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I do marketing/web site management for a small business of 15 employees. A colleague from a completely different department is routinely suggesting bad ideas for the website. The latest example was including a link that will lead people away from our website. There have been other similar situations in the past.

What I had done initially is briefly explain why I did what I did, and then after that he would reply essentially reiterating what he had initially brought up, almost defensively. After this email from him, I would generally ignore it and he would never follow up.

Basically I want to let him know that this isn't his job, and this is what I am in charge of, but his suggestions are appreciated. My question is, how can I convey this point without appearing aggressive or annoyed?

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    Usually when people repeat themselves, it's because they felt like you either haven't heard them or didn't understand what they said. Even though you explained what you did, it seems that maybe you didn't acknowledge his idea, which he thinks is good and helpful. You might say something to indicate that you've thought about and understood what he said. "That's an interesting way to look at it." "I see what you're saying and I'll think about that when we are setting up our next sprint." etc. – ColleenV parted ways Jun 8 '16 at 22:58
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You are taking the exact wrong approach. Bad ideas are good for business. You don't have to implement anything, but every bad idea makes you review why you are doing what you are doing.

This person obviously means well and he might one day surprise you.

Thank him for his input, tell him you're looking into his suggestion, and leave it at that, but always look at what he has to say.

Microsoft was late to the tablet game because Bill Gates thought it was a bad idea. Never dismiss anything out of hand, even bad ideas get us thinking, and that leads to good ideas.

Edited for comments below:

The best approach is to thank him for the follow up and say that you're still investigating. if he presses, say "Thank you, but we decided to go in a different direction" and nothing more. Give him nothing to argue over and there will be no hurt feelings.

  • Of course - he has at times found errors in my work, or made good suggestions in the past, I just feel like he is being overbearing. As I said, I usually will let him know why I have something that way if he suggests otherwise, then I get a weird semi-defensive follow up email. – user48249 Jun 8 '16 at 20:46
  • I'm just wondering if there is a more effective response than ignoring the follow up. – user48249 Jun 8 '16 at 20:53
  • @deannakov I edited my answer to answer your points. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jun 8 '16 at 21:10
  • I agree with this, I work alongside non tech people and some of the most insane suggestions have triggered a good idea that was both useful and lucrative to follow. – Kilisi Jun 9 '16 at 5:51
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There's an easy script to follow here, with dozens of variations. The core is in two parts: you thank him for the feedback / idea / suggestion and then you explain why you're not going to do anything with it. Being explicit that you won't act on it further is important for some persistent people who would otherwise keep bugging you about it.

Actually we've considered that but chose to use X instead of Y because [reasons]

That's not part of the project's scope right now but I'll bring it up in the next project meeting

We wanted to go in a different direction with the new design

Actually user testing showed that most people preferred this layout because it was more practical

I hear you but the cost is prohibitive

I'd love to be able to use X but we need our system to support [legacy app]

You don't always need to go into technical details with your explanation. In fact for most non-technical people you should instead use one of the following:

I hear you but that's not something we've budgeted for.

Business decided that this wasn't a priority for them so that's not something we're exploring right now.

It would be nice but the cost doesn't justify the added value.

We wanted to limit the amount of changes we're making this year

The product is being phased out so we're not actively adding new features

The benefit of these explanations is that they don't allow the other party to start a discussion. People who consider themselves a cut above when it comes to IT or design commonly develop this behaviour and will argue incessantly that you're wrong. Don't get caught up in this! If a person has shown himself to not respect a quick explanation behind a decision you or your team has made or constantly questions your judgement then he has forfeited the right to get one in the future.

If this is always coming from the same person and happens regularly it's worth addressing the bigger picture if you can do so tactfully. How you bring that up depends on the input he's giving, his position in the company relevant to yours, his background and personality and how you think he'll react. For some people it's not worth raising the issue as treating the symptoms is less overall effort than trying to correct the behaviour.

One final note: if you promise that you'll bring this up with the team, will consider it for a future release or will think about it before answering him then remember to actually follow through on that promise. As others have mentioned this colleague may surprise you with valuable suggestions and even the fact that he's giving suggestions is a useful piece of information you have about the user experience for your product.

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Don't tell him that you aren't going to implement his idea. Just thank him for his input and tell him that you will look into it then (as Richard says) do so. If he follows up then feel free to share the truth with him but you aren't doing anyone any favors by proactively giving feedback on his ideas.

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In many cases, the right way to handle this is to probe further, to find out what issue the person making the suggestion actually trying to solve. As we've seen here, often the issue can be meaningful even if they jumped to the wrong conclusion about the underlying cause and best solution.

  • Agreed. Ask the other person to provide the business case for his changes - e.g, how can directing the user away from the site increase income for the client. Sometimes that works (e.g directing people to a sell-site), but often it just shouldn't be happening, as you know. – PeteCon Jun 9 '16 at 3:33
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How do you currently manage intake? If 15 people could potentially be offereing suggestions, as well as clients, visitors, investors, etc, it sounds like you need a better system for managing, prioritizing, and most importantly approving these changes.

If this guy doesn't own the website (and by own I mean make decisions for) then someone must. If that person is you, you're free to approve or deny them as you choose. If that person is your manager, he needs to be going to your manager with these.

With a tracking system (there's a billion free ones, I'm partial to Bugzilla although I'll be the first to admit it's cumbersome for non-techies...) you can properly prioritize your releases, what features go in those releases, and keep a record of the pros and cons.

I'm not saying put up red tape and paperwork to slow him down, because not all bureaucracy is bad. Some of it actually has a purpose, and if used effectively this will make sure you're working on the best things first. What 'best' is, well, that's up to the owner of the website.

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Your response depends on the kind of person you are dealing with, and how close to reasonable the question is.

For a person who is smart, thoughtful, and has the best interests of the company at heart (your default view of everyone in the company) your best bet is to understand why they are suggesting something you clearly think is wrong. For example

Normally we wouldn't provide any links that take people off our site after going to some trouble to get them there. Can you explain how it would help us to have this link?

(The answer may be "it lets people see that a third party endorsed us" or "it will be a major convenience to our users and avoid them getting to the same place from the competitor's link." Or "oh, I didn't think of it like that, never mind.") Your formula is [Normally, usually, typically, in most cases, our original plan, the requirements we were given] [conflict stated directly.] [Ask for explanation of suggestion given that context.]

For a person who just doesn't understand timelines, planning, budgets, and other "laws of physics" of a project, and makes great suggestions (or potentially great suggestions) at the absolute worst time, you need to remind them of these laws of physics.

Neither the time till launch nor the budget makes rethinking the entire colour scheme feasible on this iteration. Other than personal preference, is there a particular aspect of this colour scheme that's really problematic for accessibility or the like?

The formula is [Remind of laws of physics.][Ask in case it's possible to do 1% of what they're saying and make them happy, or as a way to show the rest of the group it wasn't a real suggestion.][Optionally, suggest they get involved in the next iteration.]

For people with a history of blurting out ill-conceived half-baked suggestions with no idea how much work they are:

Do you have time next month, after this is live, to spend an hour or two with me going over that in more detail so we can see if it fits into the next iteration?

(They usually say no. If they accept, you can educate them during that hour or two, not now in front of everyone.)

And finally, for the "I'm so much smarter than you" guy who isn't, and who you've butted heads with before:

Thankyou. I'll keep that in mind. No promises, though.

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