Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Growth Opportunity

One of the management euphemisms I have heard repeatedly over the years is  "growth opportunity," generally meaning a difficult, unpleasant or impossible assignment that is usually an offer you can't refuse.  William Lapenta from the spring Stevens Quantitative Software Engineering class, wrote this entry in his log and he provides valuable suggestions on how to deal with one class of growth opportunity, being handed responsibility without the necessary authority.  I hope you enjoy it and will offer additional suggestions on how you would deal with the situation.   Later!

Responsibility Without Authority

William Lapenta

One of the toughest types of situations professionals in any area of business can find themselves in is one where they are assigned responsibility for an issue without being given the appropriate authority to complete the task at hand.  This scenario is one that can be all too familiar to the developer or Software Engineer in charge of a complex and diverse project.  It seems that software projects lend themselves to this type of problem naturally. A developer, architect or SE must learn to tread carefully to successfully navigate through these waters.

What can often happen is that you may be given the task of implementing a system or project that interfaces with several other systems not under your domain of authority.  Learning how to deal with one’s peers can be as or more important than knowing how to deal with sub-ordinates or superiors.  When the line of command is not clear I have found that the best approach can be one of using more carrots than sticks.  The best solution to a problem, where you are not getting the co-operation you believe you need from a peer, is to somehow convince that person to assist you voluntarily.  Raising the issue to a higher level of authority should be your last line of attack, even if you believe you are one hundred percent in the right. 

Some methods that you might use in cases like this are:   Appeal to your antagonist’s sense of self worth.  When soliciting a peer’s assistance, tell them how important their piece of the project is and that you understand how difficult a task you are requesting of them.  By letting them have an elevated sense of self-worth, they may just complete the task out of pride.  Give them as much positive feed back as you can for any part of the task they have already undertaken.  Let them know how grateful you will be if they can assist you and that you would repay them in kind if the need arose.  Be willing to work around their schedule. If you are at a bottleneck due to this type of situation, it is better to have to put in the extra effort resolving the problem than having to explain your failure to your superiors.

If all else fails you may need to delegate the issue upward.  By this I mean, that there sometimes comes a point when you may need to finally raise the issue to a higher level.  This step should be taken very carefully and only as a last resort.  Once a bridge is burned, it can be very difficult or impossible to rebuild.  Remember, you will most likely have to work and deal with the person you are confronting currently again in the future.  It is almost always more beneficial to bite the bullet, swallow some pride and put in the extra effort to resolve a situation amicably (at least from your foil's perspective) than to come away with a successfully resolution for your current project while leaving hard feelings and an environment of ill will with your peers behind.