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It has beeen a long time since I've asked a question, however the narrative to my question is quite simple:

How do I push back against upper management "innovations" and simple "requests"?

Questions that I found tremendously helpful were:

However, until I can find a valid exit strategy, here is the situation.

Background:

I work fairly autonomously, as the sole "data person" (basically someone who knows how to write SQL queries and build self-service tableau dashboards for business intelligence dissemination) left (other person left as soon as they got an offer) on my team, I have considerable leeway in deciding what projects/features (among the dozens pending) that will fill my day for research, design, and implementation - as I am the only developer left who is qualified to make a working data product.

However, from time to time, upper management, will "pop-in" to make demands and changes that are one or a mix of the following:

  • Unethical: Tying personnel scorecards (like a report card from school) to arbitrary or unreasonable metrics (imagine if your teacher was ranked based on the class average grade... or that you have an attendance grade, a metric based on the same attendance grade + X, and again another metric based on attendance grade + Y).
  • Amoral: If upper management doesn't get their way, in the sense that I say "yes, I will give you a email of a spreadsheet", a shouting match occurs where my tableau-based work is touted as "insufficient" or "useless" or that "they don't understand it" (other than upper management, tableau dashboards work fine for the rank and file team members) and that they can find someone to do the work and replace me.
  • Eyebrow Raising: Whenever a new report is made, upper management will use excel spreadsheets as a "mock-up" of exactly what they want, even though there is no way in heck that an excel spreadsheet is a viable delivery method for data reporting assets that is used dynamically by >220 users. The level of technological comprehension seems to be stuck solely on spreadsheets and emails as the primary means of business intelligence dissemination.
  • Disrespectful (? not sure the right word): while the other data person was on the team, when I said "no, with the following reasons... data stack incompatibility, refresh times, UI/UX, delivery times, etc..." upper management will order the other person to do exactly what they want (the other data person always enables upper management) and I am forced to incorporate and support (now inherit) spaghetti code and framework with numerous coding issues and 0 documentation (I document, other person doesn't).
  • Unreasonable: since upper management only pops-in from time to time, there is no overall data strategy, everything is ad-hoc and should've done yesterday. Deep Dives into operational issues are expected within 4 hours or new dashboards are demanded and minimalized as "basic spreadsheet reporting that should've been done yesterday".

My direct manager is remotely aware of my role within the team, and keenly aware of the abusive nature of upper management, however my direct manager is a "people manager" and not a "data person" and as this is a 'operations' environment, the workplace culture definitely has "old school" mentality.

I am currently looking for other employment for the past year, but given the economy, I had a couple of interviews, but no offer in hand.

In the meantime, my 2020Q4 goal is to figure out the spaghetti and learn the workflows that I will be inheriting, but I suspect that 2020Q4 will be full of demands to do inane (send an email from a screenshot of a tableau report before 1100 AM, while the requestor for some unknown reason refuses to look at a data dashboard and self-service their business intelligence needs) tasks that the other person who left usually does.

Note, once I am gone, there will be 0 knowledge left my team to build and or maintain existing assets. I used to have trouble about this (professional pride and my relationships with coworkers to ensure that what they use daily works), but after speaking in real life to some mentors I have come to accept that once I am gone, this is not my business. I have pushed for more support and levels of redundancy (I proposed to train a junior data analyst, but the response I received was that 2 hours every other week was enough, I thought this was a joke as it would've taken >2 years to train this person, but this was a serious response) to support and document what I do and its impact on the overall team, but these requests were upon deaf ears. I only have 40 hours and I am now supporting a global team solo - there is simply no time left in the day to do everything.

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    Make time in the day to find another post. – Solar Mike Nov 11 '20 at 8:43
  • "I am currently looking for other employment for the past year, but given the economy, I had a couple of interviews, but no offer in hand." That seems strange given the ultra-boom at the moment. Is it possible to say which country or region you are in ?? – Fattie Nov 11 '20 at 12:25
  • If the upper mgmt of your company insist on using excel and email for business intelligence dissemination as a substitue for proper tools such as DATAPINE, SAS, SAP, DOMO and similar, they might as well replace e-mail with racing pigeons.. – iLuvLogix Nov 11 '20 at 13:15
  • You say you want to leave/find a new job. Would that change if (some of) the complaints from your question would be solved? Let's say that you are allowed to train a Junior, and they don't request mock-ups in Excel anymore. Is that preferable to finding a new job? – Jeroen Nov 11 '20 at 15:04
  • Boy, I don't know why someone who is so insistent on doing things their way instead of a way useful to their users would have trouble finding a new job. That's a real corker. – mxyzplk Nov 11 '20 at 17:36
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Your question reads like a rant.

Instead of pushing back, why not just go along with it? You have no stake in the success or failure of the company other than your current paycheck, and since your plan is to leave as soon as the opportunity arises, why do you care? At the end of the day, they pay you to perform work. You may not like the work, you may not agree with the work, but it's not up to you to determine what is worthwhile and what isn't.

You seem to have a lot of complaints about how things are done, most of which I'm failing to find real merit with, and most of what you've stated is subjective. We can't possibly validate anything you've said, and taken with the tone of your question, strikes me as not much more than sour grapes. If you don't like the way they run the business, and if you don't like the things you're asked to do, then go start your own company and run it the way you want. Until then, I'd simply keep my opinions to myself and do the work they request of me.

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    I’ll concede the point that my question is in the direction of a rant, however my points remain valid from my perspective. With the other data analyst leaving, I am genuinely concerned for my mental health as I will soon be the sole POC left within my team and I would have to field all of the “innovations” and “small requests” coming from upper management. Verbal abuse aside, I’m grasping at different coping mechanisms but haven’t found a coherent strategy. Hence this post. – Bluebird Nov 11 '20 at 15:17
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"My direct manager is remotely aware of my role within the team, 
 and keenly aware of the abusive nature of upper management"

A good manager is a meat barrier between you and the rest of the company. Do they know of the issues? 'remotely aware' implies that there is a communication issue between you and them. You need to help them understand the issues, so that they can help protect you.

Write down the three most important aspects of your job, and the three most invasive issues that stop you doing that job. For each issue, also give your proposed solution. Three aspects, three issues, and three solutions. You can revisit with the next three in the future once they're all solved. More than three will become a simple shopping list, and focus will be removed.

There. You've informed your manager of what YOU think your job is; that may or may not align with their impressions. You've told your manager of the problems, and one way of solving them. It's now their problem to solve. That may or may not happen, but in the meantime, you can search for a new role; that will give you options in case your manager doesn't respond.

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  • I’ve documented and communicated my responsibilities to my direct manager. But since my direct manager is a people person, despite submitting a spreadsheet pivot table with all of my past year working hour and projects, the response was “that’s nice”. Perhaps there is too much information that I’ve submitted. Nevertheless as soon as I heard about my colleague leaving, I scheduled a meeting with my direct manager to inform them that my direct manager needed to run interference between myself and upper management. – Bluebird Nov 11 '20 at 16:13
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    But in hindsight, what I did not do was focus my points to just three. I’ll do that and see what the results are. – Bluebird Nov 11 '20 at 16:24
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Sounds like you need to interview harder/more. I don't know what locale you're in or what steps you've tried, but you can try vomiting out your resume on LinkedIn to as many job postings as you can click before your thumbs get tired. That actually worked for me once. Working with recruiters on LinkedIn is also useful, in my experience; all my jobs except my current one have been through random recruiters.

Regarding your points:

  1. I'm not sure how it's unethical to tie student grades to teacher metrics. IMO teachers should be ranked on the class average grade; if the students are all failing then probably the teacher can't teach and should be replaced. Of course, the teacher is the one preparing those grades, but as long as there's some oversight... Likewise with attendance; if students aren't attending class then probably the teacher isn't engaging, and the teacher needs some training in how to teach more effectively. That task is not unreasonable imo.

  2. If upper management wants a report in an Excel spreadsheet, then give them the report, in an Excel spreadsheet. It doesn't matter how bad it is or how difficult it is to read. They asked for an Excel spreadsheet, so give them an Excel spreadsheet. Those are your requirements. You can propose an alternate method of delivery and explain how it's better, but at the end of the day, if management wants Excel, management should get Excel.

  3. Your point about your coworker always doing what management asks proves your opinion is incorrect: When you said it can't be done, in fact it can be done. It causes issues, the UI/UX is bad, the code style sucks, but ultimately it got done. And when it got done, but you said it couldn't be done, that makes you look bad. When you have issues like this, you should push back against management, lightly, and explain "hey, you know, there are issues XYZ and maybe you should consider that", and if they reply "don't care, get it done", then just get it done in the best way you can. Being too pushy on this makes you look like an insubordinate employee and that's not good. If you feel like you are getting too many of these "just do it" requests, the it's time to find another job, because this company cares more about "just do it" than producing a quality product and that's a recipe for disaster long-term.

  4. Regarding the too-tight timelines, this is the part where you should actually quit. When management tells you to do something, you tell them how long it will take. If they tell you it's not fast enough, then tell them to hire someone else to help you because it's not practical for someone to get their request done on their timeline, otherwise that's how long it will take. If they come back with some snoody comment, then it's time to pick yourself up and leave, because management does not respect the technologists, meaning you.

  5. Regarding picking yourself up and leaving, you are exactly right: If you don't like the company, leave. If they are left with reams of unmaintainable spaghetti code, that's not your problem. You did your due diligence in explaining why the code is bad, and explained (or should explain) what needs to be done to fix it. If they're not happy with that, then too bad for them.

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    (1) If the teacher is ranked on class average grade, then wouldn't the teacher have the incentive to grade easier and get better grades? This is exactly what was happening. Remember, I am using an metaphor here, but realistically if this was a factory, imagine the QA team members were ranked based on the average of what they audit. This will create a perverse incentive system to grade "easier" (2) This is a slippery slope, if I start, then my workday will become 80% spreadsheet reporting. There won't be time to keep all Tableau reporting afloat (3) I agree. (4) I agree. (5) Understood. – Bluebird Nov 11 '20 at 16:44
  • @Bluebird 1) I don't disagree that if the teacher's grades are tied to their metrics then there is a lot of incentive to cheat. That's why I said, with oversight, but also that's not your problem. 2) This is also not your problem. Tell your boss you need priorities, or you need more hands, because you can't do everything. When he asks for an Excel report, ask him plainly: "Is this more or less important than that widget you told me to do 10 minutes ago?", and don't let him give you a non-committal answer. – Ertai87 Nov 11 '20 at 17:03
  • (2) I’ve asked for priorities and I was given a list that was nonsensical because relative to them, everything was easy as a spreadsheet. However the follow up I have here is the “more hands” request, training a new person within the team is an intensive long term investment... that sucks up even more time in the near future. – Bluebird Nov 11 '20 at 17:54
  • @Bluebird what do you mean with nonsensical because to them it was easy? Demand a list. If they attach time expectations to their list, send them back corrected with a "I will follow the prios, but your estimates are off by far, first point will take about this long". If they start discussing, you are the domain expert and they can hire someone in addition, and all time discussing is obviously added to the estimate^^ – Frank Hopkins Nov 12 '20 at 20:36
  • @FrankHopkins that’s when the threats of “why don’t I bring in data analyst Alice from another team to do it for you?” comes into play. To of which I say “sure setup the meeting”. Next day, radio silence from upper management. Like I said, I truly believe that my upper management do not know how to manage knowledge workers. But I’ll keep your suggestion mind. I’ll engage halfway, but honestly don’t think there will be a tangible result. – Bluebird Nov 12 '20 at 22:09
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Pushing back against upper management innovations and requests for improvement? Hold on. It is top management's job to know what they need. However, you can push back on how that information is collected and presented.

The problem is that you, in IT, are expected to know the business objectives and work to further those objectives. You are resisting that. The problem isn't what they are asking for, but because of the disconnect between your ideas and their comprehension of their business needs, there is conflict.

The better way of dealing with this is to ask for understanding of what the business needs are. When they come in with innovations and requests for improvement, we do a heck of a lot better to ask for understanding of how this fits in with the business needs. Often, we get to learn more about the company and what the real objectives of top management. (And, yes, those objectives often change.)

I have a lot of requests for specific spreadsheets. By asking for more information, I have often come back with a different solution that better meets the business needs. Remember that top management needs information in a format that they can understand. Our job is to provide that. That rank and file people use one format, but top management uses spreadsheets is not a problem. We get to provide those spreadsheets.

If you don't want to do that, yes, find another job.

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  • My main reply would be that as the sole developer left on the team, I can either deliver spreadsheets and only service upper management (this was 80% of the person who left) or design a system to allow users to self service data (my method to service the other 199 people). What I haven’t understood, is if a dashboard can be used by a new hire only with a high school degree, why couldn’t upper managers with decades of experience do the same? A chart is a chart, whether through an spreadsheet or tableau. I’ve never comprehended the technological sophistication gap of MGMT and the modern day. – Bluebird Nov 11 '20 at 20:57
  • The highest value you provide to the company is to make top management more productive. I hear you arguing that you know better than your managers do how to run the company. – David R Nov 11 '20 at 22:55
  • Seems like what you want is a dashboard that will generate Excel spreadsheets on request. – swbarnes2 Nov 12 '20 at 0:03
  • @DavidR, this might be hubris, but in reality yes. Upper management can go on vacation for weeks and everybody breathes easier. I don't know what can be done if I go on vacation. I am aware of the potential for me to overestimate my value to the company, but my upper managers literally cannot define our service level agreements - in fact their version of "improving the numbers" is to put 40% of our personnel on "improvement plans" and scare them to work faster and better. There are a handful of people whom I think are "essential" to the operation, but my upper management is definitely not. – Bluebird Nov 12 '20 at 6:03
  • @swbarnes2 here is another wrinkle of the problem, I have literally developed automated reporting that are in spreadsheet form, but the way to "see them" is to literally click a tableau URL. Upper management insists that they want information via email. So the workflow is literally (1) they request information via direct message and/or email, (2) I reply with a link, a screenshot, and a write out of what is on the tableau report. Imagine if you wanted to know what day was thanksgiving, instead of googling it yourself, you ask your employee to google it for you. – Bluebird Nov 12 '20 at 6:06
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The situation is

  1. Your job sucks

  2. You are looking for another job

  3. You assert that you've not yet found another job, even though we're in the middle of the biggest ultra-hyper-boom ever for anything related to data or software.

There are only three possible solutions,

  1. Your point 3 is simply incorrect, you can get another job locally if you try harder

  2. Move

  3. Take a remote job

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    You may wish to Google "global coronavirus pandemic". Surprised you've not heard of it, been mentioned in the news once or twice. Anyway, it means that a great many companies in pretty much every country on earth have been closing or shrinking, and many people have found themselves out of work at short notice, so any company that is hiring is inundated with applicants. This in turn means that your assertion that the OP is "incorrect" when they say they can't find another job may just be the single most patronising and least useful statement I've ever read on this site, and that's going some. – BittermanAndy Nov 11 '20 at 14:18
  • @BittermanAndy - that's quite a rant! :) Did you notice OP is in software? (Well, "data".) – Fattie Nov 11 '20 at 20:45
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    @Fattie I don't know about the situation in the US, but in France, and most of EU, there are more applicants than jobs in the IT industry for the first time in decades (if not ever). BittermanAndy definitely has a point here. – m.raynal Nov 12 '20 at 10:58
  • @Fattie yes, I noticed. I also work in software. I've been looking for a job since March - so far two interviews, no offers. My previous job searches have never taken more than three months, and only that long because I wanted to pick-and-choose rather than just take the first offer that comes along. At least here in the UK, and I suspect in much of the world, you are simply wrong to say "software is booming, getting a job is easy" because the pandemic has changed everything. If you don't even realise that, you're not an expert in the subject, and ought to be questioning what you really know. – BittermanAndy Nov 12 '20 at 11:16
  • Interesting, wondering more about your experience @BittermanAndy .. I was just wondering, are you focussing more on local -on -site roles or considering remote? Cheers.. Do you mind mentioning if you are in London or regional ? (Myself, I do not live in the UK presently, BTW. Most recently in the S.E.) – Fattie Nov 12 '20 at 13:10

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