of view, generational influences and cultural customs are going to be different
(X), for people with a technical background, can be a common technical mistake (e.g. not following best practice). But (X) doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s always part of complex human systems that are always changing.
Managers get the short end of the stick every single day on social media. Just think of the last time you reposted a cartoon depicting the “bosses vs leader” comparison (where the first one is closer to a dictatorship and the second one more like an inspirational leader). These posts and and cartoons target our “Like” culture and provide no actual mechanism for anyone to improve. The goal behind this blog has always been to provide tools for people to improve on their work lives and in their relationships with their managers and peers. So to avoid falling into the X, Y and Z traps, here are some things you can do:
- Don’t sit and wait of your boss’ advise: if there’s something that needs to get done, take the bull by the horns and do it. But make sure you have a sound logic for the approach (Y) and that you have a plan you don’t get the right outcome (Z).
- Try to reach consensus. Even if you don’t agree with the plan, it might be possible that you can get enough information (by asking questions, getting context) to support the plan and help execute it
- Accept the fact that it might all be part of a bigger plan and your ability to influence things might not be real.
If you are on the other side of the game, here are a thoughts for you:
- As a manager, make an effort to provide as much effort and context as possible
- If the decision has been made and there’s no room for negotiation just make it clear this is the case to minimize frustrations
- If there’s room for a conversation, see my note about consensus on the previous list.
- Don’t provide direct answer to the problem. Remember that your experience is different and someone else could achieve the same outcome by taking the path less travelled.
- Ask what the logic for the approach is and what alternatives have been considered and discarded.
- You can’t be involved in every single detail of what you team is working on and letting one ball drop is not the end of the world.
- If you were wrong, take the punch on the chin and accept the fact that we are all human.
So to recap: no matter what problem you are trying to tackle, there’s no real silver bullet. Someone older or higher up the chain can’t give you a magical recipe to achieve an outcome just because of their seniority. Work on relationships in order to build trust and get all the information you need to make a decision
* This article assumes that everyone has a good relationship with your manager/boss/team lead/project manager. If this is not the case, then I recommend you start by trying to address that.