Your boss is not an excuse to suck

A while ago I had a meeting with some folks regarding an engineering effort.  In this meeting we ran the full engineering gamut; addressing the user needs, use cases, design patterns, scope of responsibilities, etc… and came up with a fairly respectable plan.

Toward the end of this meeting we discussed time frames and pieces of code to develop when someone said the fateful words, “Well, this all sounds nice but we are under a time crunch and our boss has expectations that this will all be done by x-time frame.”  He argued to eliminate the creation of various build tasks that would allow us to reproduce the code fast per each version change.

While on the one hand I completely understand the wisdom of appeasing your supervisor, but your boss is not an excuse to throw away professionalism.  As software engineers we have to be professionals.  Part of that professionalism is to help lead your manager into understanding the value of the various engineering decisions you come up with.  If you believe that a plan was valuable, you have a responsibility to sell that to your boss.  If your boss doesn’t like the plan, let HIM be the person who tells you not to venture down various roads.  Don’t throw away best practices because of a time frame, or you think your boss won’t like it.  Instead, educate those who are in charge of the value of doing something.  If that doesn’t work, try selling them on the cost of NOT doing it.  What seems so very obvious to you may not be at all obvious to your boss.

Part of selling your ideas are to put them in terms that make sense to your boss.  We have to meet people where they are at.  There is no silver bullet for this, but you have to find a way to communicate.  I have personally found that images have worked out well for this.  Try drawing out the problem on a white board so they can visually SEE the issue.  Another way I have found that works well is to put it in other terms; building a car, building a house, mowing a yard, etc…  many of the tasks we do aren’t as dissimilar as it may seem.

Part of the issue might be that your boss can’t see the problem at all.  If you were managing 2 people and you asked them to go harvest 15 acres of land in a single day by hand… it’s pretty darn obvious that it won’t likely happen.  If your supervisor has a crisis of perception it’s now become your responsibility to help him understand.  Depending on your seniority, you may likely be the only person who understands the ramifications of those decisions.

Lead others to see the world through your eyes.

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Comments

  • Willie Wheeler  On January 31, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    I agree with this post. The first thing is that people aren’t always as good as they think they are at predicting what their boss will think. Secondly, a good manager will not only welcome but expect team members to raise issues that the manager doesn’t see. At each level of the organization there are inherent breadth/depth tradeoffs, so the discussion has to take place in order for the best decisions to be made.

    My favorite example of this was a situation in which a mission-critical system went down because it simply ran out of disk. The people in charge of keeping the system running simply assumed that they couldn’t ask for more disk because the direction from above was to do a better job accounting for current disk usage before asking for more disk. But I can guarantee you that if they would have said “your choice is between better accounting right now or system availability right now”, the choice would have been the latter. But people just assumed they understood what the boss wanted.

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