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I am leading one of the software development teams in a company. We are completely responsible for a technical side of our product (development/QA) that we've been developing for ~3 years. My company hired IT consultancy services some time ago. I was informed that the consultant will be managing the project on a senior technology level, in order to replace the former technical manager who moved to another department. Recently these things happened:

  • Consultants requested access to our source code.
  • we noticed in one of shared calendars that our product was demoed to a third-party outsource company. We asked our management about it, received a reply that it was a sales demo
  • a person with a generic Gmail address requested access to a QA document in our Google docs. We looked up that person's name at LinkedIn, two of the three matches work for the above-mentioned outsource company. Again we asked our management if this a security breach - no reply yet
  • my team members noticed that somebody is using consultant's credentials to access our system, and the IP addresses match the ones used by - guess - the outsource company (whois data)

We were not explicitly communicated about any third-party companies testing/studying our system. I clearly realize that my company owns all of the source code and projects, and no one is obliged to notify me or my team about strategic decisions. Still, there is a conflict here between business interest (not letting people know so that not to undermine development progress) and team's interest (actually knowing in advance so that to e.g. start looking for another job).

Now my question is: is it ethical/professional to explicitly ask the management about these activities, basically clearly letting them know that we are aware of it and would have preferred to have been informed earlier?

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    Sorry, newcomer here. I've edited the question, hopefully for the better. Thanks! – siphiuel Apr 1 '15 at 13:02
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    Time to start looking for a new job. – TheMathemagician Apr 2 '15 at 8:05
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    What comes to me as a possibility from your account on the case is that there may be a customer interested in product you develop willing to pay for the possibility to do their integration themsleves (perhaps a deep one). For example, my company sells our products with source code on occastion, and some customers just want to get the feel of our development standards before the deal is made. The process looks just like you describe it bud hasn't yet ended up in me being outsourced. My management is usually very open about the whole process, however. – Pavel Apr 2 '15 at 8:19
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    "They just started attending the meetings (at first even completely muted)." This is extremely toxic, unprofessional behavior. – GalacticCowboy Apr 2 '15 at 13:29
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    These things can get tricky and I wouldn't expect a honest answer. In a company I used to work, our biggest client acquired a software house. I saw the news on the paper and told it to management. They replied: "We know but don't worry, we have contracts and do different stuff". After a month half the staff was made redundant... – algiogia Apr 2 '15 at 14:37
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That's a tricky one. Perhaps the best way is to approach management with exactly the story but without conclusions or allegations.

"Hey management, we have observed x,y, and z. That has created the impression that there may be a plan to outsource the project. This perception has impacted the morale and productivity of the team. It would be really helpful if you could address these concerns"

By using the terms "impression" and "perception" you are not actually calling management out and you are not alleging anything. You specifically ask management to address a real problem, which is the perception of outsourcing. This is true regardless of whether outsourcing is happening or not.

  • Your suggestion seems like a proper way to tackle this. – siphiuel Apr 1 '15 at 13:58
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    The question could also be phrased as "let us know what's going on so we can coordinate with the other team better". – jcm Apr 2 '15 at 1:23
  • @jcm - i agree with you - "we are professionals, so let's join our efforts" – siphiuel Apr 2 '15 at 8:01
  • Marking this question as accepted. I've upvoted all of the other answers, because the input is extremely valuable. But in my situation this is likely the best way to proceed. – siphiuel Apr 2 '15 at 9:59
  • Correction in previous comment: question -> answer. – siphiuel Apr 2 '15 at 11:01
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is it ethical/professional to explicitly ask the management about these activities?

It depends on your locale, and your situation. If your technical manager was there, I think it's reasonable to ask them what is going on. Even though your technical manager moved departments, I think it's reasonable to ask - even though you're likely to receive a "no comment".

At this point, the proper response I think is to quickly and quietly get your resume up to date and available publicly. It might turn out to be nothing, and you stay there doing your job. But having a consultant managing full time employees is odd, and usually a sign of further consultancy - especially if the new manager hasn't come in and done anything to allay your concerns.

  • Thanks for your answer! Management and development team are at different locales, and I don't have access anymore to our former technical manager. I didn't quite understand though - what do you mean by 'a sign of further consultancy'? – siphiuel Apr 1 '15 at 13:44
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    @siphiuel - I mean that if your company went so far as to hire the manager to consult for them, they will very likely expand that relationship to include more consultants (rather than you) once the manager gets a good feel for the work. – Telastyn Apr 1 '15 at 13:46
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For any question that starts with "should I ask management.." the answer is invariably yes.

As an employee you need to have faith and trust in your management. This doesn't mean second guessing every thing that's going on, but when red flags appear then it is your right, and duty to your team members, to find out what's happening.

In my experience what you've described has three possible outcomes:

  1. Management is considering selling the product to a third party and that group is starting to perform their own analysis of it. If this is a core product that solves an industry wide problem then it means the company is just looking for an additional revenue stream.

  2. Management is considering selling the company or seeking investors. Again, if it's a core product then the company valuation might be based in part on how good a job you're team has done.

  3. Management has lost faith in your team and their own ability to continue development. Unfortunately, the only way you'll know for sure this happened is the day they fire your team. Although you can get a clue depending on what prompted the previous manager to change positions. If it was a sideways move and wasn't at the manager's request then this becomes more likely.


If #1, then asking management will result in good information. If #2 or #3, they'll likely keep you in the dark. That said, the fact that a contractor took over your boss's job makes me think #3 is the real reason - but that's just a guess. I'd update my resume.

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    Your outcome breakdown is very good. My former manager was leading our project as a secondary one to his main project, and at a certain moment he became too overloaded. Still, I also think that #3 is most likely to happen (probability distribution of all 3 options seems like 10/10/80 to me). – siphiuel Apr 1 '15 at 14:33
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    I'm a complete outsider but when management takes responsibilities away from someone I've found that to mean that they've lost faith. It's entirely possible your old manager threw your team under the bus as a way to preserve his/her position. The consultant is interesting because there is an obvious conflict of interest - of course the consultant is going to recommend their team take over regardless of the actual situation, the consultant has an obligation to his own company after all. But, again, I'm just guessing. Talk to the bosses and see if you can get a feel for the actual situation. – NotMe Apr 1 '15 at 15:52
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    Generally I have found it isn't that they have lost faith but the the lure of the cheaper labor causes them to decide to outsource. – HLGEM Apr 1 '15 at 16:38
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If they are planning to outsource, they will keep this a business secret until the day they lay people off. This is standard in any possible layoff situation. No one will tell employees months ahead of when they are ready to lay them off.

From a business perspective, it would not be in the shareholder's best interests because they will lose people they need right now and thus they have a fiduciary duty not tell you in advance. There may even be legal issues involved in not telling you in advance of either an outsourcing or a possible sale of the comaany and they may not be sharing the information at an attorney's suggestion. Managers have to be able to keep these kinds of business decisions secret until the official announcement. There is no point in getting upset about them doing what is in the company's best interests. That is what they are paid to do.

Frankly, I would start looking for another job because this does indicate that something major is going to change soon and your job may well be at risk. Some of you may be retained to work with the offshore group intially, but do you want to bet your livelihood on that?

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    Holy cow this is not true. I work for giant XYZ multinational company. We own laying people off. We own outsourcing people. Almost all people who are laid off know for 2-12 months and possibly longer. The outsourcing and laying off process usually takes so long that half the people find normal jobs in our company through attrition. Some of the other half has their layoff process take so long that their expertise is deoutsourced and back to them before they are actually fired. – blankip Apr 1 '15 at 17:14
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    The fiduciary duty is toward the shareholders, not to the employees. You're still getting the shaft. – Kent A. Apr 1 '15 at 19:49
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    @blankip: indeed. If management has a policy "treat employees well in a particular way", and they believe that to be the best way to run the company in the interests of the shareholders, then of course they don't have a fiduciary duty to treat employees less well just because someone on the internet thinks it's in the shareholders' best interests to do so ;-) However, I'm sure this answer is correct in that those managers who don't see such policies as beneficial to shareholders, will indeed feel bound not to give it. Unless the law or unions say otherwise. – Steve Jessop Apr 2 '15 at 0:19
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    ... and the company structure has something to do with it, of course. Extreme case, if the CEO also owns the company then there's no special duty to oneself AFAIK. – Steve Jessop Apr 2 '15 at 0:22
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    @blankip, I ould bet money that there are people who know and have to keep secret an upcoming layoff in your large multinational for weeks or months before the official announcement. It takes a long time to plan some of these things and the fact that they don't make everyone leave the day they announce it has nothing to with the secrecy that surrounds such actions until the offical announcement is made. – HLGEM Apr 2 '15 at 13:26

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