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For context, I work on a software development team and I have a teammate we'll call Bob. Bob regularly comes up with ideas on how we can improve things and proposes these ideas to his teammates. In general this is great; there is always room for improvement in processes, architecture, design, etc.

The vast majority of Bob's ideas however are not good ideas. He will come up with Idea A, and within 10 seconds or so of hearing it the teammate to which he's talking can think up reasons X, Y, and Z as to why Idea A is not feasible. That teammate will calmly and rationally explain reasons X, Y, and Z for not taking up Idea A and Bob will not accept those reasons. What always proceeds is a 10-60 minute drawn-out conversation/argument eventually leading to Bob letting the topic go and nothing having been improved.

After a few years now of this happening on at least a weekly basis, I'm tired of and frustrated with it. I'd like to let Bob at least feel heard because I don't at all want to discourage ideas for improvement, but I don't want to keep wasting time over things that at face value can be immediately dismissed.

How can I better nip these ideas in the bud when they come up? Or how should I proceed with this type of scenario?

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    What would happen if you let Bob try and implement one of his ideas? Would it be beneficial for Bob to see and encounter these reasons on his own? – MacItaly Feb 14 at 20:04
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    Where are these discussions happening? in meetings, hallway chatter, lunch breaks, or someplace else? The tactics for managing the distractions vary depending on the context. – Thunk Feb 14 at 20:05
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    @MacItaly For some ideas, implementing the idea could be relatively benign (and most of these folks are fine letting him try them out), but for others they could cause some far-reaching security problems, maintenance nightmares, product changes that don't align with business goals, etc. – dabbler Feb 14 at 20:07
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    Have you spoken with the team lead about your frustration with these meetings? Have you considered holding a monthly team meeting to formalize topics like these? – NotMe Feb 14 at 20:27
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    @Fattie Your coworkers must love and adore you... – dabbler Feb 14 at 22:55
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Informal chats as you described in the comments are harder to manage. At least in a meeting you can reign in the discussion with, “let’s get back to the agenda” kind of thing.

One idea is to establish an informal, completely optional forum, like a lunch brown bag, for open discussions. When one of these ideas come up, redirect it with, “Hey Bob, great idea. Let’s table it for now but you should bring it up in the (witty name for this open chat forum).” Those who are interested can spend their time debating. Those who aren’t can skip it. And if nobody but Bob shows up? Bummer.

Another idea, that I’ve used more successfully, is to put Bob on the hook to follow through: “Interesting idea, Bob. Flesh it out as a proposal, draw up some designs, and make some estimates. Schedule a meeting with (senior team members) and pitch your ideas.” In my experience, odds are good that Bob will never follow through. But, if he does, have him collect the feedback given at the formal review and schedule a follow up to present an amended plan.

This puts all the work on him. If he actually follows through with good ideas, then that’s great. If not, that’s fine too. Should he keep trying to bring it up informally, redirect the discussion with, “oh right. Weren’t you going to schedule a session to present your proposal? When is that meeting again?”

He may well be the type of person that thinks through problems by talking them out with others, so I wouldn’t just shut him down. But I would look for ways to redirect his energy, putting the burden on him and giving you a reason to opt out of the immediate discussion.

  • Great ideas -- thank you very much. For some of his ideas (i.e. ones that aren't very feasible because it would take a team 5x the size we have to implement) I have in the past tried to steer him toward following through on them. I'll keep these strategies in mind and try to put them into action. – dabbler Feb 14 at 20:42

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