What To Do If You Are Hired To Do Work, Knowing That The Plan Is Not Going To Work

I remembered one incident from 15 years ago. I don’t know why this came to my mind (maybe due the fact that I’ve been working on non-games stuff to pile some additional funds for this project). I was hired to do a visual presentation about a fire that spread quite far in my childhood town.

My uncle hired me and told me what to do.

When I saw the plan (me: age 15ish, uncle age: 3 times my age) I suggested that “yeh, the animated fire over the map looks pretty nice, but wouldn’t it make sense to put a *fast forward* button there so that in the presentation you don’t have to wait for the 3 minute animation to finish”.

My uncle immediately said: “No need for that, this is very good”

To which I replied: “…”

Okay, I was like “the lil boy working with stuff that I was hired to do” and my uncle was the “boss who said how things should be done”. And… he was my uncle. And authority. You don’t tell “but this will be shitty” to authority, right? At least in that situation I just let it be.

Then it was the presentation day. My uncle was saying things. Then some fireman started explaining how the fire spread (and told me to start the animation). The animation begun and everybody was looking the screen really amazed. For 16 seconds. Until then, the fireman needed to pause. And then my uncle said out loud to me (so that everybody could hear it): “hey, please fast forward it a bit”. To which I said pretty silent “It can’t be done, you said…” and then my uncle interrupted me and continued with even louder voice (so that everybody in the room could hear) “looks like boys have not done a fast forward for this, so let’s all wait for a moment for the animation to play”.

I think he did not do that on purpose. I think he genuenily thought that he had done nothing wrong and that it’s a “small problem in the boy’s animation, but I’ll protect him” type of thing. At least that’s my impression.

And it’s not like that I have grudges and plan some evil plot against my uncle (with the exception of publicly attempt to prove him totally wrong him via this blog post – he hardly speaks English I presume – and showing that I was right!). Okay, jokes aside. I didn’t feel bad or anything about that situation. The presentation was fine and everybody liked it, but for some reason this incident was buried into my memory.

I knew I was right. I explained the potential problem in the very beginning, before the presentation. I suggested the solution (which wouldn’t been a big deal to be honest). But the end result was “no, let’s not do that” and afterwards “why didn’t you do that?” (in a very small scale).

I wonder how common this is in people’s lives? Do you encounter situations where you know how things should be done, but your boss is stopping you from doing it – and then blaming you afterward for not doing the thing (which the boss had told you not to do)? How often?

I wonder if I have been like this in my past. I don’t recall any incident where I’d behave like this, but maybe I have. I don’t know. My own brain is telling me how good I’m at anything, so I cannot trust that part of me. It’ll just fool me.

Do you behave a boss like this? Have you done this in your past?

Any advice on how to handle situations like this?

11 thoughts on “What To Do If You Are Hired To Do Work, Knowing That The Plan Is Not Going To Work

  1. I’m in the position where I’m the production lead of an external development team. I have to act as the liaison between a very well put together dev team and a not so put together client. The client often comes to us with really really bad ideas and I have to tell them so but in the end we have to do what they ask.

    Unfortunately when their bad ideas make the publisher unhappy I get blamed. This is just something I have to except as part of my job. Its much easier for the creative director to blame the external developers or unnamed production assistant for the issues than take responsibility and loose face with the publisher. However the creative director knows where the real problem is so my job is secure.

    I try to do damage control as much as possible. When time permits we prepare alternatives to the client’s decisions so that when it comes down to it we have the solution ready to go. I’m also often in the position where I have to go to the dev team when they refuse to do something ridicules for the client and say “I know its stupid and a waste of time but please please please do it for me.” I’ve found that they are more likely to do something they view as a person favor to me than as the whim of the guys they can’t stand and have no respect for.

    Helpful tactics:

    Create demos of the problem
    Work iteratively
    Make them think the better idea is theirs.
    Always be respectful
    Understand that they probably don’t see the problem because as your bosses they aren’t as close to it as you are.
    Document it if it’s a huge screw up so you don’t get fired.
    Know who your boss will listen too at the company and take the problem to them for support.
    Except that the project’s success or failure is often in the hands of your boss not you.
    Always learn from the mistakes of your superiors and remember to watch out for them when you are in charge.

  2. I’d like to echo all the people that said “document it”. I always write it down, get them to sign it if necessary (or agree to it in an email so I have that trail).

    It’s a classic problem that everyone encounters sometime in their lives.

    Boss: Do A.
    You: If I do A, B will happen.
    Boss: Do A anyway.

    Later:
    Boss: Ohmygoodness B happened! This is all your fault for doing A!

  3. I would document issues and the planned actions in an issues log with saying who signed off on it. I kept a log of the general high level comments that directed the outcome. I also provided the log to everyone in the meetings so they could see the issues being closed and what the selected outcome is and who made the decision.

    This has protected me in most places when I believed a plan would fail. However how you record the issue, making it diplomatic in language is key. Also I find that I have been in error in what I thought would occur. Infrequent but enough that I realize just document the issue and the resolution and move on is best course.

    What does this type of documentation provide besides covering yourself that you did best effort to prevent a risk or issue from breaking a project. By putting the issue in writing the risk or issue seems to become more conreate and I find its more likely to be addressed rather then just pushed to the side. It also creates raw material for a lessons learned framework that can be used for the next project.

    Having said all that there are employers that are unreasonalbe and I’m sure I’m not the only one to suffer through one. I don’t know what the solution is for this other than finding a new place when the opportunity arises.

  4. @Jake: awesome. Sounds just like me… :)

    @Sean: good thought on that “practise run”. also, very well pondered about that “who is right/wrong” aspect. It’s so easy to forget.

  5. But, yes, sometimes I’m a jerk :-)

  6. @Juuso: It’s more like if I see or feel something isn’t working I’ll say so and offer a possible solution, or I’ll ask them “do you think this is working” as often people need to find a solution for themselves to buy into it.

  7. Well, If that were to happen to me, I guess I would bring a backup plan. In other words, I would bring the FF presentation, and if anyone bragged about the slower one, I would just switch it. But, of course, in that situation, it’s pretty easy to have it planned.

    If it were a work scenario, where we wouldn’t have time to elaborate such, I think I would try to make it so that my idea would have been the bosses idea, so that everything would go right.

    It’s really complicated sometimes knowing that things will go wrong, that you can’t do anything about it, and that you will be responsible for it. So, in those cases, either get away from it, or, improvise, which would be my choice.

  8. I HAD a boss like this. IMHO small problems are outside of a boss’ scope while planning/producing a product/presentation/whatever. But blaming other people for own mistakes is just coarse. My boss didn’t blame me or my colleagues. But our team knew that the project will fail from many tiny issues.

    I can’t remember blaming other people for my failures. Ignoring objections or feedback… yes, sometimes. The older I get the more I realize that there are hardly enemies but many different views and opinions. So I’m trying to learn from them.

    In my opinion it’s all about tolerance and allowing feedback.

  9. I think the problem with these “you’re wrong and I’m right” situations is you set up sides – somebody’s got to win and somebody’s got to lose. And human nature is such, people don’t like to lose.

    The fundamental issue is communication. The other person isn’t hearing or understanding your concern (or you, quite frankly, aren’t listening to their side). The trick then becomes finding a way to communicate the problem in terms the other person can understand – and that’s difficult and often frustrating.

    It leaps out at me that in the case of the presentation you mention, it seems like you and your uncle didn’t do a dry run together. It seems like if you had a practice run, it would have been pretty obvious that a 3 minute stretch of animation would be too long. It’s an old trick in business to set up a situation where the failure will become obvious – but do it in a context where there’s no serious repercussions for that failure.

  10. Does that mean that “you are the office jerk who *always* knows what’s the right way to do thing”?

    :)

  11. I always challenge the status quo, and sometimes it gets me into trouble.