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My boss does a few things very well, such as keeping her team happy. Unfortunately, she is not quite as strong with the technical skills relating to the technologies we work with. Her inexperience in these matters quite often interferes with our ability to work on and progress with projects.

The issue is compounded by her stubborness regarding taking advice from us, her team. We are all quite experienced with the technologies, and would be able to make some decisions relating to said technologies and our projects better through group consensus, but our boss normally ignores our consensus.

How should we go about remedying this situation, and making her understand that she should delegate some decisions to us?


Some additional details, for the sake of completeness. 1) The manager hasn't coded anything for 10 years. 2) Our legacy software is 23+ year old MFC code, so it is definitely inferior to newer technologies 3) We spend all our time fixing bugs that still exist in the legacy that take a week to do instead of five minutes in newer languages. 4) This might be the case with us. 5) I have tried explaining how it would help us, but not the customer, no. Our manager really only assigns random bugs to each worker each week and nothing else, even if the bugs are a decade old or not bugs at all.

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    since most likely your boss will be held responsible by upper management for these decisions, delegation of these decisions could be not as straightforward. That said, I've seen examples of "harmonic" collaboration between managers lacking technical skills and technical experts / leads in their team – gnat Apr 10 '13 at 12:32
  • @enderland I really just want to figure out how to convince my boss that we have the knowledge required to make informed decisions, but it is hard to form the question without seeming like it is a rant/discussion. – CincinnatiProgrammer Apr 10 '13 at 13:20
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    I'd love to put the entire series The IT Crowd as an answer to this question. – Christopher Lates Apr 10 '13 at 15:37
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    Couldn't you just take on global warming or universal health care? I think that once you have completely taken care of those then this issue will be within your grasp – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 10 '13 at 15:52
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    You say your code is in 23 year old MFC. Does your boss really not understand MFC, or is it that you think she doesn't understand the technologies you would like to work with? If your only issue is that she isn't letting you rewrite the code in a newer language, please read this article – DJClayworth Apr 10 '13 at 19:27
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A good manager doesn't need to know the technical details to do the job, he/she just needs to be able to see that the details are carried out in the best way possible.

You say your manager does a good job of keeping her team happy, but that doesn't seem to be reflected in your problem - that she doesn't listen to you.

There are several ways to go about trying to make her hear more of your side. You can start by making it a point to acknowledge when she does the things you think she does well. When she removes roadblocks, comment on how much easier the project is with out xyz. When she gets you the tools you need, comment on how much more efficient they will make your process.

You also could try leading her to your conclusion. Just telling her the benefits doesn't always work, sometimes you have to make sure she really understands them. Ask questions and gently guide her until she thinks it is her idea. It's not ideal, but we have all had to do it at some point or another. It really doesn't matter who comes up with the ideas, just that the best ones are used.

The biggest thing is to isolate why she isn't listening to your ideas now. Is there information she hasn't conveyed to you that affects her decision? Try to get to the root of the problem, that is the only real way to find the answer that will work for you. And if you can't understand it, then make a decision on whether you can live with it. If you can then just move on to the work she has assigned.

18

Let's start with the fact that to get respect, you also have to give respect. Why should she delegate to people who clearly (from the initial rant in the question) think she is useless. If you treat your boss as if she or he is stupid, I can guarantee that person won't be giving her/his decision-making power to you. What possible reason would a boss have to give more power to someone who is continually putting her down?

So the first step is to fix your own attitude towards your boss. The technical skills are not the be all and end of of reasons why decisions are made. There are a lot of economic and political variables you may not be aware of. And she is more likely to pay the price for poor decisions than you are.

So present your case before a decision is made (but do it professionally and with no condescension), but work really hard to implement the decision once it is made and above all do not complain about it. Once she feels she has your support, she is more likely to loosen up and listen to you more.

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    I'm not 100% onboard with this. Some people have no respect because they deserve none. While the attitude in OP's rant was unprofessional, it's the manager's job to inspire respect and confidence and not the other way around. If the whole team's advice is constantly ignored, then the problem really does seem to be the manager. When code becomes stupid because of his/her overruling decisions, it makes the dev's daily life harder, not the manager's. They might have very valid reasons to dislike her. – MrFox Apr 10 '13 at 17:57
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    I've had bosses I didn't respect professionally (not my current boss!!) and fighting them on every issue just makes things worse. The problem may be the boss but you still have to work for the person, the boss still has the decision making power and pouting over that is non-productive. – HLGEM Apr 10 '13 at 18:25
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    I agree with that comment. But the short version of your answer is that the OP needs to fix his attitude, and while that may play a part in it, it does not completely address the OP's problem. – MrFox Apr 10 '13 at 18:45
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It's a complex problem, but most of this will stem from how much coding your boss does or would have to do in case of a crises. Here are some variables to consider:

  1. Does your boss feel like she has to know every technology being used? If she has to step in when someone leaves or handle over-flow, any sane programmer would want to make sure they understand as much of the development stack as possible. Not all teams are staffed to the point where the lead manager doesn't have to code.
  2. Are your technology suggestions really superior, insignificanlty better or just personal preference? When it comes to being in charge, there is a premium on using what works. There's an old saying, "No one ever got fired for buying IBM."
  3. What is the big picture for your team? Do your suggestions consider hiring and training replacements? Are you going to take on the task of providing documenation? Does it make it more complex to create and maintain a developer's workstation with all the new toys? Upper management may consider any time devoted to implementing these new solutions as unbillable or wasteful.
  4. Is it possible you and your team members present poor arguments? Everything makes sense in your mind, but having several people present a huge number of changes/suggestions can become over-whelming. The easiest solution is to deny all of them. You may be better off if you are able to pick and choose your battles and make a focused presentation on the parts that really matter.
  5. Can you create a link between your suggestions and customer value? Will things get done faster? Does your group have a history of not being able to keep up with requirement changes or injecting more bugs with each release?

I think anyone would have a hard time believing that your boss has "never" used anyone else's suggestions and it is unrealistic to think she should use all of them. It's natural to dislike rejection but don't blow it out of proportion. I don't think you should hold it against your boss because she won't adopt the framework that is obviously supperior when you consider the most obsure edge case.

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    The saying "No one ever got fired for buying IBM" is usually used to mean "nobody ever got fired for doing what everyone else does" more than "nobody ever got fired for going with what works". – psr Apr 10 '13 at 18:09
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    Very nicely said. – HLGEM Apr 10 '13 at 18:23
  • @JeffO 1) The manager hasn't coded anything for 10 years. 2) Our legacy software is 23+ year old MFC code, so it is definitely inferior to newer techonlogies 3) We spend all our time fixing bugs that still exist in the legacy that take a week to do instead of five minutes in newer languages. 4) This might be the case with us. 5) I have tried explaining how it would help us, but not the customer, no. Our manager really only assigns random bugs to each worker each week and nothing else, even if the bugs are a decade old or not bugs at all. – CincinnatiProgrammer Apr 10 '13 at 18:42
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    @PaulBrown So you want a re-write while the manager is not Ok'ing it? Frankly, that sounds perfectly normal. Rewrites is how a lot of disaster start. The business might just be deciding that maintaining an old application is less risky and the maintenance cost is justified. – MrFox Apr 10 '13 at 18:52
  • @MrFox Yes basically, although we have enough developers that some could rewrite and some could maintain legacy, we have had major issues with hardware that doesn't come with libraries we can use in our legacy and we have issues finding developers that are able and/or willing to work on such old projects. I plan on finding new employment soon anyway, so I guess I shouldn't worry about it. – CincinnatiProgrammer Apr 10 '13 at 18:54

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