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A customer wanted me to solve a particular problem and boss said it is impossible to do because of a particular fact. However, I found a publication which shows that this particular fact is possible to do, and it really wasn't too hard job to do. When I showed this publication to the boss, he said it must be wrong and wasn't willing to listen to details.

It seems like my boss does not want to know what other experts say. How do I handle this?

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Well, the boss has decided so the issue is settled then. You have done your job by finding alternatives and suggesting them, his job is to decide what to do. If he chooses to ignore the expertise despite proof, then there is not much you can do.

I'd make sure to get his decision in writing (email) because if you are the one handling the user request there's a chance this could blow up and its good to have proof regarding who decided this.

Also, I'd say this is a pretty big red flag that the job you are at isn't the best; A boss that micromanages and makes decisions above his competence level AND sticks to that decision despite being proven wrong. All signs you might want to make sure the resume is up to date.

On the other hand; There is also the alternative that the boss knows something you don't and is basing his decision on that. Such as the implementation is too expensive, too risky, not enough people want this feature, the product is being discontinued, etc.

Edit: But if there are reasons such as those above and the boss chooses to not disclose them to an employee, that's also a red flag.

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    +1 for having CYA email about suggesting better solution. And +1 for suggesting that missing knowledge might be on the side of OP. – Peter M. - stands for Monica Jun 26 '14 at 13:07
  • Yes decsions such as this are often made bsed on factors that are not technical feasibility. He may be using that as an acceptable excuse to the user for not doing it, but there may be another real reason why he does not want to spend time onthis. – HLGEM Jun 26 '14 at 13:08
  • +1 for asking email or written proof of his decision. It is quite important, also if the person gave a solution suggestion and it is ignored, then it is a decision, it is his responsibility. I agree completely. – CsBalazsHungary Jun 26 '14 at 13:10
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    The boss may have very valid reasons to reject the customer's request (for example just the fact that the company isn't making money by helping the customer). In that case he should really tell the employee, who would then by happy (either thinking "my boss is right", or "my boss has reasons outside my expertise and they are probably good reasons"), avoiding the situation where the employee thinks "my expertise is better, but the boss refuses to listen". – gnasher729 Jun 26 '14 at 16:20
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    Be diplomatic: "hey boss - I'd like to learn - could you explain why we can't do this?" – HorusKol Jun 26 '14 at 23:22
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To give you an idea what might be going on in the boss's mind:

Results from publications are notoriously difficult to reproduce. You may well be right that it's possible, and the boss may well be wrong that it's impossible. But as a starting ground for coming up with a solution, a published paper often isn't much to go on.

Then, once you've got it working, you have to test it for robustness and discover its limits. Then you need to figure out how to communicate to the customer how it works and what the limitations are, and go through another round of debugging once the customer inevitably discovers a problem.

This not to say that your boss's chosen course of action is the best one or that their reasoning makes sense, just that it's understandable when someone isn't persuaded by one published finding. If you want to persuade your boss, you're going to have to make them understand the solution for themselves. Of course, if they won't listen to details, then you have a whole other problem.

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If it's not too hard to do, then it's not too hard to go ahead and test whether the solution is any good - you have to validate through testing because something being in print does not necessarily make it accurate. Going ahead and testing may require the boss's cooperation, though. If the boss is a pretty forceful type who has made up their mind, trying to go through your boss may not be a good career move for you.

You could try having a colleague going through their own boss and test the solution, or you could escalate the attempt to the boss's boss - be very careful how to phrase to the boss's boss if your boss is a forceful type who takes it personally when subordinates try to go over their head.

As you can see, it's a fair amount of effort and initiative on your part. You are going to have to decide whether the problem is serious enough that it's worth it for you to apply this initiative and effort. If it's a trivial matter, I'd drop it for the time being.

If it's not a trivial and in fact, it's a serious matter, recall that the boss stuck their neck out and made the decision against going forward. Live with their decision, it's your boss's neck not yours. I had a CEO who was not above lying and lying pretty shamelessly when things went wrong. Immediately after he made a stupid and arbitrary decision, I would send him a follow up email restating what the CEO had decided and cc: ing those of my colleagues who were in on the action. Those emails kept him honest - just barely.

You must decide when you have done all you can and the battle is no longer yours to fight. In general, I don't obsess about saving people from themselves when they are hell bent on doing what they are doing.

  • I have zero idea what it is you're trying to say with this part: "it's a fair amount of effort pt to test to the boss's boss." – Anthony Grist Jun 26 '14 at 12:45
  • @AnthonyGrist My apology for not being fully awake (and distracted, to boot) as I was writing :) I edited the answer and reread it to make sure that the answer is clearly written. Thanks for letting me know :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Jun 26 '14 at 12:55
  • I'd be very careful about this in this kind of situation - if the OP had done this before presenting the information to his boss and (more importantly) his boss making a more firm decision, then it wouldn't be so bad. But since there is a decision, the time spent to set up validation of the solution could be seen as misspent time. – HorusKol Jun 26 '14 at 23:21
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    @Horuskol It's probably more of a managerial issue than a technical issue. I've been crucified by my management on occasion for seeing some key issues as technical issues rather than management issues and cutting management out of the loop :) For the OP, seeing this issue as exclusively a technical issue i.e. "I am right because I've got a paper that says my boss is wrong" could backfire on the OP :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Jun 27 '14 at 0:14
  • @VietnhiPhuvan - indeed – HorusKol Jun 27 '14 at 0:34

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