Navigating the politics of technology

The unfortunate consequence of being a new contractor working alongside respected and experienced incumbents is that there is a natural inclination to be deferential to the opinions of those permanent, or long-standing members of staff, regardless of whether they are right or not.

Being the new kid on the block, you really don’t want to rock the boat in the first few weeks into a contracted assignment, so you politely try and get your point across and resist the urge to fight your corner, for fear that you will upset your client and come across as a trouble maker.

Having been brought in to introduce best practice, and align with Government Digital Service standards, we found that our recommended approach to technology was subject to various, often inconsistent, opinions of those people with the authority to grant or deny our requirements. The result was that our expectations were dashed – our vision of working in an exciting, dynamic and technically efficient way, was looking as if it would be bloated and less technically astute than we had hoped, as the wishlist of technologies we had compiled from the GDS Design Manual was slashed in half.

Telling the contracted Technical Lead to compile the list in the first place, wasn’t the same as empowering him to be able to get his preferred toolset in place. What this exercise did instead was immediately put those in a position of power on the defensive, so rather than embrace this fresh perspective (which wasn’t unfounded as it came from the recommended approach) and attempt to understand the rationale, and the route we had chosen, they instead took the view that because this hadn’t been done this way before, on their patch, it was wrong.

Add that response to the ‘new kid on the block’ scenario and your team can very quickly spiral into a cycle of disappointment and disillusion that they can never achieve the best results possible.

In this situation there was only one way to go – escalation and seeking assistance from management to intervene and put a buffer in place to support our technical lead. We needed somebody with the technical authority to fight our corner and allow us to push ahead with the tools and technologies we required to do the best job.

We are still awaiting a resolution – a named individual who can represent the team at the higher level – but even the act of raising the issue does help to alleviate the stress which surrounds it.

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