What to do when you disagree with management

The four options when required to do something you don't believe in.

When you work in the role of cosultant (regardless of your job title), you’ll inevitably have people asking questions for which the best answer is “don’t do the thing.”

“What’s the best tool for screen recording remote employees?” — Answer: “Don’t do that.”

But sometimes, you may be required to do the thing by management. What can you do in such a situation?

I see three options:

  1. Do the thing, even though you disagree.
  2. Educate management about why the thing is a bad idea, with the hope of reversing the decision.
  3. Don’t do the thing (and face any possible repercussions).

Which one you choose depends on the gravity of the thing, of course, and your personal convictions and tolerance.

If management is asking you to do something overtly unethical or immoral, you probably should not do the thing.

At the other end of the spectrum, if management is asking you to do something harmless, but wasteful, maybe the easiest solution is to just do the thing anyway. You decide whether it’s worth your time and energy to try to convice management otherwise, first.

There’s actually a fourth option, too, which I see often overlooked. And that is to feign compliance. Think of this as an application of work-to-rule, the practice of essentially doing the minimum to meet managements’ requirements, and no more. This is most useful when the thing management is asking for is simply a waste of time.

Are you asked to create a 5-page report every month that nobody reads? Great. You can produce such a report. Just don’t put any time into making it accurate. Maybe copy the same report from last month. Or fill it with random numbers, or best guesses.

Of course, I don’t suggest doing this just because you don’t like creating 5-page reports. You first need to be confident that the thing you’re asked to do literally serves no purpose.

Long horizion backlog estimation is a task that often fits into this category, when mandated by management. We know that it’s virtually impossible to estimate at the backlog item level, beyond a week or two into the future. Yet some companies require that we estimate weeks, sometimes even months, into the future. This is a huge waste of time, becasue even if you do the task, you’re not providing meaningful or actionable data to the company. So if management can’t be made to see the light of day, and insists on long-horizion estimates, do it with the least amount of effort. Estimate everything at the same size, or use a random size assignment, for example.

How do you respond when required by management to to do meaningless or even counter productive tasks?