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Ask Slashdot: How Do You To Tell Your Client That His "Expert" Is an Idiot? 384

Esther Schindler writes "It's a danger for any consultant, and for most inter-departmental internal project staff: To get the work done, you need to work with someone else who supplies expertise you lack. But when the 'expert' turns out to be the wrong person how do you tell the client (or boss) that you just can't work with that individual?"
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Ask Slashdot: How Do You To Tell Your Client That His "Expert" Is an Idiot?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:18PM (#46234009)

    Tell the truth?

  • by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:22PM (#46234053) Homepage Journal

    Oddly enough, I never had to work with anyone who was completely incompetent. Some didn't know squat about the technical side of things, but their business knowledge was impeccable, and that was what they brought to the table.

    Maybe the problem isn't whether they're an expert in the field, but whether you know how to communicate with someone outside your field.

  • by crafty.munchkin ( 1220528 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:23PM (#46234063)
    Be as diplomatic as possible, but completely factual and provide as much evidence as possible. You never know what relationship the 'expert' has to the client/boss.
  • Slashvertisement (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrEricSir ( 398214 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:24PM (#46234069) Homepage

    I don't know, but I'm sure if I read the free eBook that the article is advertising I'd become a management expert literally overnight. !!! DOWNLOAD NOW !!!

  • by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:26PM (#46234087)

    Know the important facts before you start:

    Is the idiot related to anybody? Does he play golf with the CEO? Does he have dirt on somebody?

    You can bet the 'idiot' has something.

  • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:27PM (#46234097)

    Either way, if you can't call out losers, you'll wind up being one.

    I like it. That line should be elevated to "ancient chinese proverb" status.

  • Re:Its Easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:27PM (#46234105)

    The only bridges worth burning are the ones you wouldn't cross anyhow. Never burn a bridge you have crossed, even if it was a mistake. You have time invested.

    Burn bridges before you cross them, not after.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:32PM (#46234143)

    You're facing a problem here:

    Your boss hired this person, most likely for a lot of money. He has to justify that expense. Admitting now that he fell for a snakeoil peddler is not something that will further his career.

  • by MerlynEmrys67 ( 583469 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:34PM (#46234151)
    How is this an Ask Slashdot when the article answers the question. Are we supposed to argue that the author(expert) of the article is an incompetent?
  • Re:Its Easy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:45PM (#46234247)

    I don't normally burn bridges after I've crossed them.
    But when I do, it's to stop Beta from following me.

  • Re:Its Easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:50PM (#46234289)

    If you bill for time and materials, the headaches turn in to more cash.

    Not really, you spend all your time working on a project that's doomed to failure because the client wont listen. When it does fall through you cop the blame and the idiot client tells everyone at the golf club how useless you are. This is what I mean by "in the long term", what you're proposing is short term gain with no consideration of long term effects.

    If you don't understand how important reputation is as a consultant, you've never been a consultant.

  • Let us know... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Prien715 ( 251944 ) <> on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:54PM (#46234323) Journal

    I'm using the slas^H^H^H^H a website's beta and its designers have the same issue.

    Near as I can tell, they don't plan on listening....

  • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:55PM (#46234331)

    Come on, be honest. But before you open your mouth, THINK carefully.

    I have a policy of ALWAYS assuming that any problem somebody brings me is MINE to fix. I most likely caused it and it's my responsibility to fix it. Problems are not always my fault in the end, but until I've proven to myself and more importantly to the person who brought the problem to my attention that it's NOT my fault I'm taking personal responsibility to see it gets fixed.

    With that in mind, before you go off and start calling somebody you don't know well an idiot to his face you better be darn sure. And before you go tell anybody else about your suspicions they are an idiot you better be doubly darn sure you can back up the claim with absolute, you'd bet the farm on it, proof. Otherwise, you are going to be shot full of holes because YOU are the idiot.

    Given that you obviously are NOT the subject matter expert (or why would you need one given to you) I would say that what we most likely have is a personality clash between you and the expert. There is a non zero chance this is not true, but unless you are ready to make yourself into the subject matter expert and PROVE it, you really have two choices...

    First choice: You can suck it up, stop complaining and start working with the expert regardless of how you feel about them. You don't have to like them, but you need to respect them and stay professional about any disagreements. This will involve trying to figure out how you can best approach this person and doing things you would consider wasting time by taking their advice. Get their advice in hard copy, just to CYA in the future, but do your best to play in the sandbox with them.

    Second choice: You can go in, guns blazing and shoot the idiot full of holes, preferably in public in front of management. If you are wrong, you will go down in a blaze of glory, fully burning the bridge behind your hasty departure. If you are right, and manage to prove it without stepping on a land mine in the process, nobody will ever want to work with you and the disgraced "expert" is still likely to be there, possibly on your team, which puts you back to your first choice where you will eventually have to work with them. When they start like this, such relationships don't go well and your life will be a mess.

    So, I suggest you suck it up and do what it takes to work with the idiot and if you really just cannot make it work, look for another job.

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @09:02PM (#46234385) Journal
    One of the downsides of above-average intelligence is a propensity to discount contributions and/or suggestions from those cerebrally challenged [].

    The truth is, you can learn something from everyone, and an expert in a specific field with an IQ approaching his body temperature knows some stuff that you do not.

  • by sunking2 ( 521698 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @09:12PM (#46234453)
    If you find yourself always having terrible roommates, guess what? You're the terrible roommate.
  • You Don't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TrollstonButterbeans ( 2914995 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @09:19PM (#46234505)
    Structure contracts, fees, tangible goals so if the "expert" slows you down, you get paid more.

    The idea of avoiding idiots is lunacy, you make due with the cards dealt. If they have an "idiot" as an "expert", this speaks a lot about them and they probably need your help quite a bit.

    If they didn't need your help, they wouldn't have hired you!
  • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @09:24PM (#46234537)

    ...and doesn't know the first thing about the job the people under him do.

    Actually this is NOT a reason to trash your boss. I've had a number of managers who didn't have a clue how to do my job who where extremely effective and great to work for. We had a mutual understanding and respect for each one's roll. With one, he didn't have a clue how to design a network and stand up the equipment because it was MY job to do that for him. He just pointed me to the project and we would discuss the details he needed to know (cost, schedule etc) and I did what was required. He knew I was going to tell him what I really thought about the cost and schedule and trusted me to do the work within the cost and schedule I gave him. I knew he would insulate me from the management garbage and wasn't going to throw me to the wolves if there was some unexpected slip or overrun. We did status reports on large projects and he would stop by regularly to talk about things, but he NEVER wanted to tell me how to do this or that, and if we where behind schedule or over cost I WAS TELLING HIM about it. We trusted each other to do their jobs and it worked great.

    So, I actually think that the most effective bosses don't have to know all the ins and outs of what his employees do. But what they DO need is the ability to surround themselves with people who DO KNOW what needs to be done and empowering them to do their jobs. Bosses that know all the details are sometimes way to eager to try and micromanage their underlings and it takes a rare talent to let your employees do the work for you. I'll ALWAYS take a manager with the talent to delegate over one with perfect domain knowledge.

  • Re:Its Easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @09:33PM (#46234597) Homepage

    Actual judges will side against you if you are the one writting the contract. So if you think you can commit fraud by writing a sh*tty contract then you are due for a rude awakening.

  • by sootman ( 158191 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @10:29PM (#46234967) Homepage Journal

    > Be as diplomatic as possible, but completely
    > factual and provide as much evidence as possible.

    Yup. The best way to win an argument is to start out by being right. Being polite saves your ass in case it turns out you're not.

  • by hessian ( 467078 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @10:58PM (#46235125) Homepage Journal

    I took concerns to my management and said I would not implement their solution and outlined why. Their response was to pull me from the project and put in a yes-man that would do whatever he was told.

    Your other option was to play nice like the dummies are advocating, and have a failed project as a black stain on your resume.

    You did the right thing. So did they. Good people are incompatible with idiots.

  • Re:You Don't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scottbomb ( 1290580 ) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @12:03AM (#46235467) Journal

    Maybe you should have presented YOUR solution. Telling the boss "no I won't do it" will get you nowhere. Telling him "Look at my better way of doing it" will get their attention. The best lesson I've learned in business is to never take a problem to my boss unless I bring with me a solution to solve it. If you can't solve the problem, find someone who can, or else the boss will. Business needs are not going to change.

  • Re:You Don't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by carlos92 ( 682924 ) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @12:21AM (#46235523)

    A lot of times there is NO solution:
    - problem is badly described,
    - idiot expert promises quick, simple solution and explaining why it won't work takes an excessive amount of time or knowledge that the client doesn't have,
    - idiot expert knows client from college,
    - idiot expert lives next door and you work offshore from South America,
    - client company is populated by alpha males who like quick decisions and never back down,
    - a combination of the above (I have first hand knowledge about this situation).

    Sometimes the best option is to watch the explosion from far away enough that you're not killed and near enough to be the first responder.

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @01:20AM (#46235719) Journal
    Honestly I think it's just a difficult term, not a difficult concept. I remember I was using it for several years, and it took me several attempts before I could get the definition of the word into my mind in a way that would stick.
  • Re:You Don't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @01:32AM (#46235755)

    Someone caught doing that should be sued.

    For what, exactly? If you're coming in as an outside consultant, you typically don't have much political leverage to resolve problems, because you're probably not going to be around for long enough. Often the most effective tool you do have is to attach a dollar amount to how much mess a given problem is creating. If this is done honestly and the amounts are agreed up-front and openly, there is nothing unethical about it whatsoever. After all, on a fixed price contract, working with fools will substantially increase the amount of effort required to get good results, and it will make the work less pleasant, and both of those things do carry a premium.

    Of course, what you're really hoping is for is not for the client to just accept the higher fee. Ideally, you want the client to instead ask you why something is getting more expensive, so you can explain not just that there's something you don't like but also why it's bad for your client. You want them to decide that the consequences of continuing with it aren't worthwhile so they change course.

  • Re:Job interview (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @02:50AM (#46236003)

    A PhD basically indicates that they know a whole lot about some certain thing at a certain time. If your business is that thing and their knowledge is recent then great. The reality is that things move so damn quick in the CS world that anyone who is good is always keeping up to date and doubtfully has any paper to show that.

    That's not the key of a PhD. Of course while getting the grade you learned a lot about a very specific field, the most important part you prove (and have learned) by gaining a PhD is that you can work independently, and that you can set up and execute a research project successfully. The latter is what you should hire a PhD for. The first helps you decide which individual to choose (i.e. the one whose background matches what you intend them to do).

1 Mole = 007 Secret Agents