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Our dept is in a predicament, where we're being dictated the use of an obscure third party port of a game engine for all future development efforts by a self proclaimed "technologically illiterate political sciences major". No-one in any of our circles has any experience with this engine, and we lack staff who know the language used by the engine (albeit it can be learnt), To make matters more difficult we've got a non existent training budget for gaining the required experience.

I usually speak rather plainly and as such am in need of advice for how to steer this situation in a direction that doesn't feel like we're being setup to fail. We as a dept have made our recommendations on engine's and languages several times over the years based on our capabilities and experience, yet those recommendations fall on deaf ears.

What would be the best and preferred way to handle this problem?

It's important to note that we have no contractual requirements other than someone internal to the company spent more $100K on this software at a trade show last year. Additionally we're getting requests to convert existing subcontractor products to this obscure engine despite the subcontractor content operating flawlessly.(so-far)

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    You don't say what your position is - are you a department head, or a line developer? Truth be told, I think you're stuck either way - management has already blown $100,000 on this, and will now be chasing that investment down the hole and they don't seem to have listened to any technology recommendations before. If you and your team go against this, they will likely replace you with people who "know" that engine. – HorusKol Apr 6 '17 at 22:30
  • There is a gap between learning the language (and the engine) and properly used it, usually training is really good for the 1st, not often for the second... Personnaly unless you have some people that will learn the language and engine on their free time and formed other people, I'll just run away. – Walfrat Apr 7 '17 at 7:47
  • There's the "sunk money" fallacy. Just because they blew $100,000, that money is gone. The rational question is: Would you use that software if it was free to you, or would that free software cost you more money in inconveniences? – gnasher729 Apr 8 '17 at 13:45
  • Sorry for the delayed replies: • I'm a group lead. • The gap between training and proficiency is one that i don't think is being considered. (I'm open to learning whatever i need to learn so long as the appropriate training and time is supplied) • If the software were free we wouldn't use it as we already have capabilities in two other similar products. – Reahreic Apr 11 '17 at 18:48
  • Following on to gnasher729, every manager learns about Sunk Costs in Management 101 and then promptly forgets about it forever. Maybe approach it from a risk perspective. Unproven technology, unfamiliar engine, high risk of bugs. If you can lead them through the implications of using this thing vs keeping the existing engine like a salesperson, and sell them what they already have, you can dwarf that 100k investment vs the cost and schedule impacts of using it. They could lose over 10x that much. Prove that to them and they may change their minds. – MarkTO Oct 12 '18 at 22:05
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You need to basically need to figure out two things, which you might have already:

  • Try to understand what they are hoping to gain from this

  • Try to figure out how they intend to transition from the old to the new

Then, based on that understanding, you need to decide how to go forward with your job.

If you think the goals they are setting are impossible, you can tell them that, with whatever reasoning you can find. (But if they won't listen to advice, it won't help)

If you think a training budget is required to make the transition, tell them that, with a list of the trainings needed, how much time/money it would require and who would take them. (But if they won't listen to advice, it won't help)

If you think converting the subcontractor products to the engine will reduce quality, or be much more expensive then they think, or otherwise won't work, try to get some numbers attached to that feeling and present them. (But if they won't listen to advice, it won't help)

Having worked for someone who was a technologically illiterate boss who didn't listen to advice, I have found that there's only one thing that helped to get stuff working: quitting that job and promising myself never to work for someone who is technically illiterate and refuses to listen to advice from his experts again.

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someone internal to the company spent more $100K on this software at a trade show last year

Sounds to me like a kickback deal. The the question is: How influential is this person and what alternative can you offer?

IMO the best course of action is to explain that switching to this new engine will incur X man months of lost productivity due to the retraining necessary to use it. If can transform that into a sum that significantly exceeds the amount this person has paid for the software then you might be able to sway some higher ups.

If that fails you might at least be able to put a moratorium on porting existing products to this engine. You can argue that there's no value gained in that. This could give you time to work on the new technology and maybe see it fold before more projects are compromised.

OR you could go the other route and suggest first porting an existing product to this engine for practice giving you either the opportunity to learn the technology or demonstrate it's unsuitability to your situation.

  • Porting an existing product to the new engine as a proof of concept may backfire regardless on the result - if it goes surprisingly quick and easy, the management may get the impression that your complaints were void. If it indeed goes difficult, you may be accused of doing it on purpose. – Mike Apr 7 '17 at 13:48
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OK, they have spent 100K so this may be a lost cause in any event, but here is what you do to try to influence business decisions in your favor.

First never present your arguments in tech terms, use business terms, managers don't want to hear that the devs don't like it and want to use X instead. They need to hear:

  • It will cost this much time/money to train the team
  • It will delay the project by X months due to unfamiliarity with the product
  • It will be difficult to recruit new employees because so few people have the skill set already.
  • With no one available who knows the product well, we cannot even be sure that the project requirements can be accomplished using this.

Do a formal written risk analysis and cost analysis comparing this tool to the one you would prefer to use. Create a project plan and show all the extra time for getting up to speed and development due to unfamiliarity. It is probably still worth it to do these things in this case as a practice for how to do them so that you have a better chance in the next job when you need to do this. This is a skill that you need to be successful in all professional careers if you want to be able to influence policy. (And BTW, it is a skill I got introduced to in my political science degree. Political science, history, theater, English and all the other liberal arts are a far better prep for the work world than you think.)

The time to influence decisions is before they are made though. You need to become more politically aware and get involved earlier in the process if you want to influence decisions. Office politics are how decisions are made, you do yourself a disservice if you don't learn how to effectively use them.

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You acknowledge your team can learn the new software but you point out:

we've got a non existent training budget for gaining the required experience.

Apparently, your company has more time than money, although I doubt anyone has really done the math to compare learning on your own and paying for training. You have to factor the additional time to learn, your initial inefficiency with the new software along dealing with additional bugs due to this lack of experience into your time estimates. If anyone disagrees with/won't allow additional time, then all of you better hope you get lucky.

If there isn't anything nefarious going on behind the scenes like a kick-back, what your company is doing is using a gambling strategy called doubling-down or progressive betting. If you lose a $100 bet, just bet $200 the next time to make up for it. Eventually, it fails because you run out of money or hit the house limit (that's why they have limits). Why throw away 100K spent on something when you can spend even more money, take more time and end up with lower customer satisfaction by keeping it? It's flawed logic also known as throwing good money after bad.

Just point out the risks and potential consequences of the decisions being made. What else can you do if that doesn't change their mind? When someone asks you to do the impossible, don't do it.

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