I know there are many questions about the dreaded "other duties as assigned" clause in most contracts. Mine has one as well. However, I feel the task assigned to me goes way off what would be expected of someone in my profession.

I was recently assigned with developing a process which requires extensive legal and finance knowledge - something I'm not even remotely qualified to do (I'm a software developer). Of course, the logical step would be to ask the legal and finance team for help - they, however, refuse (or are not interested) to provide help. I communicated this to my manager, and his response was basically "I don't care how, do it".

Now, I don't have the authority to make the knowledgable folks help me - what are my options in this situation?

Am I in the "set sail for fail" kind of situation?

  • 5
    @Cartina - because switching jobs is a last resort - I would rather have a story about "how I succeded despite the odds" than "I quit at the first sign of trouble". – Yuropoor May 9 at 17:35
  • Financial regulations make you liable; even if you are not, you have no idea what you have to do. This is not "surviving against the odds", this is going to fight Godzilla with a stick. You are simply not equipped for this. Your boss needs to provide you with the equipment or the tools to get the equipment. It's their job to give you the authority to talk to the finance guys or find who can do so. – Captain Emacs May 9 at 17:54
  • Is there something you could offer them that might "sweeten the deal?" People will be more willing to help you if they have a sense that the relationship will be mutually beneficial. If the project you've been assigned will be of no value to the people who's help you need, maybe there's something else you could arrange to do for them. – AffableAmbler May 9 at 18:00
  • The project assigned automates work they had to do by hand - so in my opinion it benefits them. I also regurarly fix their mistakes in the system - but "fix an invoice" doesn't equate to me having some tremendous skill in their field. Also, to the close-voters - please provide input what can I improve with the question? – Yuropoor May 9 at 18:13
up vote 6 down vote accepted

You (or ideally your manager) needs to have a conversation with the stakeholder of this project to address this resistance from the finance folks. Otherwise, I don't see how this project is going to succeed. Without an expert in finance to bounce ideas off of, test your work, and actually incorporate your work into their daily work, it's not going to happen.

Resistance from internal folks could be an indication that your automation work might be a perceived threat to their job security. The stakeholder needs to be the one to convince them otherwise, or address their concerns about your work.

In my career, I've automated plenty for individuals such as these, and they are usually very excited at the prospect of their job getting easier. Once you get them on your side, you should have no issue getting the information you need to complete this project.

As a developer, meeting with stakeholders to establish requirements is often central to your job. It sounds like the main issue you're dealing with is a political one.

Look, I hate politics too, but as an employee anywhere you sometimes have to hammer out political issues. I think you're stuck with this one, I'm afraid.

Your boss might want to delegate this matter to you, but you might want to try approaching them for advice if you haven't already. Maybe try asking them, "I need to talk to the legal team, but they seem uninterested in helping me. Who should I get together in a meeting so we can get buy in from upper management and the relevant department heads? I'll need the full support of the finance and legal department, and I'll need to work with subject matter experts on other teams." (Of course, tailor this to fit your organizational structure.)

If your boss stubbornly resists your request for information, or doesn't give you approval to talk to higher ups about your issues, then you do have a problem.

But otherwise, you're going to have to talk to the stakeholders, directors, subject matter experts and whoever else to get buy-in on your project. Make sure everyone knows how critical this project is, and let them know if you need more resources to get the job done right.

Well, you want to rise to the challenge, so the initiative should be from your side even if it means swimming against the tide. It's your decision to take up the challenge as against declining it (whatever that implies in your situation). Now, the legal and finance teams are not inclined to cooperate with you for the reasons best known to them. BUT (and this is a bug BUT), it is imperative that they approve the process before it is actually implemented. They cannot escape that responsibility because of compliance reasons.
So, what do you do now?
Collate whatever information is available to you from the manager (I presume) who assigned this task to you. They should give some material like requirements specification, or if that is too much to ask, at least a problem definition and solution scope. There should be some plain English statements therein along with legalese and other jargon.
Go on, do a web search (Google, for example) to understand more. (This part of my answer repeats something from an existing answer by HLGEM but that is inevitable.) Document your understanding of the problem and the best solution you can think of (feel free with the format at this point, perhaps a flowchart as suggested in HLGEM's answer but can even be something more rudimentary like a set of notes or a mindmap). Here I assume your organisation uses email for routine official communications. Send this to your boss (by email) and ask them to get it validated by the legal and finance teams before you go further.
Now, the ball is in yous boss's court. One of the following things will happen:

  1. Boss forwards it to the respective teams for their review/approval marking a copy to you: In this case, you get the whole thing clarified by them. Problem (almost) solved.
  2. Boss explicitly asks you (in writing) to go ahead irrespective of their review/feedback: You are safe in going ahead, for now; remember they have to ultimately approve the process but at least you keep the ball rolling for now.
  3. Boss does not respond to your email but asks you orally to go ahead without waiting for the review: You just document the discussion in a follow-up email (As suggested by you, I am going ahead, blah blah...) and keep the ball rolling.
  4. Boss just ignores your email (in which case you still have an audit trail to prove that you did the right thing): You can't progress and you show your email when asked for status (this does'nt stop you from gently reminding them of your email request now and then, though).
  1. Get it in writing.

Email the Finance team, tell them you need their help with your project otherwise the project cannot proceed. Be as specific as possible about what you need, and when you need it by, but be open about the fact you're not an expert (massage their ego's "Oh great legal team I need your expert advice")

  1. Escalate

When they fail to answer, or openly refuse, escalate to your boss, and their boss, and whoever originated the requirement in the first place (i.e. the person who's going to suffer most if this doesn't get done), reiterating the impact of their failure to help.

  1. Suggest alternatives.

They can't help, can we hire an external consultant @ $1,500 per day to help in their place? Can we buy some software that's already fit for purpose?

First, yes he probably can assign that work.

Getting domain knowledge is a critical skill for any senior developer. So this is what I trained to do to get such info when I designed process improvements back when no processes were computerized.

First, observe the work and take notes. Put all the questions you have aside until you have observed for awhile. Get copies of all forms or paperwork they have. Keep a clean copy and then write questions on another copy. Try to follow the process through. When one person finishes a piece of paper, follow that paper to the next person. Look for who has to approve or sign off. Look for who needs to fill out which fields. Some of your questions should revolve around what happens in the edge cases (such as when an approval is not given).

Look for the laws/regulations (don't forget state laws and regulations if in the US) on the subject in a google search and read them and take notes. Try to compare what the law says with what is really happening. In the US search for GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles). these documents will greatly help with the financial end.

Ask questions about problems in the current system. These are the things you want to show them, your project will fix as well as being as easy to use as the current system or easier.

Put it all together on a flow chart. Talk to their management once you have an idea what is currently happening. They may cooperate more if they see you are not going to bug them for everything. Remind those who don't cooperate that they will have to live with what you build, the time to get what they need is before you build it.

Always start with the lower level people who actually do the job you are automating. They know things the boss does not.

Part of what you are running into may be resistance to change. Do some reading on that and how to handle it. People who have not automated their systems by now are going to be VERY resistant to change.

  • I am not a senior dev, I'm a junior software eng. Also, I don't see how "extensive finanacial and legal knowledge" extends into my konwledge domain. I can't be an expert on everything. Also also, this is one of several projects I do - I can't just leave it all and become an expert accountant. – Yuropoor May 9 at 20:22
  • I'm sorry but this is plain wrong. Your superior may ask you to do x, but if you clearly outline that it requires extensive legal expertise, and it actually does then you cannot be expected to do it. Googling may work for a compilation error, but there is a reason why we have something called "law school" that takes several years to complete. That reason is that legal things are a labirynth that is nigh-impossible to navigate by googling with no expert advice or tutoring. – Rares Dima May 10 at 23:29
  • Moreover, an even more critical skill for a senior developer is getting clear and complete information. Unless you have that you can not go forward with the process, and if the process requires highly specialized information, it is very unlikely that the information you find while googling is actually complete, even if the bits that you do find are accurate. Sometimes getting domain knowledge means googling, but there are times when getting domain knowledge means sending your client or boss an email with a request for a list of detailed requirements – Rares Dima May 10 at 23:33

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