8

This is an issue I found in many companies, and it's been verified by friends and colleagues as a general problem.

Context: company, often a startup, which is cash-hungry or led by former salespeople (no technical leaders)

Problem: some manager or salesperson will generate hype by promising something that does not exist or which is outside the current roadmap. Senior management, by hearing the good news, will get immediately excited about the money coming in. The doers/engineers/technical people are then asked "when is this going to be ready". A normal, rational, technical person will consider the request and mention whether it is a) unfeasible, b) unprofitable, c) hard to do given the existing roadmap which has been carefully considered and shaped by multiple people in the company, or d) all these things together.

As somebody pointed out to me, "three months from now the senior manager won't even remember what this was about, but he will remember the enthusiasm and promise of the person who found this new opportunity, and the negativity and lack of collaborative spirit of the engineer who said it couldn't be done".

I see this happening regularly: somebody generates hype, engineers are left to deal with the consequences, and if one tries to discuss the topic he is told "well, do you want to be one who goes and explains the CEO this couldn't be done because you could not fit it in the roadmap?"

I have seen people surviving for years by contributing with little else than such hype. What is the most effective strategy to handle such a common occurrence?

Note: I wanted to add the tag "organisational behaviour" but couldn't find it.

  • 3
    Just to confirm; do you want colleagues to contribute more than just hype to a project? Or do you want them to accept more informed expectations? – user34587 Dec 13 '18 at 12:59
  • You may not respect it but there is objective genuine value in an ability to generate hype. – user85135 Dec 13 '18 at 18:40
10

well, do you want to be one who goes and explains the CEO this couldn't be done because you could not fit it in the roadmap?"

Yes. Simply put, it's your professional obligation to be honest and up front with whomever you work for. Small anecdote, often we'll have disagreements at the company. We're a small firm so often a lot of top level people have input in these things. Sometimes, the tech team (me for example) will point out an issue and our manager will say "You're right." and I often say "You pay me to be right." In other words, you're given a salary for your expertise, experience and talent. Part of being a technical person is being up front and honest about what is and isn't feasible with management.

If you do this, you need to provide evidence, not just nay-say. You need to be clear and concise in the "Why" of your position. I have no problem telling our CEO that something is not feasible and thus will cost a lot of money and is a huge risk. This is not ideal. Everyone wants everything to be buildable, sellable and profitable. But the real world doesn't work this way.

... and you should be up front, because that can keep the business running longer because it's not taking needless risks and burning money. If on the other hand, you avoid "explaining why", then what will happen is the company will burn money on things it can't accomplish and in turn maybe have to close shop. No one wants that.

There's nothing wrong with the truth and facts. Decision Makers can only make the right decisions provided the people their paying are telling them the realities of technical challenges associated with a product or service.

In my, limited experience, the real problem is no one wants to ask the uncomfortable questions. You should always be able to ask the uncomfortable questions or have the uncomfortable conversations. To me, that's the difference between a business that knows its risks and a business that's going to fail. Uncomfortable conversations are usually the most important conversations.

  • Last paragraph is one of the truest truths out there. – busman Jan 29 at 15:28
12

IMHO, As technical person (doer) its our job to give a technical estimate of the task.

I found that "NO" will always be perceived as negative attitude.

Issue need to be framed in the way it can be understood.

Money is always a great measuring tool for task at hand, depending on the industry, it is rare that required cannot be achieved, but at cost.

Even if the cost estimation include hiring a specialist in specific field, learning a new skill-set or producing specialized instrument.

In short, as doer, your answer should be "Yes, but" and then the cost analysis or proof of actual impossibility. And if the cost is deemed acceptable, why wouldn`t it be "Yes"?

  • 4
    I like this answer-- you don't have to say "no" to point out that the hyped feature isn't feasible: "Of course we can include that! We'll have to delay the release for 5 months or so, but that and an additional $400,000 will get us there." – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Dec 13 '18 at 19:22
  • @Upper_Case Yes, This is exactly how professional answer should be structured :) After people hear "NO",in most of the cases anything you say after will be ignored. – Strader Dec 13 '18 at 21:03
  • Also, its may not be your job to decide on budget. And if budget approved - you get a new skill :) – Strader Dec 13 '18 at 21:18
2

I have been in this situation at least two times in my life. My advice would be that you, as a technical person, should always make clear what is possible and what is not in a given timespan (1). And you want to have written proof of what you said and to whom you said it.

"well, do you want to be one who goes and explains the CEO this couldn't be done because you could not fit it in the roadmap?"

If you value your profession and see yourself as a reliable, honest and knowledgeable person, you definitely want to. Especially in the start-up environment, projects are all about management of expectations. You never want to overpromise.

In my experience, as I worked in a small bio-tech company that promised Nobel Prize-winning would-be solutions to its customers, I grew to be the "killjoy" in the team. Meant to be pejoritve by the management's side, I eagerly embraced this title and made sure I always told them what was doable and what not (spoiler: most of what they came up with was in the second group) while still being reliable and deliver anything I had said could be done.

Of course, this kind of over-the-top enterpreneurs never learn or care about feasability, so at a certain point, you just say things once, hear them rant about "positive attitude", "ambitious goals", "pushing the limits" and other forms of managementspeak; and then just allow the trainwreck to happen provided they didn't pay any attention to your warnings. Finally, you leave the company.

(1) Note that completely impossible things to achieve (like in physically impossible, such as manufacturing magnetic monopoles or faster-than-light travel) cannot be completed in any timespan at all, but certain kind of managers do not want to know that, so you just keep telling them "no" no matter what timespan they suggest.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.