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There are a few organizational-level problems at my company that I have tried to constructively highlight so that the appropriate parties can address them, but to no avail. I, myself, am in a standard engineering role with no management, product, or direction responsibilities, so without investing a massive amount of effort, there is not much else I can do aside from asking nicely.

My next approach was to bring this up with my manager, but he is fairly quiet and agreeable. He brings up concerns softly, and is reluctant to push matters. IMO this isn't a particularly wrong managerial approach, but it hasn't helped matters in this case. If the issue is that, for instance, we are on the 4th networking wrapper written this year, each from scratch, someone may tell my manager "There won't be a fifth, I promise", he'll immediately drop the subject, and then there will be a fifth. If I point out that maybe we should be more skeptical because of track records, he'll push a little harder, but back off again with a little more reassurance.

Obviously there are situation-specific factors that influence the solution in this particular case, but I imagine this is something that could happen at any company. In general, what can an employee do to bring attention to problems that aren't being addressed when a soft-spoken manager is reluctant to do anything?

My concerns are:

  • Bringing up "Maybe we're not pushing hard enough" with the manager has not been effective in my experiences. It is hard for them to change their personality, and I end up in an endless back and forth with the other party via my manager as a proxy. This takes up too much time and is not sustainable
  • Bringing problems to someone else who will shine a light on them may give your manager the impression you think they are inadequate (true in a way, but seems like a last resort) and may be awkward for them if the problem is not relevant to any of the projects they are working on
  • Circumventing the manager and personally resolving the problem may be too time-consuming given limited resources. "Sorry I didn't get anything done last week. I was trying to solve an organizational problem" probably wouldn't bode well.
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    Good question. Also can you add to the question that how those decisions affect you and your work? (unplanned work, working extra time etc.) – Sourav Ghosh Dec 2 '19 at 11:11
  • Have you calaculated how much time that problems consume? Creating 5 wrappers might be more resource wastefull than sacrificing a week to make things straigh. Maybe talk with you'r menager and make him aware of that loss and propose to take that "burden" from their shoulders. – SZCZERZO KŁY Dec 2 '19 at 11:11
  • I think I usually make it pretty clear what the impact is, but even if the manager agrees it needs to stop, as soon as someone promises him that it has stopped he drops the matter. Creating 5 wrappers was an invented example. For the purpose of the question we can assume that the problems are objective and real. – SoftwareEngineer01 Dec 2 '19 at 11:15
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You have in fact addressed the organizational problems correctly by raising them with your manager. Little is being done with them, but that is beyond your control. Have you considered that "pushing harder" might create a conflict that is neither necessary nor productive? As it stands, it is neither your nor your manager's job to fix these organizational problems. So perhaps a more productive outlet for your frustration is to take on projects that aim to do precisely that. And if you do, you may find that far from being a pushover, your manager is simply picking their battles.

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  • It is not always possible to take on projects to directly solve these problems. E.g. our team uses the network wrapper, but it is made by another team. I am aware that pushing too hard might create a conflict, and would prefer to avoid that. That said, I imagine that in any situation like this, there are steps that can be taken to at least partially alleviate the problem in a constructive way. While it may not be part of my job description, neither is double checking product specs, but I do it anyway because it saves me from throwaway work and makes PMs glad we caught things early. – SoftwareEngineer01 Dec 3 '19 at 2:14
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Get over it. He has his way of solving problems, you have yours... he’s in a position to execute his solutions, you aren’t.

If you feel that you can implement a better network wrapper, ask if you can have the

  1. The source code

  2. The time to work on it

If you feel that you shouldn’t be using a v5/v6 wrapper, either

  1. Stick to the version you have

  2. Wrap the network wrapper so that it’s the only thing you change when you’re forced to use a new version

  3. Check with your manager if you could work with the other team to figure out an approach to minimize rewrites.

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