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tl;dr: Should I recommend that I not be involved in a project if my advice is consistently ignored?

Background

I'm an electrical engineer with 20+ years experience in a highly specialised domain. I'm the only person with subject matter expertise in that particular domain within the company, and I'm supported by a small team of around 5. I manage my team's portfolio of projects but are occasionally asked to support projects run by other teams.

I've recently been asked to support a project run by another manager (Manager X) by providing technical advice and review work undertaken by external contractors. The request was made by my Executive General Manager (my manager's manager). To deliver the project, Manager X and his team outsource all tasks of a technical nature to external contractors. Dependence on externals is standard operating procedure for that team. Manager X and his team oversee the contracts and combine the contractor's outputs (cost and volume estimates) into a single report.

My stated role in the project to review the work undertaken by the contracts, ensure it is technically proficient, and request changes where errors or omissions are identified.

The Executive General Manager asked for my involvement because of a concern about the quality of Manager X's work in the past, and his ability to evaluate the work undertaken by the external contractors.[1]

The fact that the project is run by Manager X and not myself is the result of legacy arrangements and more than a little company politics.

Problem

Manager X has said at the start of my involvement in the project that he:

  • has no need for my involvement as he has successfully delivered similar projects without my input.
  • is as proficient at understanding the technical issues as I, and so my input is unnecessary.

Since the project commenced I have identified more than a dozen issues with the work undertaken by the contractors. Only one of the issues was forwarded by Manager X to the contractors for correction/clarification, as Manager X verbally (no email trail) stated that he "did not see them as a problem".[2] However, Manager X has queried a number of points based on his "gut feel" which the external contractors quickly identified as non-issues.

My problems are:

  • From a personal perspective, my ongoing involvement suggests that I've reviewed or approved the work, or at least had some influence on it's progress. Selfishly, if (or more likely, when) something goes wrong with the project I don't want to "go down with the ship".
  • From a company perspective, we're wasting money by having a resource doing work that is not used in an effective manner.
  • Most seriously, the current outputs are technically flawed, but this hasn't been acknowledged by Manager X.

Question

What course of action should I recommend to my manager?

  • My first reaction was to suggest that I be solely responsible for signing-off any technical work produced by the contractors on the basis that I'm the only one that is qualified to do so, but this is likely to be interpreted as moving in on another team's territory.
  • my second reaction was to suggest that I be removed from the project on the basis that my advice is ignored and input not used. This course of action would difficult to explain to the Executive General Manager without starting a fight about who said what and when.

Can anyone recommend a third course of action that would give me greater control over the project quality while managing the politics involved?


[1] - I don't know where this request sat on the spectrum from "thought bubble" to "well considered plan based on many observations of past performance".

[2] - I don't regard having all correspondence to external contractors flow through a single point of contact as unusual or inappropriate.

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3  
You have no documentation of what recommendations you made and when? You can't force manager X to comply or even read them, but somehow you need to demonstrate to the Executive General Manager that you were doing your job. – JeffO Feb 11 at 16:06
85  
Life pro tip: document everything. – DevNull Feb 11 at 16:41
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OP, I've improved your footnote syntax but it seems like you could just integrate those into the body of your post to improve readability. – Lilienthal Feb 11 at 17:28
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You need to have every thing you do here in writing. On paper you are there as a technical advisor on the project. Off paper, you are there to get the information needed for the higher ups to get Manager X off that project. That he's ignoring your recommendations also needs to be carefully documented. – Michael Hampton Feb 12 at 1:11
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You need to bring this up with your Executive Manager. Yesterday – Kevin Feb 12 at 22:13

10 Answers 10

up vote 83 down vote accepted

What course of action should I recommend to my manager?

Discuss this with your manager first. They may have insight about the responsibilities you have. If your manager doesn't know, suggest a meeting with your immediate manager and Executive General Manager.

State your concerns as:

  • "My understanding is I was supposed to provide technical leadership on this project, but I am concerned my advice is not being heeded. I am not sure what my responsibilities on this project are - can you clarify how I should be handling this? I have raised issues to Manager X, but they are currently unaddressed. I don't know exactly what my role should be."

Hopefully you are already documenting all your communications to Manager X (perhaps ask if the GM and/or your manager want you to copy them on all communications?).

Ask how you should document concerns in the future. Get clear instruction from both your manager and the GM about this.

You need to make the EGM aware that:

  1. Their desires are being subverted by Manager X
  2. You are trying and actively working to try to help the project, but are hindered by Manager X

The General Manager seems to have wanted you on this project. You need to followup in a constructive way. "Waaa I want to quit I'm not listened to" is not that way for a senior professional.

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Agree - the Executive General Manager is ultimately going to be the one who decides what level of involvement the OP should have and how much responsibility he is to report the failings of manager X. Getting a full understanding by all parties is the best way to CYA. – JeffO Feb 11 at 16:04

The third option would be to log all technical recommendations and deficiencies by email with Manager X. This leaves them in control but holds them accountable for any shortcomings as you have evidence that these issues have been brought to their attention. This would be the role that a technical advisor would have within a project. If you are unclear as to whether this would fulfill your obligations in this project, request clarification of your role with the Executive General Manager.

Follow up any verbal communications with an email to ensure the paper trail for decision making exists.

In my mind a likely reason you are brought on here is to give Manager X enough rope to hang themselves. If the project tanks based on ignoring one of your recommendations you can go back to email on Jan 2 3pm and say this was predicted as a problem at this point. Then restructuring occurs and your company doesn't have Manager X anymore or this sort of project is regularly assigned to the person with the technical expertise to see problems coming.

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5  
This should really be verified with the OP's manager at the very least and ideally also with the Executive General Manager. You don't want to find out after the fact that you were actually put on the project to make the product succeed regardless of Manager X's actions. Since the EGM seems to have a personal stake in this, I would definitely check in with him, it seems extremely unlikely to me that he would have a negative attitude towards the OP for asking for this clarification. – Cronax Feb 11 at 16:25
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@Cronax When the purpose is indeed to give Manager X enough rope to hang themselves, then I doubt that there will be any manager stupid enough to admit it. – Philipp Feb 11 at 16:29
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@Philipp You won't be told directly, but if you're told to keep raising your issues with Manager X and make sure to document everything then you should have your answer there. – Cronax Feb 11 at 16:30
    
@Cronax Thanks for the input, answer updated. – Myles Feb 11 at 17:00
    
Best to let the OP's manager handle it, rather than taking it up directly with his manager. – BobRodes Feb 12 at 6:01

Take your role literally

My stated role in the project to review the work undertaken by the contracts, ensure it is technically proficient, and request changes where errors or omissions are identified.

Your role is to "request changes"

Have a formal report of "change request"

Have an overall summary like project manager. If you think the overall project is at risk then just say so. "Based on number of unresolved technical issues the overall project is at risk."

  • Summary/Title:
    • Request date:
    • Request status:
    • Resolution date:
    • Detail:

Have unresolved request the top and resolved at the bottom
This not only highlights unresolved request but shows you are doing your job

If you want to get direct for status list "denied/dismissed by Manager X"

You are basically a subject matter expert with no direct authority. Just report based on your expertise and let those with authority decide how to manage.

This project sounds so messed up that I would not even want direct authority. Sounds to me like Manager X is more than capable of tanking the project even if you did have some direct authority. I would rather be in a subject matter expert role. Careful what you ask for.

As far as:

[2] I don't regard having all correspondence to external contractors flow through a single point of contact as unusual or inappropriate.

Not your job - you have not (yet) been tasked with coordinating vendor correspondence. Manager X should provide you with a status.

Where you do need to be careful is of let's say the project is completed and someone is hurt based on a design flaw. Your report could be used to show the company knew about the design flaw. But that is again not your problem. You have been tasked with review the work undertaken by the contracts and ensure it is technically proficient with no direct authority.

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I agree step back out of the role of "Managing Engineer" and just take the part of Analyst. This method will give you plenty of documentation of how you tried to avoid the problems that may occur if your requests are ignored. – Chad Feb 11 at 15:44
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Would you say that documentation is sufficient in cases where the problem is likely to risk injury or property damage? I would tend to think that just out of a sense of wanting to protect other people, more should be done. – jpmc26 Feb 13 at 7:29
    
@jpmc26 That is job of management – Paparazzi Feb 13 at 12:17

My stated role in the project to review the work undertaken by the contracts, ensure it is technically proficient, and request changes where errors or omissions are identified.

If by "ensure", you mean you have responsibility for the technical proficiency, then you are being asked to undertake that responsibility without the necessary authority to enable you to do that.

If by "ensure", you mean you are just an adviser, then you should willingly accept the project and let go of the need for control. Document the errors and omissions and where you feel strongly, express that in the documentation.

Get clarification on the extent of your responsibility.

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The Executive General Manager asked for my involvement because of a* concern about the quality of Manager X's work in the past*, and his ability to evaluate the work undertaken by the external contractors.

Do not be surprised in this scenario if Manager X isn't taking your advice seriously - if he was, he wouldn't need it in the first place.

There is clearly a problem with how Manager X is running his projects, and you have clearly identified it.

This issue is what you should bring up to the manager - not a desire to be removed from the project for being ignored. You were brought onto the project to document issues and provide resolutions. You've been doing your job (and I sincerely hope you've been documenting every change request you've made) and now it is time to report back to your Executive Manager what has been going on.

Do not make this about you - that won't look good at all to your Executive Manager. There is a problem with this project, and Manager X has been ignoring your suggestions. That should be the only thing you bring up.

Hopefully, Executive Manager will be able to give you some muscle to enforce your 'suggestions' in the future for this project - or else start giving you other more important projects to work on.

More than anything though, you need to present documentation to Executive Manager, proving that you've made these requests, with an explanation that they have all basically been ignored. From there, it is Executive Manager's call what to do.

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TL/DR: Send an email with your technical concerns to both your direct manager and the Executive-General-Manager.

Slightly longer :

Short and simple: Write an email with all the issues you've found, which were not handled. Put your manager in the "To" field, put the Executive-General-Manager in the "CC" field. It's very important to have a written trail of your technical concerns.

From what you describe, it appears the General-Manager really trusts your expertise and advice. If the project gets delivered as-is, the General-Manager will be under the impression that you put your "technically-approved" stamp on it, since from his point of view you didn't report any problems. When those issues come up (when, not if), you'll be one of the people who are going to be held accountable. At that point, saying But I told you about this problem! won't help you at all, since it will only appear that you're trying to avoid responsibility (besides, it can't be factually verified).

Now, there is a chance that your direct manager will see that email as a way of bypassing him and his authority. That's why it's important to keep a very very calm and professional tone in both your email message and yourself if you'll be directly confronted about this by your direct manager. It will go a long way to minimize any damage to your professional relationship with your direct manager.

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This. Actually this should have been done a long time ago. – Kevin Feb 12 at 22:11

You are obviously needed on that project and should not try to get away from it.

Many of the answers and comments recommend making a paper trail, or at least an email trail. This is good. They are right, but for the wrong reason. Everybody talks about doing it for ass-coverage. This is the wrong angle. You should be doing it to help the project and the company.

Make recommendations as best you can, make Manager X write down that they are not going to follow your recommendations. If necessary, print out a document and make him sign it. Make a scene if necessary.

Yes, this is making you look like an bastard, but that is what Manager X needs at this point.

The point is this: You are making it very clear to Manager X that he is acting against your recommendations, and that you are documenting this fact. This will, or should, make him worry about his own ass.

@AlexeyVesnin suggested that Manager X was involved in shady deals with the contractor. If so, he should be starting to get cold feet at this point. Make him think that you are going to find out about this deal and expose it. Hopefully he will go to the contractors and cancel the deal (and possibly the contract)

The best result would be if Manager X actually pulled himself together and started doing a proper job. Publicly he would get credit, but the important people would know who to thank.

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I agree completely with this answer. It is essentially your job to say something if something goes wrong. Don't wait for the project to fail to say something. The more you wait, the harder it will be to rescue this project. – Stephan Branczyk Feb 12 at 11:11

Take it up with your manager and let them dictate the next move. Cite your concerns professionally and thoroughly. Don't jump the gun and start calling meetings between your higherups on your own bat, and don't go over your managers head. This is the professional way to handle things.

Do it in writing so you have a record and speak to your manager, and keep a record of all your concerns as you go. A solid paper trail is your best defense if things go South.

The ideal solution for you is that your manager withdraws you from the project after speaking to Manager X, not that you come in to conflict with Manager X or other people are involved blowing the whole thing up in to a bigger problem.

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It looks like a common russian situation called "rollback" =) He's receiving a part of an external's paychecks for sure, and that explains his statement to you about your "uninvolvement". Do not worry - it's not your problem. Your duty here is to give a pure technical review and nothing more. If your manager's manager asked you to do it - then give your report to him from your hands to his directly That's my good advice to you - I had such a situations frequently, and to not-being-tainted by it - just do as I propose. Direct passage of your report from hand to hand to the top manager will ensure you from "political undercarpet games" and so forth...

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That was first thing I thought of.. In America that call it kickback, but same thing. I just hope these engineering projects don't risk getting anyone hurt or killed if they are poorly done. – Dan Shaffer Feb 11 at 20:14
    
@DanShaffer yes, good point! But in theese kind of questions it's so easy to step on a shitpile... The problems are started when the info/report/review about "some problems" is passed by the chain up to a top management. It's misguided, or even lost! And usually a top manager picks up a trusted employee to make a report, so this report MUST BE passed to this top manager's hands DIRECTLY from the hands of that employee : hand-to-hand, person-to-person, so no tampering will be possible – Alexey Vesnin Feb 11 at 20:20

My suggestion is that your first step is to negotiate your role, and get the negotiated role stated in writing with sign-off by both your manager and the Executive General Manager.

In particular, clarification is needed of your responsibilities, your authority, and the manner you report.

The description you have given so far is that "My stated role in the project to review the work undertaken by the contracts, ensure it is technically proficient, and request changes where errors or omissions are identified."

I suggest that needs to change because, unless you have authority to appropriately negotiate or direct changes, you cannot be responsible for ensuring the work is technically proficient. The statement that you can "request" changes suggests you do not have that authority - presumably the person with that authority is "Manager X". That is okay - at least it means you can't be held responsible for his actions.

I suggest you ask for it to be stated that you have authority - as independent assessor - to access all relevant materials you need to do your evaluation (as well as responsibility for doing so appropriately). That may seem a statement of the obvious, but it is best to have it in writing.

Since, apparently, you are to review the work undertaken by contracts, presumably you need to report results of that review somewhere. It would make sense that your reports

  • Reference the material or documentation that you have reviewed. Presumably this will include statements of requirement or statements of work (provided by your employer, as the basis for work by the contractor), as well as contract deliverables;
  • Articulate any deficiencies (a slightly broader term than "errors or omissions", since it can also address non-functional/quality concerns) that you identify;
  • Provide recommendations to correct or remediate those deficiencies.

You need to clarify who you deliver that report to. At a minimum, copies will need to go to your manager, as well as "Manager X".

Doing the above will ensure that the basis of your recommendations will be crystal clear and that you are not responsible for remediating deficiencies that you identify.

From there, you need your management to clarify (in writing) where responsibility rests (presumably "Manager X") for responding to your recommendations - whether your changes are rejected or accepted - and the manner in which that disposition is documented and actioned.

I would suggest asking, in the interests of allowing "Manager X" to manage effectively, to NOT be in the approval chain for his response. This will also mean that you do not get put in a position of, in effect, endorsing his plan. However, you will need to be on the distribution list of the approved response, which you will be able to file accordingly.

As the work proceeds, you will presumably have visibility of the results of followup (or not) of your recommendations. For those recommendations that are acted on, you will be able to assess how well your previously reported concerns have been addressed.

For concerns that keep cropping up you will be able to cite/reiterate/etc your previous recommendations AND any documented followup (or lack thereof) to them. And make updated recommendations as needed ... which will go through the same reporting chain.

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