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My team is meeting later this work to discuss how to build a new component for our software system to handle a new business problem we are facing.

I don't believe this new component is required and want to explore an alternative solution. The decision to build this component was taken at a meeting I wasn't present for nor invited to.

Is sending an email with a different proposal ahead of that meeting appropriate or should I wait and bring it up in the meeting instead?

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  • If you were not invited to the meeting in which the decision was made - how do you know of the decision? – Sourav Ghosh May 3 at 18:43
  • @SouravGhosh The decision was taken by product and the business. It was communicated to engineering as something we now need to build - but I think there are better ways of solving this problem. – Jack May 3 at 18:46
  • That's something usual, or this is exceptional? In other words, does the PLM/Business team always take the decision w/o consulting Engg about technical aspect of the implementation? – Sourav Ghosh May 3 at 18:52
  • @SouravGhosh We typically receive requirements that we discuss with them but on this occasion someone has decided that on-going work should be extended to include this. It's essentially a massive scope creep that has been tagged onto something already in development. – Jack May 3 at 18:57
  • While I am reading the question as how to go about trying to undo what you sincerely believe is a bad decision (and answered it based on that interpretation), in reality the most likely outcome is the decision will stay - which means your priority should be to secure additional time and budget that is implied by the increase in work. – Pete W May 3 at 23:42
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The decision to build this component was taken at a meeting I wasn't present for nor invited to.

Seems, for some reason (completely legit or absolutely bogus - either way) someone thinks it's out of your jurisdiction to comment / decide / chime in about the decision.

If you are now invited to the follow up meeting, and you have your reasons to believe there's significant drawback to the currently proposed approach and you have a better / alternate solution, then based on the scenario, do the following:

  • If you're invited by your manager / higher-ups ( a.k.a. decision makers), then draft an email summarizing your inputs. Do not get into absolute details, mention three points:
    • How you understand the objective
    • How you look at the proposed solution
    • How your opinion differs and what value increment your new proposal can bring it.

If your points have merits, the decision makers will get back to you to know more.

  • If you're added to the meeting by a colleague, or, this is a team-wide meeting, just like for any other action item, then better to wait till the meeting happens, and during the discussion session, bring up your thoughts.

Either way, keep in mind: the point is not to oppose the current idea, rather present an idea which has more positives over the existing one.

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  • Couldn't the OP pick the main reasons he thinks the design is bad and ask if they've thought about those things in the meeting? – Monstar May 3 at 19:06
  • @Monstar Yes, but being ready with an alternate is always better. As the saying goes: "Don't go to complain, reach out to propose a solution." – Sourav Ghosh May 3 at 19:07
  • @Monstar honestly that just comes across as complaining - unfortunately ! – Fattie May 3 at 21:40
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Engineering is always an evolving discipline. By that I mean the correct time to raise an issue or flaw with a plan, in engineering, is always "right now", because the sooner the problem is raised, the sooner it can be fixed.

Aside from the obvious reason that if your suggestion is actually better then you'll waste time thinking about a subpar solution, the other issue is that perhaps it is you who is missing context on this application you're being asked to build. If you walk into a meeting and you spend a bunch of time outlining another possible solution that solves X problem much better than the proposed solution, but then someone comes out and asks "how about Y?", when you didn't even know Y was a thing you needed to think about, then you're going to look really silly and waste everyone's time.

So here's what you should do: Whoever is in charge of spearheading this new feature, send them (and only them) an email asking for more details about this new assignment, and mention you have another idea and ask for feedback on that idea. Don't assertively say your idea is better or whatever, because you may not have all the facts. Simply send your idea and ask what they think of it. They may come back and say "oh, we also need to solve Y", and maybe your solution doesn't solve Y, in which case you've just saved yourself a whole bunch of time, hassle, and embarrassment versus bringing it up in the meeting.

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Is sending an email with a different proposal ahead of that meeting appropriate or should I wait and bring it up in the meeting instead?

Both are inappropriate.

The decision was already made to build a new component, and the new meeting is to decide how.

Don't hijack that meeting. Instead, speak offline before the meeting with product and the business.

If they still decide that a component must be built, either contribute to the "how" meeting with ideas about how to build it, or (if you can't just contribute to moving forward) skip the meeting altogether.

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  • Out of curiosity, what's the benefit of skipping the meeting? – Pete W May 3 at 23:26
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    @PeteW If you have nothing to contribute to a meeting why waste your time? If you’re just going to derail the discussion because you think the decided-upon solution is unwise, why waste everyone else’s time? – ColleenV May 4 at 11:01
  • Asking clarification on the talking point of the meeting you've been invited to is not hijacking. Presenting an alternate solution is, but it's not unwarranted for OP to ask for clarification on why the new component is being built as opposed to reusing existing components. This leaves it open either engage in the alternate approach or not, while also satisfying OP's interest in ensuring that the other potential avenue is at least known about (even if not taken). I'd be more inclined to do that during the meeting unless speaking to someone who confidently (and correctly) speaks for the team. – Flater May 4 at 12:40
  • @JoeStrazzere: Involving someone in a followup meeting but not the original meeting very much warrants filling them in on the reasoning decided in the first meeting. If the specific choice was made, there was a specific reason for it, and that reason may very well be an important factor/requirement that developers need to account for. I agree that OP shouldn't break open a back and forth out of nowhere, but a request for information is perfectly fine. – Flater 2 days ago
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Here's what to do. Use the concept of nemawashi.

Via a set of 1-1 discussions, find out

  1. All the details of what they need
  2. Details of the prior discussion on solutions and pros and cons so you know who's more invested and what they are concerned about

You can do this under color of "getting more context." Then if you still think you have a better solution,

  1. Vet it 1-1 with fellow engineers
  2. Vet it 1-1 with product/business folks

Make sure the "why" it's better is something those decisionmakers care about (hint: "it's more work for engineering" they don't care about. "I can get the same benefit more cheaply or more quickly" they do.)

You might send out an email with details prior to the meeting but only after you feel like you've gotten input from all the primary contributors. It's not clear to me if the meeting you're asking about is just engineers, or engineers and product or whatnot - if it's just engineers, you can use it to vet your alternate solution in the group prior to trying to float it back up the chain. If it's more than that, you need to lay the groundwork before the meeting.

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If you want to reverse the decision to add function X, arguing against it on the basis of "not needed" may be hard, as someone has already assessed this and may be invested in sticking with the decision. Questioning their judgment of need can provoke them to fight harder to defend keeping X.

The more practical approach may be to explain that the cost will be exorbitant, AND will as a direct consequence result in other important things Y and Z being sacrificed. (be prepared for the counterargument of "let's build a really minimal low quality version of X").

Ideally, after discussion of cost increase, someone else will then step in and ask whether "we can get by without X". If you take the in-meeting route, that might be something to arrange for ahead of time.

Also, even if you don't get your way, try to get yourself invited to future meetings like the one you weren't at, "to avoid cost/time surprises".

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