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The Consultant

I've spent several hours of meetings with my boss, colleagues and an external consultant to discuss a certain topic. The external consultant has introduced the same topic in other departments of my company, but unfortunately he doesn't know what he is talking about. I once pointed out that the main example he is using for explaining it, was actually used as anti-example in the book, which we are using as reference. The book was written by the most popular evangelist and you won't find any book contradicting this aspect.

To make it worse two other colleagues are claiming to have worked on this topic in their previous department, whereas their explanation fulfills the whole anti-pattern checklist.

The Topic

I'm explicitly not telling the topic to avoid distractions. I researched on my own and all the sources I found are stating the same about this aspect. I also discussed with experts on this topic in our company and they agree with me. I suggested to bring in those experts, but my boss rather wants to listen to somebody with "operational experience" (aka argument of authority), although our own experts have more real life experience from what I can tell.

To be clear, this is not a matter of taste or an implementation detail. It's about the fundamental definition. Let's say we're discussing cars and the consultant is explaining how you can drive from A to B, and that cars have 2 wheels. If you do not know cars, you won't recognize any problem, but if you inform yourself, you'll know that cars must have 4 wheels (ok ok, a few rare models have more or less than 4 wheels).

The Meeting

Now again I pointed out another fundamental mistake during a meeting. This was a mistake I explicitly mentioned to everyone beforehand and asked them to read at least the online summary on the topic, where it is listed explicitly as a common mistake (as it is in the book). During the meeting I again shared the link and the text, which is explaining the mistake. Nevertheless everybody except me voted to use the suggested approach. As this felt completely surreal to me, I didn't let go so easily and pressed to overhaul the decision - without success. Please note that I'm often characterized as less emotional, so I have good self-control and didn't get rude or anything.

The Impact

Now I have the feeling that they are starting to see me as a grumbler, because I don't join their cargo cult. I don't think repeating the same thing over and over again will change anything. Still I don't want to contribute to this topic, because it's obviously wrong and I will waste more of my time without benefit.

By implementing this incorrectly we will not get any advantage but also no disadvantage, but it's affecting my motivation. By implementing it correctly our productivity would increase and increasing the productivity was stated as the main reason to work on this topic.

How can I convince my boss and team that the consultant and team colleagues are wrong, without looking stubborn or pedantic?


Addendum: Somehow many comments and answers are jumping to the conclusion that I'm trying to "counter-argument from my own authority". You may add this to your answer to address more scenarios, but it doesn't apply to my case. While pointing out the mistake, I explained the consequences and added the references to the book and other experts solely to emphasize that I didn't make this up on my own.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    May 7 at 13:35
  • Regarding the closure. Not sure, what you mean by more focus. I added details to make it as specific as possible. Do you want less text? Wouldn't that make it broader?
    – Chris
    May 9 at 7:43

12 Answers 12

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In general, if you are the only person in the room that is saying there’s an issue, you aren’t going to be successful. Instead of more documentation and books, you need more people who agree with you and who are willing to say so in public.

How you find those people really depends on your specific situation. You could do some “consensus building” and persuade individuals on your team until you have enough people to make a difference. You could invite a recognized expert to speak about the problems with the approach. Asking someone to read an article or referring to definitions that are black and white is one of the least effective ways to persuade some people that their approach is wrong. Some people are more easily convinced by hearing from other people that agree with whatever point you’re trying to convince them of.

It sounds like it’s too late to do much about this decision though. The best you can probably do is try to push the implementation details toward something that will work, or commit fully toward implementing the decision so that it quickly becomes apparent that it doesn’t work. If you are going the “fail fast” route, you have to make a sincere effort to get it to work, or people will just assume you sabotaged it because you were such a vocal critic of it.

We went through a similar problem at a former workplace that decided to “do agile” and the only thing that helped was for the development team to coordinate in lunchtime meetings and then speak with one voice to management. Our management could only affect so much, as it was a company-wide mandate, but it did help mitigate some of the bad effects.

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    @Chris And just an additional note to address the updates you've made to the question: It's really hard to let people be wrong, but sometimes that's what you have to do. If what they are wrong about doesn't have serious consequences, and isn't dangerous to them or others, sometimes you just have to let it go. Sometimes a choice isn't about the "correct" versus the "incorrect". It could be about going along with a harmless strategy because the boss wants to try it. Agreeing costs someone little but pushing too hard against it could damage their relationship with the boss.
    – ColleenV
    May 7 at 16:38
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    I accepted this answer, because it's most suited to my situation. Other answers are assuming I didn't explain the mistake and outcome, which is not the case. I think I'm missing the backing from other team members.
    – Chris
    May 10 at 13:24
115

Ask questions.

"My car guide mentions 4 wheels. Why does that not apply in this case?" And then listen. There might be a reason why they have considered your point and it doesn't apply. More likely, the act of them trying to explain it to you will help them realize the point themselves.

Even this might not work. You might have to try to implement their solution, and run into the normal and expected issues, and have the team learn the hard way.

So, ask questions to try to get them to see the issues, and if that doesn't work, then do what they want. Try hard to make it work, if at all possible.

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    +1 for the Socratic Method. Let them come to the conclusion themselves through (guided) questions. Added bonus: if you can convince somebody that it was their own idea they are more likely to accept it, especially if that person has an inflated ego. May 7 at 9:02
  • +1 Asking questions also avoids confrontations and is generally more constructive than plainly arguing against something. In addition, if it turns out you are wrong, you won't feel too bad and maybe even nobody would notice about it.
    – Didier L
    May 7 at 10:47
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    "You might have to try to implement their solution, and run into the normal and expected issues, and have the team learn the hard way." - or as I like to put it: you can steer the Titanic, but not before it hits the iceberg.
    – user57488
    May 7 at 11:49
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    While I agree that asking questions is a wise and humble thing to do in general, in a situation like this there's a real risk of the consultant, who probably doesn't like OP much by now, taking this as an opportunity for a sucker punch (e.g. "Well everyone knows that...<rebuttal>"!) that causes OP to lose significant face in front of everyone. In an environment where everyone is on the same team, or where there's no real risk to OP's reputation if things go south, this would be an excellent suggestion, but I wouldn't suggest it here.
    – bob
    May 7 at 12:37
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    You might also, and this is the most difficult task of all, have to accept that the recommended solution is wrong for the situation - guidelines are made to help us understand the best course of action in most situations, but they are not the only solution, and if every person in your team has a reason for going against it, then maybe there is a good reason for going against it.
    – Zibbobz
    May 7 at 13:36
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How can I convince my boss and team that the consultant and team colleagues are wrong, without looking stubborn or pedantic?

Let it go. You've made your case. The outcome isn't your responsibility. If you can, get your comments, remarks, arguments against, suggestions, etc. in a document or email.

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    Careful with the latter part though; unless the expected outcome of the mistake is significant, sending that email may further label OP as "the complainer" / "naysayer" / "not a team player". So if it's a matter of "the architecture won't be as elegant", I'd just quietly let it go. If it's a matter of "we're going to lose customers", I'd definitely document it in an email.
    – bob
    May 7 at 12:43
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    @bob you can always email yourself for record
    – TCooper
    May 7 at 20:46
  • I'm with you on the one final email approach... I would start with something like... "I think maybe I didn't explain my reasoning very well during the meeting so I wanted to have one final go at it in this email." Keep it brief, use a few links to well regarded "experts", books, blogs, etc. backing you up and quote them, not yourself... try to be the messenger of an expert's message and then let it go. A former boss of mine gave me some good advice... explain yourself until they understand (not until they agree) and then stop. After that, they own the decision.
    – JeffC
    May 8 at 5:03
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the main example he is using for explaining it, was actually used as anti-example in the book, which we are using as reference. The book was written by the most popular evangelist and you won't find any book contradicting this aspect.

all the sources I found are stating the same about this aspect. I also discussed with experts on this topic in our company and they agree with me.

asked them to read at least the online summary on the topic, where it is listed explicitly as a common mistake

You yourself seem to be arguing from authority. If you have no other rational arguments to show your colleagues' approach is incorrect, then you have no play -- they obviously prefer their "authority" to yours.

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  • -1 I explicitly mentioned that I checked multiple sources and discussed it with the officially announced experts in our company. What else do you want?
    – Chris
    May 7 at 19:27
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    @Chris I personally don't want anything from you; your colleagues, on the other hand, apparently want an argument other than references to books, online summaries, and expert opinions. If you can't provide an explanation why what they plan to do is a mistake, apart from "I read it in a book", then your position may not be very strong, and in any case is no stronger than theirs.
    – mustaccio
    May 7 at 20:15
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    @Chris The question says that you want your boss and team to stop listening to arguments from authority — but that doesn't seem to be what you really want, which is for them to listen to arguments from your authorities (books and online summaries and multiple sources) and not theirs!  If you really don't want arguments from authority, then you'll have to come up with persuasive arguments of your own that don't refer to anything else.
    – gidds
    May 7 at 23:22
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    To be honest, I also find the word "evangelist" very troubling here. There are very few professions where there is one single recognised expert, and the fact that multiple colleagues, presumably with experience in the field, disagree, makes me think the OP is maybe "evangelising" for an approach that could be questionable... May 8 at 10:13
  • @mustaccio I don't know why you think I didn't explain the problem, when I even had multiple sources at hand which are explaining the mistake - and I've also mentioned in the question that I shared the explanation.
    – Chris
    May 10 at 13:20
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Frame challenge: are you sure they're wrong?

NOTE: a recent clarifying update to OP's question made the first half of this answer moot, but the second half still holds.

Based on this part of the question...

By implementing this incorrectly we will not get any advantage but also no disadvantage, but it's affecting my motivation.

...it's not clear that this is a matter of "correct" vs. "incorrect", but rather of opinion--what one person thinks is best practice vs. what another thinks. "Incorrect" implies there are disadvantages. Without demonstrable disadvantages, you're in the realm of opinion. If the above quote is what OP actually meant, this isn't a hill I'd die on. If the team wants to use the Foo pattern, while the majority of the community says the Bar pattern is the way to go, but you can't demonstrate any downside either way, what is gained by arguing the same point again and again? If that's truly the case, I'd let it go.

Even if there are disadvantages, it's not ultimately your call

As others have mentioned, even if this really is a big deal and the above quote was a misunderstanding, the OP got outvoted (including by the boss!). So unless this is a case where there are legal or ethical obligations to escalate the situation, it's important to remember that in the workplace, when you're not the decision-maker, you have to accept other people's decisions (barring legal or ethical exceptions of course), unless you intend to head for the door.

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    "Frame challenge: are you sure they're wrong?" – One of my favorite cartoons is a guy driving down the highway listening to a traffic advisory that drivers should exercise extreme caution because there's someone going down the highway in the wrong direction, and the guy exclaims: "Someone? There's hundreds!" May 7 at 18:50
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    @Chris I'm basing that part of my answer on the wording of the question: By implementing this incorrectly we will not get any advantage but also no disadvantage, but it's affecting my motivation. (emphasis mine). Did I misunderstand what you meant by that part?
    – bob
    May 7 at 20:09
  • @Chris I see now that you updated the original question with clarification that there is an opportunity cost to doing it the wrong way. That changes things--thanks for the clarification! I'll edit my answer to reflect that while keeping the second half of my answer, which still holds regardless: those in charge have a right to make and own their own mistakes.
    – bob
    May 7 at 20:14
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This is a "company culture" issue. Your company does this thing wrong, and you've told them it's wrong, and you've given them sources to show that it's wrong, but they choose to do the wrong thing anyway. At some point, you have to throw your hands up in the air and give up and let them do the thing that's wrong (and contribute to it as best you can). You can inform your boss and your team that what they are doing will blow up in their face: if they try to build a car with two wheels, then it won't drive right, but nonetheless if they vehemently insist on building a two-wheeled car, then let them go right ahead and do it, and let them break it themselves.

That said, if you are working for a company which builds two-wheeled cars, you may want to find yourself a job at a company who builds four-wheeled cars instead. A two-wheeled car company is not particularly likely to be able to pay your paycheque for very long, and you want a company that is going to be solvent long-term.

At the very least, keep written, documented records of the time you've spent trying to convince your team to build a four-wheeled car so when the project goes belly-up and you get reprimanded by management or HR (in the form of job termination for lack of performance on the project, because as the person who raised the biggest fuss you are probably the first on the chopping block when and not if this project goes belly-up), you can throw reams of paper in their face and show them how you were the only competent person on the project (you may be able to use such documentation in a wrongful termination lawsuit as well, although IANAL).

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  • tl;dr: cover your bottom by documenting that you were against the idea, so when everything blows up (as it certainly will) you get out unscathed.
    – jo1storm
    May 7 at 12:19
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    This is a pretty excellent answer. The only nuance I'd consider editing is that the (hope?) that a company who does this gets punished by the market may not be true if it's just one broken department in a much larger, otherwise well-functioning company. They may be able to leech off the rest of the body indefinitely. May 7 at 12:36
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    @DanielR.Collins anyway, you don't want to stay in such a company long-term just to save your sanity.
    – bash0r
    May 7 at 12:58
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The external consultant has introduced the same topic in other departments of my company, but unfortunately he doesn't know what he is talking about. I once pointed out that the main example he is using for explaining it, was actually used as anti-example in the book, which we are using as reference.

Let your colleagues save face. Correct them privately and with humility.

Embarrass them publicly (or embarrass them even privately), and I can guarantee you that they won't take your side anytime there is a contentious technical decision like this.

I'm not sure what can be done at this point. Maybe you could try finding a new employer with higher standards for their engineers. Or maybe you could try finding a new employer which employees you haven't publicly embarrassed yet.

In any case, I realize this situation is highly upsetting. In my case, when I get upset and frustrated, I try listening to Byron Katie: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8dvufocK9zM6KnkronGbzA

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It all boils down to this:

and I will waste more of my time without benefit

It is your employer who is the judge of whether an activity is a waste of time spent working for them. After all, they are the ones paying you for the time you work for them. No matter your feeling on the topic, your job as an employee is work towards the goal set before you by management.

How management comes to decide that goal, whether it be by pure dictatorship, meritocratic (i.e. favoring the experts' advice), democratic (i.e. everyone gets a say), is irrelevant as far as you're concerned.

Nevertheless everybody except me voted to use the suggested approach.

It seems they are taking the democratic approach, and the people have voted. This is just goes to show that a majority opinion is not provably a correct opinion.

However, if you're going to keep swimming against the stream, you're going to find a lot of struggle, and it may end up biting you negatively for performance reviews and/or references when applying for future jobs.

The group has spoken, and the company has listened to the group. The easier thing here is to just sigh, realize that the company gets to choose its own activities, and decide whether you want to be an employee who works towards the chosen activities.

Personally, I would do as I was told but adamantly stick to my guns whenever the topic was being discussed, and if that created too much friction, I would leave. But I can't tell you what you should do, that is your own decision to make.

I am not dismissing that you may be proven right by any panel of experts of the subject matter. I am just saying that even being proven right by this panel doesn't somehow force the company to listen to that panel, for whatever reason they choose not to.

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  • Understand where it came from, but disagree with "It is your employer who is the judge of whether an activity is a waste of time or not." Ultimately it is the employee who can and should decide whether the use of their limited time on Earth is sufficiently rewarding or not. If not, they can and should (a) try to effect change, or (b) leave the position. The OP is wise to take that into consideration. May 7 at 12:40
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    @DanielR.Collins: I don't disagree with that, hence the conclusion of my answer. I'll amend the answer to more explicitly point out that I was referring to work time in the initial paragraph.
    – Flater
    May 7 at 12:55
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As a person of technical expertise, it is part of your job to warn the decision-makers when they are making a bad decision, and to explain the costs of that decision. But you are not the decision-maker. If they make a bad decision, and you've explained the costs of that to them, their bad decision is not your fault.

Suppose I bring the sword against a land, and the people of that land select a man from among them, appointing him as their watchman. And suppose he sees the sword coming against the land and blows his ram’s horn to warn the people. Then, if anyone hears the sound of the ram’s horn but ignores the warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his death will be his own fault. Since he heard the sound of the ram’s horn but ignored the warning, his death is his own fault. If he had taken warning, he would have saved his life.

However, suppose the watchman sees the sword coming but doesn’t blow the ram’s horn, so that the people aren’t warned, and the sword comes and takes away their lives. Then they have been taken away because of their iniquity, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.
Ezekiel 33

It's helpful, however, to have documented your concerns in writing. Generally, an email stating something to the effect of "please confirm that we are all accepting X, Y and Z consequence by proceeding with Plan A" should be sufficient. Sometimes the decision-makers will eventually realize that a particular naysayer is in fact a Cassandra --someone with a track record of being right, for all that they might be oft-ignored.

Incidentally, appeal-to-authority isn't as irrational as it may seem, in a corporate environment. A mid-level manager who can show that they followed the advice of a credentialed expert --even if that advice turned out to be wrong --is much less likely to be blamed for that decision than one who acts on their own intuition, or the intuitions of their subordinates.

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You are not going to win this battle.

The company is paying the consultant money for his "expertise". Therefore, whoever in the management structure authorized the payments is going to believe whatever "advice" they get from him whether it is good or bad.

If the consultant is "advising" several departments, the authorization probably came from a senior manager who doesn't understand the technical issues anyway.

Anybody in the reporting chain up to the authorizing manager who disagrees with the consultant is likely to be labeled as "not a team player" which is usually a career-limiting move.

Basically, you have two options: either ignore the nonsense and just wait for reality kick in (the consultant will be long gone before that happens, of course), or find another job.

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This is obviously driving you to distraction, and if you're understanding the situation right, that's for good reason.

After you've made your pitch to your boss, and it sounds like you have, all the other advice recommending documentation is good protection.

You might ask yourself WHY is the boss implementing this whatever-it-is backwards? He may be a narcissist and delight in chaos while he's in control. Unless he and the company show they're good to work for you might want to transfer away for your own protection.

How can I convince my boss and team that the consultant and team colleagues are wrong, without looking stubborn or pedantic?

Maybe you can't. There's an old saying about poker games: "If you're playing for money and don't know who the patsy is, it's you."

My answer, for what it's worth, is to communicate with the author. This sounds like Lean and what Mark Graban describes as

"LAME"= "Lean as Mistakenly Explained."

The book was written by the most popular evangelist and you won't find any book contradicting this aspect.

If you can't get the boss to have the author come in for a seminar, you may be able to get a webinar or even just a phone call.

If nothing more, your company can be be an anecdote of "how not to do this" in the next edition, and you'll have validation from the source! Good luck, and protect yourself!

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From reading you're question, you're countering their authorities with your own authorities. The company is ultimately responsible for its own success. They've seen your due diligence and they trust their outside source more than yours. I see 2 ways to getting what you want and neither are great:

  • Break the trust the company has in their outside source.
  • Leverage: "Do it my way or else... consequences!"

Both are dangerous to your career and I wouldn't attempt either.

And to be honest, its hard to evaluate whether you would be justified in doing the above without knowing what you and your company are discussing. This is why I said "getting what you want" above, not "making sure the company does the right thing".

But regardless, I'd move past the current citation battle and start the experiment.

Break down the next steps you're company is taking towards achieving this goal. Determine some metrics that are indicators of success. Create regular checkpoints to evaluate those metrics and determine if the path headed is successful or not. Start a risk assessment of what would happen if the path was determined to not be successful. Draw up plans for recovery from the places you expect the current plan to fail based on your authorities.

Once again, not all problems lend themselves to experimentation and metrics so I hope whatever you're talking about does.

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  • "From reading you're question, you're countering their authorities with your own authorities." Why do you think that? I have multiple independent references backing my opinion and I explained the mistake in the meeting.
    – Chris
    May 10 at 13:30

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