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I'm managing an upgrade project and I asked my assistant to do some preliminary research and come to me with some ideas on how to approach the project.

This particular project affects a large number of people and has one significant stakeholder pushing for change.

My assistant went ahead and interviewed this stakeholder and got a good idea on how to approach the problem, but doesn't know company policy (he's still new), and he came up with good ideas, but suggestions that will simply not work for this project.

Here in lies the problem. My assistant (while I was away on holidays) went ahead and submitted his ideas as a formal proposal to the stakeholder. This person loves the ideas, but doesn't grasp the ramifications of them since this is a technical plan and he's not a technical person.

How can I go ahead and correct and direct my assistant (not punish), and set things back on the right track to success? I'm fairly new to project management and employee management myself, so any advice will be hugely appreciated.

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Your assistant did nothing wrong. You wrote he does not know company policy. You cannot hold him accountable for what he does not know. He, while you were on vacation, kept the ball rolling. He made a decision and he acted. He should be commended for his eagerness and willingness to put his neck on the line for what he thought was a super idea. Those behaviors need to be rewarded. At the same time, he can be coached in some of his thinking to maybe realign his thinking about what kinds of decisions he can make at his rank and what decisions on which he should wait. But that message needs to come across in a very non punitive way.

The error rests with you. To fix this, you need to call in your stakeholder and put everything on the table, including the benefits of the proposal, the costs, and the risks and ramifications. It can be spun such that your stakeholder never has to know, nor should he know, that a deviation occurred in your internal processes. Then, have your stakeholder make a more informed decision and move on.

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    Thanks for the reply. I definitely don't want to look negatively at the actions. I agree 100% with the eager "ball rolling". He's doing a great job and I'd hate to expunge that. My concern is with drawing up a formal proposal when he was told to simply bring suggestions to me for team review in the New Year. – Chase Florell Jan 3 '12 at 18:59
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    Okay, in that case, I would still make sure that he is well protected and rewarded for taking the initiative and moving the ball; however, I would bring it to his attention in a non judgmental and objective way that he deviated from your instructions and that he understands the ramifications of his actions. It's like, "great job on this, wonderful write-up, but...." At the end of the meeting, he should still walk out feeling good about what he did but also understanding what he needs to do differently next time. – David Espina Jan 3 '12 at 19:45
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Now

I can't give you perfect advice on how to solve the current problem.

David and thursdaygeek seem to have covered this well enough, and I agree with thursdaygeek that getting your report involved in fixing their own mistake will be rewarding for everyone involved.

But I'd definitely shield them during and after the process, and take the mistake upon myself. The best managers create a bubble in which their reports can succeed.

Going forward

A favorite adage of a good dev manager in our company is:

Ask for forgiveness, not for permission

It is good to foster this, as it quells analysis paralysis, and when people have frequent victory, it will greatly boost their morale and productivity.

It sounds like your report is succeeding at that. I'd try to beef up their knowledge of the unknowns that caused this SNAFU, and make sure to set them up in similar more guided and hands-on situations so you can re-enforce the correct behaviors. Give them more chances to fail or succeed at similar scenarios.

A bad way to respond to this is to try to re-enforce the missing process knowledge group-wide. It ends up being the equivalent of public shaming (due to the always-present rumor mill), and I've seen it drive people to stall-out and eventually quit. If you feel a strong enough need to make sure it doesn't happen again, I wouldn't send out e-mails. I'd talk with each person one-on-one.

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    And +1 for no public emails. Also for the shielding them. Merlyn gives advice for the type of manager that can help create GREAT employees. – thursdaysgeek Jan 4 '12 at 18:11
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Work with your assistant, laying out the company policy and technical issues that are sticklers in his proposal. Have him come up with ideas for how to make this still work, within the contrainsts that he didn't know. Encourage him for him keeping the ball rolling, and have him continue to be part of the now modified solution. With any luck, he'll have some good ideas for how to modify the proposal to the stakeholder. He'll also learn more company policy and will understand the effects his jumping the gun has caused.

Then, as David Esprina says, bring in the stakeholder and put everything on the table, including the solutions that allow you to provide what he wants within the constraints that you have.

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