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Today I had a thirty minute presentation that was well researched and contained a lot of examples regarding why we need to change a data source which my research has found produces unreliable data that I cannot use. Everyone seemed to agree with me but in the post presentation discussion, my boss's boss echoed the business team's decision to stick with the old way of doing things. This was after me demonstrating for thirty minutes why the old way is objectively bad.

How should I handle this?

I don't want to rock the boat and complain too much but I can't sit idly by while I see things that are seriously wrong and need to be fixed.

My direct boss agrees with me but his boss is slightly reluctant.

How did you guys deal with such issues in the past?

Edit: I appreciate all the responses. I was basically looking for more experienced people's opinions for whether I am seen as a positive influence for trying to make the product better and when should I back down in order to not turn into a nag.

marked as duplicate by gnat, Philipp, Stephan Kolassa, Garrison Neely, yochannah Jan 9 '15 at 22:07

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    Did you ask for the reasons to go against your recommendation? – Stephan Kolassa Jan 9 '15 at 7:00
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    If you could be made responsible for this decision, write a memo to him explaining all the negative consequences in writing. Hand it to his secretary, let her put the incoming mail stamp on it and ask her to make a copy for your files. If you couldn't be made responsible, just follow your business team's decision. If you don't want to, brush up your CV and start looking out. – Alexander Jan 9 '15 at 8:24
  • If your presentation is supposed to be the organization's presentation, then you'll have to represent the upper management's position. If your presentation represents your point of view, then you have a much stronger ground to push back. – Vietnhi Phuvan Jan 9 '15 at 10:48
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    How are you sure you're being objective? – jcm Jan 9 '15 at 12:36
  • I spoke to my direct manager today about it again. He agrees with me still that the old data source is bad and that the new data source is good. His boss is a technical guy who is being influenced by business people to make a misguided decision that is not based on evidence. We will make a proposal of the new plan and hope for the best. – MDLNI Jan 9 '15 at 20:39
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I think one of the hardest aspects of working in IT, especially any kind of systems or software engineering is that we have to constantly compromise on qualities, best-practices, tools, etc.. that we know are ideal or better. The fact is that when it is not your management call to make a change we have to accept the tools and the environments we are given or afforded to do the best job possible under those limitations. If you decide to work for yourself as a contractor or consultant then this only gets worse as you are now an outsider to every organization you are working for.

We all go through this as a normal part of our careers, however what helps me deal with these situations can be summarized on some key points:

Prepare

If you want to affect the change you feel is right then prepare your arguments expertly. Research and write down key points. List out Benefits, Risks, Potential questions you might be asked, prepared answers or refutations to questions and oppositions you must face. Also try scripting your presentations.

Be a Salesman

What I mean by this is that you have to have strong interpersonal skills and be likeable first of all. Before any kind of presentation to an important manager, architect or committee you want to sell your ideas to others in the organization first. Just getting your direct manager sold is often not enough. Get others on your team to buy in. Then start talking or reaching out to other teams in your organization. Try to identify where you know inferior tools and processes are being done and approach those people about their problems. Explain your ideas and see if it is something they want to get behind.

A good salesman can sell an idea to a group of people, a great salesman can convince those people to sell it FOR YOU.

Be Subversive but NOT Defiant

If others are sold and like the idea though don't actually expect them to do much to support you but then you really don't need them to do much. Just their permission to use them as a name-drop can be effective or even better if they choose to dial into your next presentation it can be a strong show of force to potentially put subversive pressure on the deciding party to take some kind of action.

Keep in mind that none of these activities should be such that you can be considered going against rules. Always operate within the confines of the rules and standards of your workplace.

Reactive over Proactive (sometimes!)

While I certainly think that a Proactive mindset is a better way to approach the world, keep in mind your target audience might respond better to a Reactive argument than a Proactive one. For instance, instead of talking of the benefits of the tool, you might want to identify the risks of NOT using the tool, and reframe your benefits to be anticipated issues that will befall the group or the company if this desired course of action does NOT occur. This might raise alarms in a Reactive person to where they feel action is necessary, or they may just not want to be blamed for causing you all of these issues.

When money is easy, or clients are satisfied, or things seem happy in the company, then people in charge tend to be more conservative. They take less risks, they prefer the status quo since things are working reasonably well so far. If things are more do or die, or there are a lot of problems then they MIGHT be more willing to take risks OR they might double down on ultra safe decisions with no perceivable risk and instead be constantly in a mindset of "Fighting Fires". Invent theoretical fires for these people to mull over and be convincing.

Be Professional and Ethical

Always carry yourself professionally and always act ethically and in accordance with company policy. Follow the right paths, don't skip any steps in the process and play things by the book. If you need to jump through a bunch of hoops to be heard then do so. I never suggest initiating these kinds of conversations in an elevator.

Accept Denial

Sometimes if you do everything right, you might still be denied. Don't think about this failure in terms of "some event that some ignorant person perpetrated to you" but instead have a retrospective about how you could have done things better and how you can do things better next time.

Know when you have reached the end of the road and have taken all the possible professional avenues to affect change in the organization and know when it is time to give up. Always stop your endeavor if you feel that taking it any further will get you labeled as a troublemaker or "not a team player". You never want to have this label associated to yourself because it can hurt your ability to be taken credibly for even more important battles in the future.

Be Humble

Really try to set your ego aside when you are shot down. Think deeply about the problems at hand. How big are these problems in reality? Does this inferior tool ACTUALLY measurably improve performance in a meaningful way? Does this really affect the bottom line of the project?

Do I have any ulterior motives to introducing this tool or process in the organization? Maybe I REALLY wanted to learn more about Hadoop and would love to have that on my resume? Maybe I am fishing for problems that aren't that important in the grand scheme?

At this point you need to fall back in line.

Engineer a Solution

This is your job. Solve real world problems, using science/math/computer/etc with limited resources and defined constraints. A good engineer can accomplish amazing things with crap tools. Look at the Raspberry Pi community for inspiration here. There are some truly stunning achievements that really smart people have done with, lets be honest, garbage hardware. What is impressive is not necessarily what they have achieved but what they have achieved with a pile of cheap crap.

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    It's also worth noting try to understand why management made the choice they made. If you can find gaps in their logic or demonstrate why the method you're considering better solves their concern they are more likely to be won over. On top of that sometimes there are factors they are considering you may not be aware of that would make your solution less desirable. A lot of managers are notoriously bad at keeping their staff informed of the "bigger picture" and sometimes you're asked to do stuff that seems plain stupid as a necessary step in a better solution. – RualStorge Jan 9 '15 at 19:11
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    Just a minor anecdote but following my own advice I had built up a months long strategy that came down to a single committee meeting I had today... and they shot us down! It is demoralizing but I think it is funny that my advice is well received here but led to a "sub-optimal" result for my company. – maple_shaft Jan 9 '15 at 19:37
  • Story of my life. I consider myself a mover and shaker. Sometimes you make waves, sometimes you don't, but tomorrow is another day that will hold another battle. (And there is never a shortage of things to improve) – RualStorge Jan 9 '15 at 21:45
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It's often hard to know that a management decision is wrong. I have pretty often butted heads with my Product Owner about the "right" way to do something, with explanations, presentations and examples, only to see him decide on doing things differently. And he always had a good reason to go against my recommendation.

The problem here is that we only know your point of view, not the one of the people who decided against your recommendation. It's rather likely they did have a reason (otherwise, why go against what appears to be a carefully researched recommendation?). Off the top of my head, I can imagine a lot of reasons not to go with the subject matter expert's opinion:

  • The right way may simply be too expensive. Remember the Pareto rule: often you'll get 80% of the benefit with 20% of the cost, so even if the 80% solution is wrong, it may still be "good enough", so changing it to the correct solution is not a good use of resources.

  • The right way may not be that expensive, but even the limited resources necessary are not available (that is, there are more pressing concerns).

  • There may be ramifications of changing things. Processes that "consume" the current way of doing things may need to be adapted. Or you may not even be able to see all the ramifications! For instance, I found an objectively wrong calculation once, but it had been in production code for years - so if we corrected this, all customers would need to reparameterize our software, a huge cost. And we couldn't even realistically discuss this with the customers, since it was a rather abstract statistical issue. So we decided to let sleeping dogs lie.

  • And all this does not even go into the issue of whether your audience actually understood your presentation.

So, I would recommend the following:

  1. Go to the deciders and ask them why the decision was made this way. Explain that you probably don't see the big picture, given that the decision went against your recommendation, but that you'd like to understand better. Be friendly and polite about this.

  2. If it turns out during this conversation that people simply didn't understand your point, then politely explain this and offer to clear up any remaining points.

  3. If the issue is a lack of resources at this point, then put this change on your product backlog, and periodically bring it up. Without nagging, of course. You'll need to judge the best time to revisit this issue.

  4. If the issue is that the correction is too expensive or high risk (my first and third bullet point above), then you likely won't be able to do much. Consider leaving this issue alone, or try to devise a cheaper or lower risk way of addressing the problem.

Overall, two points:

  • Make sure you don't belabor hopeless issues overmuch. Don't become the single-issue guy that nobody takes seriously any more, since he always brings up something that realistically won't happen.

  • Make sure people have a high opinion of you as a subject matter expert. People tend to listen more carefully to experts, even if the final decision may not align with the expert's recommendations. This will help you in similar situations in the future.

  • Cost to change is minimal at the moment but could be large in the future. I am aware of this. Management was just unaware that we have been collecting garbage data for the past year – MDLNI Jan 9 '15 at 20:46
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I try to push back as much as I can, without endangering myself and/or job. IMO it's important to show you have knowledge, they hired you for a specific job they can't(/won't) do themselves, you have knowledge they don't.

However, there is a fine line between pushing back and being stuborn, make sure you stay as objective as you can, use facts (financials fact tend to have a positive effect). Don't forget, you might be wrong too. Sometimes you are so convinced of your own plan, you forget to play arround wilt alternative solution. Might very well be there's a fine middle ground.

There will be a point where you can no longer push back. At this point you're gonna have to suck it up. They're the boss, they have the responsibility. I prefer to make sure they understand that I will abandon my vision and continue with their, even though I think it's not the way to go. I do this as a sort of ensurance, if problems arise you have a small failsafe (the friendly version of "I told you so").

You can't win every descision, pick your battles, otherwise you might be that "blegh, he always argues with everything"-guy.

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How should I handle this?

My direct boss agrees with me but his boss is slightly reluctant.

How did you guys deal with such issues in the past?

Either your presentation was ineffective, or it conveyed all your reasons effectively, but the business made their own choice anyway.

You might wish to have a conversation with your boss to get his/her opinion on which is the case.

If your presentation wasn't effective, you might have the chance to present again, with more facts, or a more compelling argument, and change the decision.

But if your presentation was effective but still rejected, you might just have to resign yourself to the fact that the decision makers have made a different choice than you would have.

Try to remember, there are many roads to success. And try to remember that you cannot always influence others to take your road. Additionally, as Andrew Bartel correctly points out, you may not be privy to all the factors involved in management's decision.

Over the years, I've learned that there are some battles that I can win, some that I cannot win, and some that aren't worth fighting.

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    This. I'd also like to add that you may not be privy to all the reasons why senior management made the decision, there very well could be hidden factors that you aren't aware of and/or considering that outweighed your arguments. – Andrew Bartel Jan 9 '15 at 19:31
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IMHO, if you feel that bad about the management decision, try to push back as much as you can but without being respect less or too much argumentative. Because that might affect your image in front of the mgmt team which will affect conflicts like this in future as well. Having said this, yes, I'm not asking you to be a sugar-talker. Whatever is right, just keep your points in front them and then let them decide.

Apart of this, there's also a chance that something else is going in backend which has made your boss take this decision. He might not share that with you.

Remember one thing, in a structured organization where hierarchy matters, follow what your boss asks you to do (with letting them know your opinion). Because when you'll be at his position, you also will take some decisions that your successors won't agree too and you would also not share the reason to everyone.

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