Our Aug. 12, 2003, installment of “What would you do?” presented the story of Jane, a support tech stuck in the middle of a conflict between the marketing VP and a team of consultants. An IT project instigated by the VP, without the involvement of the IT department, ran into technical difficulties. Jane, the tech assigned to the project under the direction of the VP’s secretary, has a solution to the problem but doesn't know how, or even if, to implement her solution. Jane asked for advice from TechRepublic members on how to best proceed.
As always, members were happy to share advice on how to resolve the issue and avoid such situations in the future.
TechRepublic members offer advice
The vast majority of respondents agreed that for the sake of the project, her company, herself, and the consultants, Jane must make some attempt to implement her solution. The question of whom to approach to make this happen, however, was a matter of some dispute. Most responses fell into one of four categories on this issue:
- Involve the IT manager, Jane’s boss, because he should be the one to make the decision.
- Quietly pass the solution on to the consultants.
- Present the solution to the VP and/or the project manager (the VP’s secretary).
- Present the solution, via e-mail, simultaneously to the IT manager, the VP, the project manager, and the consultants.
Go to the IT manager first
Proponents of involving the IT manager, only briefly mentioned by Jane, expressed the view that the manager is probably better positioned to make a more informed decision than Jane.
Member Engcons suggested that “she approach him and, in confidence, tell him she has a problem and needs his advice on how to handle it. She should then explain the situation and solicit and follow his advice. He is most probably more experienced in the company politics and procedures and would provide a best approach course of action. In any event, the IT manager will see her loyalty to and respect for him, not the other 'temporary' bosses.”
Other members had less charitable reasons for “passing the buck” to the IT manager, expressing anger and disappointment at the manager's apparent lack of management skills in allowing Jane to be placed in this difficult situation in the first place. Member Warbug stated that “the minute a secretary was made PM, the IT manager should have said 'no way' and went to the top to make sure this didn't happen—the IT manager is head of the IT department; this is his responsibility. Present your solution to him/her and then let him/her carry the ball from there—that’s what he/she gets paid for!"
Go to the consultants first
Proponents of presenting the solution to the consultants felt that because Jane had been placed under the direction of the VP’s secretary for this project, passing the buck to her manager would be both inappropriate and ineffectual. By going directly to the consultants, Jane preserves her working relationship with them and allows them to save face in an already difficult relationship with the VP. And, as member YourAverageManager adds: “In this instance, I can’t help thinking like a rat leaving a sinking ship. It is obvious that this behavior of the VP of marketing is not going to change. The fact that he unilaterally made the purchase is sufficient proof of organizational problems. Give the solution quietly to the vendor consultant.”
This view is shared by member JWBogart, who stated, “Blow your own horn, then share the solution with the consultants. If they know beans about the product, they might know a good reason not to do what you propose, and testing should always be done by another pair of eyes. You should also update your resume as part of your documentation steps. You sound too bright to be working for these numbskulls.”
Go to the VP and/or project manager first
Proponents of taking the solution to either the VP or the project manager remind Jane who signs her paycheck. If Jane intends to stay with her company, she cannot afford to raise any doubts regarding her loyalty. Member Rich Maer also urged caution against any attempt to take credit for the solution. “If you take credit for this solution, you will be the one on the receiving end of all future problems with this product. The sales manager will quickly jump to the conclusion that you are a genius, a super-tech that can resolve all his problems.”
As an alternative, Maer suggested, “Tell the VP and his secretary that you have identified a potential 'approach' to the problem. The word 'solution' is too final—make no mention of written code or testing you have performed. Tell them you will discuss it with the consultants, who are the only ones who can determine if the product can be modified and supported if your suggestion is implemented. When you meet with the consultants, you can relate your suggested approach and even give them the code if you like. But ensure they understand the way you have presented your ideas to the sales VP.”
Go to everyone at the same time
Possibly the politically safest approach is to inform all concerned parties simultaneously. Member Journere advocated this approach, stating that “I would write an e-mail addressed to the VP, IT manager, and the consultants. The e-mail would explain the problem as you understood it as well as the solution. The 'attitude' or tone of the e-mail message should be very humble and respectful of all. In this way, you're not discussing something behind anyone's back.”
Regardless of the details of the suggested approach to solving the issue, the majority of responses acknowledged that even if Jane did succeed in achieving a satisfactory resolution, her problems are far from over and they strongly suggested that she either try to effect more sweeping changes or find an alternative position.
So what did Jane do?
After much consideration, Jane decided to pass the solution on to the consultants to allow them to thoroughly test her solution and improve their standing with the marketing VP. Although this meant that Jane didn't receive the credit she deserved for her ingenuity, she didn't believe that either her manager or the marketing VP would have recognized her efforts anyway. We are happy to report that she is now considering an offer from the consultants’ company to join their development team.