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My software development manager doesn't write code and mostly deals with the business but likes to get involved in design discussions. In my opinion, it's not her strength given that she's no longer an engineer but she often takes over leading the meetings and imposes her solutions on the team. I'd prefer her to leave the design to the engineers.

Would it be unfair to ask her to stop attending design meetings?

----- Edits from comments ----

I'm an engineer. I thought technical decisions would be within my purview given its my area of expertise. My manager hasn't been technical for a long time. She was an engineer many years ago and wants us to use tech she is familiar with rather than using more modern things.

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    "I'd prefer her to [do her job this way]" What position are you in? Does this position afford you a say in how this manager does their job? – Flater Dec 2 '20 at 12:52
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    @Flater I'm an engineer. I thought technical decisions would be within my purview given its my area of expertise. My manager hasn't been technical for a long time. – Sam Dec 2 '20 at 13:44
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    What kind of "design" are we talking? Software Architecture or fancy UI colors? – nvoigt Dec 2 '20 at 14:38
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    Would it be unfair to ask her to stop attending design meetings? -- maybe not unfair, but definitely not wise. – Neo Dec 2 '20 at 14:50
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    @Neo - Perhaps rewording the question slightly might help. Something like "I want to get myself fired. Is this an effective way to achieve this goal?" – Richard Dec 3 '20 at 0:30
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Would it be unfair to ask her to stop attending design meetings?

Unfair is the wrong word for this situation. Unwise is probably more on point.

You aren't in a position to tell your manager what meetings she can attend, nor how much she can contribute. Doing so is unlikely to benefit you in any way, and may turn her against you.

If you have regular one-on-one meetings with her, and she asks you for your opinion, you might offer one. Other than that, you need to find a way to tolerate her presence even if you disagree with its effectiveness.

A good team can accept her input as valid but still move ahead with their own designs.

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    When I say she imposes her solutions on the team... I mean she forces the team to follow her approach even if the team consensus is different. – Sam Dec 2 '20 at 11:32
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    If the engineers are smart, they'll CYA and let the manager take the fall. If the designs are obviously bad, the engineers should be smart enough to immediately predict the failure modes, then create a paper trail (email, messages, forms and signatures, whatever) to show that manager's decision to do X will cause Y, while alternative solution A was not chosen due to B. The manager needs to own up to her designs, otherwise it is worthless. – Nelson Dec 3 '20 at 3:08
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    You've got an interfering manager doing damage and answers like these are telling you this is business as usual. It sounds to me then (given general futility of managing upward) that you either need to take steps to insulate yourself from the negative consequences of her damage - stop taking the blame for her - or leave. – benxyzzy Dec 3 '20 at 10:13
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    @Sam If your team lead constantly inhibits sound decisions and outcomes, and this makes you frustrated, because you are not cynical and actually care about your work (congratulations), it may be that the only choice you have, is to look for a different job. – henning Dec 3 '20 at 11:24
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    OP's comment "I thought technical decisions would be within my purview given its my area of expertise." on the question's comment thread makes me feel like this is more of a whinge than a real problem – Malisbad Dec 3 '20 at 13:32
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Would it be unfair to ask her to stop attending design meetings?

It might not be the best thing to ask her not to join because you think she isn't qualified to participate. Instead of focusing on a personal attack ("it is not her strength", "she is no longer an engineer") I would give her feedback on the actual designs. What properties of her solutions do you think make them bad solutions? See whether your team can come up with a different design that doesn't have these properties and offer the design as an alternative.

"We think your solution A will work. We got together and noticed that solution A will have a lot of load on system X / will make it very hard to incorporate possible future change Y / requires a huge refactoring of Z and we came up with solution B that does not have that problem. What Do you think the new approach?"

You will have three possible outcomes:
1.) Your manager will give you new facts that explain while her new solution is better. ("Yes solution B is faster, but we cannot do it because it isn't compliant")
2.) Your manager will just overrule you for no good reason. That sucks, but at least you have covered your base and documented that your team prefers a different solution.
3.) You manager will concede and let you do it your way. If that happens all the time, your manager will probably notice that she doesn't have anything to add at the design meetings and leave it to your team.

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Would it be unfair to ask her to stop attending design meetings?

The bosses have hired and trusted her to manage. It is not your place or responsibility to tell her what to do. In fact, you'd be doing the same thing you're accusing her of.

It's not your job to manage, leave management to the manager.

If she is forcing the team to take her approach, there isn't much you can do about it without the risk of damaging your own career.

The team however should be providing the pros/cons and feasibility of each approach. They should be the ones asking (tactfully) for an explanation as to why she thinks her direction is the better approach and raising any concerns they have in following it.

As manager she can overrule, and you might not agree with her decisions, but for all you know (most likely) she knows things you don't and is just following direction from her bosses.

It may seem like a wrong decision, but for all you know it's the right decision for the business.

I do sympathise as I've been in similar situations however, it's not always black and white, and ultimately she is responsible for the approach taken, and she gets to make those decisions. If you don't like it, you either have to be promoted above her, or find a new job where you're in a position to make those decisions.

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    There's the third option, which is seek to understand why she's making the decisions she's making. Asking about her thinking with the intent of understanding what she's seeing/considering that you're not could still be seen as impertinent, but not to the same extent as outright challenging her decisions or authority. – Kaz Dec 2 '20 at 13:55
  • Making engineering decisions is not the job of management. Management will reasonably reject things based on costs, timelines, business needs, etc., but the specific implementation/approach is very much what engineering is. You are right to point out that that may not be represented in the company's structure or distribution of authority, but that doesn't change what the two professions fundamentally are or should be. – Matthew Read Dec 3 '20 at 19:27
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My software development manager doesn't write code and mostly deals with the business but likes to get involved in design discussions. In my opinion, it's not her strength given that she's no longer an engineer but she often takes over leading the meetings and imposes her solutions on the team.

Are you saying that once you stop writing code that you no longer know how? I would suspect that she got to where she is by writing code. I understand that not all managers did so for long or were ever necessarily good at it, but I've been able to get help with coding issues in the past. Some engineers end up in positions where they do little themselves and instead work with younger engineers. This both teaches the newer engineers good practices and keeps the more experienced (read higher paid) engineer doing just the directing.

I'd prefer her to leave the design to the engineers.

Once an engineer, always an engineer. People who go into engineering generally do so because they have a passion for it. Those who do it for the money tend to get out if they can because it sucks for them. Your manager probably misses it to an extent and likes to be involved. To me this line specifically shows that you have disdain for her for some reason. If that is true, either you need to get over it or get out, because that would lead to career limiting actions.

Would it be unfair to ask her to stop attending design meetings?

As mentioned in another answer, it would be unwise to do so. I would say that it would also be unfair. Take the advice in meetings the same way you would from anyone who has a lot of experience. They may not have the right answer for the situation at that time, but the design review is the time to discuss pros and cons of any realistic ideas.

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I think you have to focus on why the manager does what she does.

One possibility that has not been noted by other answers so far is that the team is not communicating information towards the manager in a way that makes them feel confident that the team has everything under control. Stuff may take too long to decide, or too long to implement.

Obviously I do not know your manager, but in my experience, the effect you describe happens if the manager has the feeling that the team is not able to decide what to do quickly; and many managers are very much used to make decisions based on very sparse information - for some, that is the only thing they do day in day out.

If this is the case, then there are two possibilities: either the team has a proper solution (which hopefully is better than the one the manager came up with). Or the team does not. If the team has a good solution, then it should be possible to communicate to the manager that this is the case, and describe it on a level of abstraction that tells the manager that everything is going well, maybe without going into excruciating detail.

If the team has no solution of their own, then some hard introspection is in order. If the manager, next to all their other responsibilities, finds the time to come up with solutions while the team does not, then something is majorly wrong, but not necessarily only on the side of the manager. This does not mean that the team is incompetent, but can point to process problems (for example if the team is running in 2-week sprints but the manager needs progress weekly because of upstream management asking for updates - stuff like that).

As soon as the manager has the feeling that the team is self-sufficient, she will very likely leave you alone. That should be the goal of your activities. Excluding her will probably make the situation only worse.

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I doubt you will change your manager.

What you're proposing probably, maybe, might be interpreted as a direct challenge to a) your managers authority b) your managers favorite thing that makes them feel motivated in the first place. To try and wrestle those design choices off them would, to me, sound like playing with fire.

That said, I don't believe it is, in a sense, 'unfair' whatsoever. I agree with your opinion that such choices are technical engineering choices, and if anything is right in the world you should have that discussion with your manager, and it go in your favour.

Just don't expect logic and reason to work because the foundation of the situation doesn't seem to have been built on logic and reason. Don't expect it to go your way, because it is possibly a very difficult negotiation to have. Perhaps you can negotiate with them (check out the three, five or seven 'steps of negotiation'). But I believe the most probable way to win what you want, and have the design reigns, is to get a new role (either internally or externally) more compatible with how you expect to work.

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    One of the worst managers I've ever had once admitted to me that he took his higher paying senior management job instead of continuing development and support, and regretted it, but it was too late to change. In order to try to recapture some of what he lost, he'd continually micromanage us, force design decisions, spend time trying to do his former job, while doing the bare minimum (and sometimes less than that) of his actual job. This caused a lot of problems in the team and was super frustrating for everyone. I think you're really onto something with (b) in your answer. – calamari Dec 8 '20 at 23:00

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