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Apologies in advance for the long post!

I'm new in a project/communications consulting position, and as part of my role I'm unofficially taking over management of an ongoing web development project.

The problem is that there are another team of consultants who have been working on this project for some time already, but I'm really unimpressed with the work they've done - both now and in their past projects. Their designs and technologies are very outdated. It seems every project they've done in the past 20 years looks and functions the exact same, and nowhere near meet my expectations. When I have asked them why they handle things certain ways, they bring up their (many) years of experience and brush me off.

These conversations have mostly been by email, and my new boss is always on copy but doesn't reply. I'm really not sure the best way to proceed:

  • On one hand, I think the boss already had doubts about their work before I came in, and may be happy to see me challenging them.

  • On the other hand, I'm worried that if he sees me as being difficult or not working well with the other consultants it will put my job at risk before proving myself (I'm on month to month contracts for now).

It's also very difficult to tell an older life-long tech / design consultant that their work is not good enough - and I don't have a clue how to approach this without making them dislike working with me, and potentially try to push me out.

Thanks in advance for any ideas or advice on how to best approach this and protect both my job and the project!

  • Has the other group of consultants been on the project the entire 20 years? Did they have authority to make design and technology decisions or were they told what to do? – cdkMoose Jun 19 at 14:00
  • "I'm unofficially taking over management of an ongoing web development project". What do you mean 'unofficially"? Was there an announcement to you and the team of consultants that you would lead/manager their work? – PagMax Jun 21 at 5:32
  • What does "unofficially taking over management" mean? who told you to do that? – Sascha Jun 24 at 7:22
5

You stated,

It's also very difficult to tell an older life-long tech / design consultant that their work is not good enough

That is going to lead to me frame-challenging your question by asking, who gets to decide what counts as good enough?

Ultimately, there is some customer or consumer of your product. We need to keep that in mind. As a tech workers, it's easy to get lost in pursuit of best - to the extent that we lose sight of good enough or even understanding who is responsible for the ultimate evaluation of our work products.

To make this relevant to your examples, you mentioned that this team's output has remained static for a long time - their new projects look just like their old projects. That alone isn't really a condemning fact. Ask yourself:

  • What does the customer think about their work products?
  • Are their work products maintainable within the scope of their resources and skills?
  • Are they able to produce their work products within reasonable timeframes and budgets?

If you'll notice, none of those things are strictly tied to the complaints you're making. It's totally possible to deliver a functional, successful product that looks similar to one you built 20 years ago, using the same tech stack you used then.

So - don't get lost in improvement for it's own sake, or pursuit of the newest tech concept for it's own sake. Understand the goals and requirements for the work and before raising issue with a team's approach, make sure you can tie your complaint to those goals and requirements.

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I think the most important thing to do is reach out to your boss and ask him what he thinks about the work of the other consultants, what he wants you to accomplish, and how he wants you to proceed. It might be that he also isn't impressed with their work, and is happy that you are pushing them. Or it might be that the work they do is good enough for the purpose, and that they deliver on time and on cost, and he's satisfied with them.

It seems to me that at least 85% of success at a job comes from having clear and regular conversations with one's manager - this is where you learn what is important to them and, by extension, the firm. It is how you learn what to focus on, how to deliver it, etc. Of course, the conversation needs to flow both ways - this is where you ask for help, advice, clarity, etc., so that he can provide you with the opportunities to succeed.

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Before making judgements about the decisions of the previous team, you should seek to understand their reasoning and thinking.

Take some time to learn about the project from the previous team without pre-judging the state of the project. Ask questions like:

  • “What’s the history of the current tech stack?” Avoid asking “Why are you using such old tech?” since that casts judgement before you understand the situation.
  • ”Does the client have specific preferences about development?” Perhaps the client has made undocumented requests.
  • ”Does the project have the right resourcing?” Maybe the client has been pushing to lower costs and the team is under-resourced and scrambling to complete the work as quickly as possible.

Discuss what you learn with other team members and make an informed recommendation to your management and the client. If the recommendation is to “tear-up” much of what the previous team has done, realize that this adds cost for the client, and so will need to have a very good reason beyond dislike of the current tech stack.

Good luck on the new project. Taking ownership of another’s work is a bit challenging and frustrating, but finishing the project strong and according to expectations will be a great feeling.

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