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I'm a software/engineering lead and executive management is cutting my budget.

I am looking for all ways possible to save money.

I understand people working at the lower levels probably have a different perspective than me on the day to day happenings of the work, environment and processes, etc.

The question is, would it be a good idea to have them come up with ways to save money?

Would I get honest answers or ideas that are canned and are self interest seeking?

Would it make me look unprofessional to my superiors?

Any help is appreciated....

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9 Answers 9

up vote 31 down vote accepted

By all means, ask. Sometimes people "on the ground" are aware that the company wastes money on XYZ and you don't see it.

You probably will get a mix of good ideas, impractical ideas and self serving ideas. That's ok. You are asking for suggestions, not finding advice. And one good idea makes asking worthwhile!

Your superiors will care about your budget going down. Not whose ideas the budget saving items were.

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well said, a good manager NEVER is afraid to ask those (s)he manages for input, and it's the people on the floor who see every day where money is being wasted or could be better spent. Prime example I encountered was company policy to always have the window blinds down, then flooding the office spaces with artificial light. Turning down those lights and opening the blinds saves a lot of electricity. Or idiotic policies regarding fueling of company cars that cause people to have to take 100km+ detours (thus wasting hours and fuel) to get gas. –  jwenting Oct 8 '12 at 6:51

You're going to start a fire. Are the impending budget cuts meant to be public knowledge at this material time? If not, you might start a panic/fire within the rank/file, possibly loss of morale and premature ship jumping.

Unless you have a very close, possibly mentor/mentee training relationship with one or two of them, refrain from asking more than one or two people for an honest opinion and sealed lips.

Would it make me look unprofessional to my superiors?

It might. Depending on how/if it reaches them. If they get wind of it by "word on the street", definitely not a good look on you. First and foremost, suits want to save money/have more money. Then next to that professionalism/ethics.

I think the moral of the story here is discretion. Exercise large quantities of it. You'll have to filter through a lot of noise and static to get meaningful suggestions.

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It probably depends on how much money is being cut. Agreed on not sharing information that shouldn't be shared. If the cut is going to be mean downsizing it shouldn't be shared anyway. –  Jeanne Boyarsky Oct 7 '12 at 12:33
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I completely disagree. The moral should be transparency. Those "rank/file" guys have a right to know what's going on with their employer, particularly when it may have a direct impact on their employment. And if we're talking about the clever, problem-solving kind of individuals that typically make up engineering departments, they may have some valuable suggestions regarding the cost problem. Implying that people will "panic" if given this information 1) doesn't give them much credit/respect and 2) seems like a slippery-slope fallacy to me. –  aroth Oct 8 '12 at 5:20
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@aroth So you would say that circulating a team-wide memo saying "I'm going to fire 2 of you but I haven't decided who yet. Your comments would be greatly appreciated" would lead to constructive discussion and improve morale? There is transparency and then there is too much information and there is a difference. Like the old adage, "everyone likes sausage but no one wants to see how it's made". –  pap Oct 8 '12 at 11:50
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@aroth You are making the assumption that given an increase in performance, their jobs will be "saved" and that there are two people already identified. But if the budget is being cut, that is not the case. Their jobs are lost. And if that is the case, what's the point of dangling this "work harder and you might save your job" carrot in front of them? Your approach will only get people start competing for each others jobs in the most unhealthy way which will leave scars long after the budget cut is done with and completed. –  pap Oct 8 '12 at 12:34
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@aroth, a manager who telss something like this before he has been given the go-ahead will get fired. Managers are required to keep a lot of secrets. –  HLGEM Oct 8 '12 at 14:52

The people on the front lines are the ones who are most likely consuming the cash, so to speak, whether that be directly or indirectly.

As an example, if your engineers have the ability to just fire up a new server on Rackspace at will, that means they have the ability to affect your bottom line.

Instead of making this an issue that could possibly cause panic; instead, provide encouragement to your team to keep an eye on these costs. Start by doing an audit of all of the current costs on your team and then ask your team to find any waste.

Afterwards, consider putting some incentives in place to have your team hit the goal of operating under a certain budget, and then empower them to make the decisions. Put a bi-weekly audit/review in place where you and the team look at current costs and review ideas.

As an example, one of your engineers might do some shopping around and find someone cheaper than Rackspace, which would save money. Combine that with eliminating general waste, and you could quickly find yourself operating within budget.

In short, there is nothing wrong with getting your team to participate; it could actually create more of a sense of ownership and teamwork to have people participating in these kinds of decisions.

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This depends on how it is done, and as usual, a reward of some kind needs to be offered. Otherwise, it's more work for everyone.

Ask specific questions based on costs if there is a more streamlined way of doing things. For example, if you area is paying a huge license fee to use commercial software, look into an Open Source (free) alternative.

The reward for this can be whatever is in your authority to offer. If the goal is met, for example, invite everyone to a BBQ at your home. Or give them or the person who does this a day off.

What you should not do, is share this information with them in the form that the company or your department is in trouble because it can cause people to panic about layoffs. Or drive the good people to leave because they think this is the end of the line for their bonuses and raises, and that growth has slowed down in the company which isn't good for anyone.

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The company I work for had a temporary flirtation with the Lean/Six Sigma methodology. One aspect of it that, in my opinion was very positive, is the idea of the Kaizens (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaizen). In a nutshell, what it meant is that we had to come up with an improvement that saved money, whether it was making a program use less CPU and thus execute faster (time = money), or maybe implementing a PDF solution so that we would save paper (which of course meant saving some green paper as well).

We were all asked to do one as part of our objectives for that year, and the effects were tangible. If you can float it as this Kaizen idea to your team, they might surprise you with some creative ideas.

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Depends on what your budget looks like. Do you have line-items or posts that are not related to personnel costs? If so, there might be room to shave. If all (or almost all) of your budget is personnel, then cuts=layoffs for you and I would not advertise that to your team prematurely. Nothing good will come from that, only panic, rumors and anxiety.

If you're going to attempt a constructive dialog on cost-cutting, I would be careful about projecting the image that your team is "the lower levels" or that you are soliciting ideas from "them". Be inclusive, frame it as a collective exercise that you take on as a team. Make sure that no one is singled out in a way that makes them feel like a target or that they are somehow responsible for delivering some amount of cuts. It's your decision and at the end of the day, your responsibility to achieve this. Don't try to pass the buck onto your team.

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there are ALWAYS things unrelated to worker compensation. From paperclips, pens and paper, to the brand of coffee in the office coffee corner, the frequency at which the garbage bins are emptied, it all costs money. –  jwenting Oct 8 '12 at 11:45
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@jwenting Agreed, my conditional was based on the question if these were on the questioners budget or not. At some companies, a team manager only really have personnel costs in his budget and all non-personnel costs are taken on a some central budget. If that is the case, there is not much that can be done on a team-level to shave costs other than letting someone go or lowering compensation. –  pap Oct 8 '12 at 11:56

In my experience, what these types of request typically mean is that management has already decided on certain cuts, and is using the suggestion scheme to provide some cover.

Then people will make suggestions that don't impact them. Non coffee drinkers will suggest getting rid of coffee. Single people will suggest cutting family health benefits. Whatever cuts management had in mind, chances are someone will suggest it.

Management can then implement the cuts as the result of ideas coming from the front lines rather than imposed from above.

I'm not saying that's what you're doing, but how this action is likely to be received.

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Provide a little direction. Since you have access to the budget, you should provide some type of outline of what could be on the table. Most users won't know if you have a recurring fee on specific software or services (When I started using StackOverflow I didn't even know my company already paid for ExpertsExchange).

Show it to one of your more experienced/trusted employees first. Unless you think there is something controversial, there's no need to turn this into a long-winded debate. If you're not careful, an overly democratic approach is going to waste more time and money than you'll end up saving. You can always show a short list of deductions to see if anyone objects. You never know.

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I'd suggest its important to understand if the budget cuts are because the company is actually in trouble, or whether the EM has to be able to demonstrate to the board and shareholders they are "tightening the belt" as a result of worse than expected quarterly figures.

I've worked in both types of firms; if its all just political then "Keep Calm, and Carry On" while following all directives is (sadly) the best bet.

If its the former, though, and you trust your management, then extending that trust to your team by asking them for ideas is a good idea. Make it clear its your inititive, and that you'll test the water with management first before passing on any suggestions.

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