Leadership

Talking Shop: Should a tech sabotage a project to preserve the IT department's reputation?

Would you sabotage a project to preserve the IT departments reputation?

Philip has been a support tech for the same company for more than five years. When he joined the company, the IT department consisted of him and his boss, the IT manager. Since then, the department has grown to include two more support techs and a network administrator. Although Philip’s official position is still support tech, since he's the tech with the most experience, he is often assigned development projects which, in the past, would have been handled by the IT manager. Philip welcomes the opportunity to extend his skill set, especially because the company is more than willing to pay for any training he may need.

Update: So what really happened?
To learn the outcome of the scenario outlined below and get a recap of the comments and suggestions given by TechRepublic members, click here.

Philip’s most recent project is a database conversion. For years, the quality control department has been using a database developed in Dbase. With each OS and NOS upgrade, maintaining and supporting this archaic database has become increasingly burdensome to the IT department, and on several occasions the IT manager had informed the quality control manager that the database needed to be replaced. But until recently, the quality control manager showed absolutely no interest in giving the dying database any attention—she could see no reason to spend money on a replacement while the IT department was still able to make it run and it met her needs.

However, just weeks ago, she received the new specifications for an external audit that would occur at the end of the year, which was just three months away. The existing database wasn't capable of providing the data in the format required. The quality control manager called an emergency meeting with her boss, the IT manager, and his boss to discuss how to proceed. The internal dynamics of the meeting aren't known, but the end result is that Philip, the support tech, has been given the task of converting the database from Dbase to Microsoft Access—a task that he welcomes and feels able to handle, even within the necessary time restraints.

Due to the urgency of the project, Philip is temporarily relieved of all of his other duties. Everything is going well until part way into the project, when the IT manager asks Philip for a progress report. Philip reports that the project is going well. He is working closely with the quality control manager to ensure that the new database will meet her needs for the impending audit.

Expecting praise for his progress, Philip is shocked when the IT manager starts to complain about the project. He reveals to Philip that during the meeting to discuss the fate of the old database, he had argued against his department being given the task of performing the conversion—he instead recommended that the quality control manager assume full responsibility for the project and engage the services of an external consultant. The reason? The IT manager feared failure.

It became apparent to Philip that his boss didn't believe that anyone in the IT department could successfully convert the database to meet the needs of the audit. Despite Philip’s attempt to reassure his boss, the IT manager asks Philip if it would be possible for him to make the project fail, but to do so in such a way that it would appear to be the fault of the quality control manager incorrectly defining the specs, rather than the IT department’s inability to implement them.

Philip is shocked and doesn't know how to respond. He has always had a deep respect for his boss’s integrity and has been fiercely loyal to him even in the face of criticism from the rest of the company. But now, his boss is exhibiting a complete lack of faith in Philip’s abilities and is asking him to damage the reputation of another employee. And he is also asking Philip to sabotage a project into which he has poured all of his energies for weeks.

If you were in Philip’s situation, what would you do? Would you follow the IT manager’s instructions to preserve your relationship with him? But at what cost to your personal integrity? Would you take the matter to HR, your manager’s boss, or the quality control manager and risk betraying your boss? What proof do you have? Can you even consider continuing to work for such a manager?

We want to hear what you have to say!
You can submit your ideas either by e-mail or by posting a discussion item at the end of this column. A week after the publication of a scenario, we'll pull together the most interesting solutions and common themes from the discussion. We'll later present them with the situation's actual outcome in a follow-up article. You may continue to add discussion items after the week has elapsed, but to be eligible for inclusion in the follow-up article, your suggestions must be received within a week of the scenario's publication.

Tech believes manager tampered with user-satisfaction survey results
Here's a summary of your responses to a previous column that detailed a tech’s suspicions concerning his boss’s integrity in handling a user-satisfaction survey.

Despite more than 60 e-mail and discussion posts, there was no clear consensus as to how, or even if, the tech should proceed. From the respondents who believed that Jenny should do something, the following suggestions were made:
  • Fully document all findings and make a report to the IT manager’s boss and/or HR.
  • Independently survey the users by casually asking trusted users how they feel about the service they are receiving from the IT department. If this information doesn't correspond with the results of the survey, pass this information on to the IT manager’s boss and/or HR.
  • Do nothing this year, but start working toward instigating a survey process for next year that does not involve the IT department. This could be accomplished by addressing the issue directly with the IT manager. “[I would] write a memo to my manager saying that people had called in to question the results of the survey," wrote JimHM, "and that from my research to solve this issue, the next survey should be handled by outsourc[ing]...the collection and analytics. And here are three firms that would handle it for this cost, delivering XYZ reports.”
  • Directly confront the IT manager, but use a positive approach. "Point out the fact that the results seem too good considering the difficult times experienced," Daniel.Muzrall wrote, "and present [the idea of using the survey results to justify increasing the IT department’s resources]...preferably before the skewed results get passed on to upper management.”

Although it might be out of the range of the tech’s sphere of influence, several readers advocated instituting a user-feedback mechanism independent of the IT department. “Integrity of the data, the analysis, and the methodology is critical to the value of this survey," Ken Murphy wrote. "The IT department should not be involved at all—IT has a conflict of interest.”

Simon Morley  reported that his company implemented just such a mechanism by sending “out electronic surveys with every closure from the ticketing system. These surveys are sent to a DB controlled by the customer advocate—he is in a different department with a different manager. That way, we have no conflict of interest and the results are viewed with less skepticism.”

Some respondents advocated doing nothing because they felt that if the users really were as dissatisfied as the tech believed, eventually the truth would be made known to the IT manager’s superiors. Others reported actual incidents in which such survey tampering occurred, and the IT manager was promoted as a result. Still others voiced suspicion at the tech’s motivation, believing that she simply wanted to make her boss look bad.

Finally, we are reminded by member Oldefar “that perception is reality,” and whatever the tech decides to do or not to do, she must be prepared to deal with the fact that her boss is perceived as being the expert. Attempting to change that perception—which is considered reality—could very well cost her a job.
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