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I work for a software company and we have weekly Skype video conf. calls. During these calls, the owner of the company examines the list of new problems from customers and in response, dictates new UI design, such as "let's place a button to the right and also make the ListView slightly bigger."

When the time comes to implement these designs, I am left with more questions than answers, because critical information has not been thought through, such as one-to-many relationships, or whether some data item even has an API to make it accessible.

Since the person in question is the big boss, it's impossible to say anything to him or to point out the problems with his approach. He also is not actively looking for suggestions. I have started to look for a new job, but wanted to ask here if there is a solution to this type of poor quality management. (My own feeling is that there are some things you just can't fight.)

Post-accept edit:

While I appreciate all answers, a crucial sentence in my question was missed:

He also is not actively looking for suggestions.

This person has never solicited for ideas about what we could be doing better as a company. He has never stated a vision/mission for the company either.

Every answer is full of excellent suggestions to apply in a similar situation in the future where management demonstrates that they are open to feedback.

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    Ask those questions to the big boss?
    – Erik
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 16:52
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    I have been in your same situation: a company (on paper) certified ISO9001 where the owner requested quotes by phone with a "make an quotation for a PV plant to be built on a normal industrial building", and then complaining it was wrong. Run!
    – L.Dutch
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 19:14
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    Just because they don't actively solicit advice, doesn't mean you can't give it anyway. It's one of the things that a senior anything should be doing.
    – Erik
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 11:15
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    @SrEngineer Just so you know; as far as I'm concerned, you did nothing wrong. Your boss was the problem. I hope you find something better now, where your knowledge and skills will be appreciated.
    – Erik
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 12:35
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    Is it not your job to figure out the answers to those questions? I have never had the database design included in the ticket for the work (well actually I did once, was mildly offended and told them to stop). I often delegate tasks to people and part of what I'm delegating is figuring out how to do it (with the understanding they can ask for help) Commented May 20, 2018 at 18:13

7 Answers 7

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I have been in your same situation: working for a company (on paper) certified ISO9001, where the owner requested quotes by phone with a simple "I am going to meet a potential customer, make a quotation for a PV plant to be built on a normal industrial building", ignoring the standard forms we had in place, and then complaining that the quote was wrong because the curved roof was not considered in the design.

Run as fast as you can, save your energies for more worthy battles! This person is the boss, and trying to convince him that he is wrong would only cast a negative light on you, because "you cannot understand what he means!"

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  • As I said, I appreciate the other answers, but they assume a "perfect world" where everyone acts rationally. I chose your answer because you've been through the experience firsthand. Thank you.
    – user85709
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 18:19
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When the time comes to implement these designs, I am left with more questions than answers

Don't wait until implementation time to ask these questions. Ask them as soon as possible while Owner Big Boss still has his suggestion fresh in his mind. As soon as the Skype conversation is over, if not sooner, work out how the suggested change will impact the product design.

You must translate OBB's suggestions into workable change orders. Stop thinking of this as some kind of avoidable nuisance. Consider it a most important part of your job. You're the one who can assess the impact, not him.

Thinking this through is your top priority task until you are satisfied that you know how to implement the change. Measure the impact on your schedule using standard productivity tracking tools. You now have quantitative evidence showing the true cost of letting OBB make these changes. It's up to you whether to let OBB know what this cost is, but it's not a mistake -- it's a resource legitimately consumed.

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Since the person in question is the big boss, it's impossible to say anything to him or to point out the problems with his approach

What would make you say that? Just because a person is a "big boss" doesn't mean they are not receptive to changing procedures.

His goal is to make the product better. He probably thinks that describing it verbally over Skype is easy for the both of you. He has no way of know it's not if you don't actually tell him.

Some people are beyond receiving any and all suggestions, but that is a matter of personality, not position as "big boss".

As usual, the best way to approach this is to tell your boss "hey, I think X is a better way to do this because Y!", rather than simply state "current method Z sucks!" Be constructive and focus on pointing out improvements, rather than problems.

When the time comes to implement these designs, I am left with more questions than answers, because critical information has not been thought through, such as one-to-many relationships, or whether some data item even has an API to make it accessible.

If you have questions about the design then ask them?

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A. I. Breveleri's answer is largely correct. I'd like to add one very important tactic.

When the time comes to implement these designs, I am left with more questions than answers, because critical information has not been thought through, such as one-to-many relationships, or whether some data item even has an API to make it accessible.

  1. Take meeting minutes.
  2. After the meeting is over, refine your meeting minutes.
  3. Then publish your meeting minutes to all attendees via email.
  4. At the bottom of this email, say:

    This is my version of what happened during today's meeting. If anyone disagrees with my interpretation, please speak up now. If I've noted your name on any outstanding questions, please respond within 24 hours.

  5. If people do not respond to the outstanding questions on the meeting minutes, track them down and (kindly) insist on an answer.
  6. If you still can't get answers to some outstanding questions, "Reply All" to your own email and tell everyone that you need answers to those outstanding questions.

  • Taking meeting minutes in this fashion will solve most of your problem.
  • If you're still frustrated, then it is indeed time to find a new job.
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    Thank you. In fact, I am great at taking minutes. However, the Skype calls were of so low quality that most of the conversations were garbled. It's been 10 weeks since I started w/ the company, and in those 10 weeks, every Skype conference had multiple drop-outs. In 10 weeks not only was there no improvement, but no one suggested getting a different ISP for better internet connection, or researching another means of video conferencing.
    – user85709
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 9:41
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    I have copy/pasted your suggestions to notes I maintain (a Word document I've had for a while). Thank you.
    – user85709
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 9:43
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I think an important step to establish is what the expectations are. I would expect establishing the database design ("such as one-to-many relationships) or establishing if an API already exists are within your domain of responsibility. If BigBoss already knows the answers to these questions it makes sense for them to tell you, but it may well be the case that the task they are delegating to you is to figure out the answers to those questions. Personally I like a workplace based on mutual trust where people are expected to investigate and make sensible decisions themselves, establish if this is such a workplace

While skype is not an ideal medium to document tasks it is a good medium to brief you on tasks. It may be reasonable to suggest that skype be used only for briefing you but that a written ticket exists with acceptance criteria etc and then skype is used to talk you through that ticket (If BigBoss isn't prepared to accept that you could write the ticket yourself and send it to them for approval). This assumes some sort of ticketing system, if you don't have one already suggest getting one (some are free). You've said that "Since the person in question is the big boss, it's impossible to say anything to him or to point out the problems with his approach", those things do not lead one to the other, as the BigBoss its their job to decide but also their job to listen.

Even if a ticketing system is implemented don't expect it to document the solution at all (database design etc), expect it to document the problem or objective the end user wants to see.

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Time constraints may apply to Skype calls that prevents you to dig further into details - after all he's the Big Boss. He's also trying to be proactive and solve a problem. Your job as specialist is to help him make the call and to implement the agreed request.

So take notes, analyze the requests after the call and provide feedback on it. Use the opportunity in a pro-active way:

"let's place a button to the right and also make the ListView slightly bigger."

"Ok, Big Boss, I'm on it. Anything else? I'm sending you an email with time estimates ASAP. I'll also check if there are any other things that we should consider, and if I have any questions I'll let you know.

This way you keep a documented paper (err, electron) trail of all impromptu requests, while freeing Big Boss to keep the call going. He may review your questions at his leisure.

And, since the request now exists in a trackable, shareable format, you can forward it to your Lead Programmer, Project Manager or whoever needs to be aware of it.

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Sometimes,when someone can't clearly explain what they want, the right solution is to put together some sketches or dummy up an approximate user interface with no real function behind it and ask "Is this what you had in mind"? Top-down design...

There is a risk that folks who don't understand programming will see a UI and think the job is mostly done. Someone came up with a UI style for Java that renders everything looking as if it had been sketched on a napkin,to try to help visually distinguish "rigged demos" from real implementations.

Note that this is just another form of playing back the minutes. "This is what I think you described. Please correct me if I misunderstood."

Get immediate confirmation and explicit acknowledgement. That won't keep them from changing their minds, but it puts the cost of late changes where it belongs

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