Houston, we have another work ethics problem

In a different country than mine, I learned about a situation that happened in a company there. The manager, let’s call him John (not his real name), discovers that the subsite about to go live has an ugly URL: http://example.com/example_site/subsite/index.html. It is not only ugly, it is unacceptable. John is correct that the URL http://example.com/subsite or, at worst, http://example.com/subsite/index.html is what they should have had.

John is very unhappy. He thinks that this problem must be fixed no matter what. So, he gets approval from upper management and goes to the engineer that is responsible for the subsite and demands that the problem is fixed. The engineer tells him that because of the way the subsite has been built, fixing the problem is a major undertaking and it cannot be done easily.

Unfortunately, the subsite has to go live using the hideous URL. And John is very unhappy and resentful.

Now, let me be the devil’s advocate, or, rather, the engineer.

So, John comes to me and states the problem.

Now, I get to speak:


– John, you described the problem. You are correct. That is what we should have done. But now, this is what we have. You ask me to change the URL. This is a major undertaking. Are you willing to “pay the price” of such an undertaking? What if the price is not only to delay the project, but to have the company go bankrupt as well? So, first of all, we have to establish what will happen if we choose to fix the hideous and unacceptable URL.

Then, there is the matter of who is at fault here. I know that you might think that it does not matter whose fault it is, as long as it gets fixed. But things are not so simple. Perhaps the most important question we have to ask is “who is going to get punished for this”. Because as it turns out, you are asking that I should get punished, my punishment being that I have to fix the problem.

I ask you again, John: who is going to be punished for this? You are essentially proposing that I should be punished.

Ok, I agree that it is my job to fix the problem. But in this case, it may also be a punishment for me. So, the ethical thing to do, is to first fire the person responsible for the problem, then apologize to me and, after that, ask me to fix the problem.

The person responsible for the problem may be you, John. You are responsible for the way URLs look like, so you should have spotted the problem from the first day you were hired in your position.

So, the ethical thing to do is that you should get fired and then, if the problem can be fixed without an adverse effect for the company, then I will happily fix it.

Actually, by coming and asking me to fix the problem and thus, make me take the punishment for this, not only are you unjust towards me, but you want me to be punished for something that you are responsible for. This is twice unjust. So, you should get fired for not spotting the problem earlier and you should also get fired for being unjust towards me.

You might think that in a team, one member should help another and catch and correct their oversights, so that is what I should in this case. But as far as you are concerned, you certainly do not act like a team member. You act as an inappropriate supervisor. You do not take the blame and also, you want things to be done your way, no matter what.

The reason why you exhibit inappropriate supervising behaviour is that you were not “agile”. If you are going to give input to a project, you should get involved from the project as early as possible. It may be easy for you to reactively give orders after the fact, but you should have been proactive in catching problems early on. This is what a person in your position is really paid to do: help us so that we never have to reach a situation like this.

For me, to reactively spot problems and demanding that they be fixed is the most unethical thing of all.

Please understand that I do not accuse you of being unethical but for acting unethically.

Actually, since in the past I have resigned from companies for less important reasons than that, I hereby submit my resignation and I am at the service of the company for as long as they need me, in order to make my departure painless for the company.



About Dimitrios Kalemis

I am a systems engineer specializing in Microsoft products and technologies. I am also an author. Please visit my blog to see the blog posts I have written, the books I have written and the applications I have created. I definitely recommend my blog posts under the category "Management", all my books and all my applications. I believe that you will find them interesting and useful. I am in the process of writing more blog posts and books, so please visit my blog from time to time to see what I come up with next. I am also active on other sites; links to those you can find in the "About me" page of my blog.
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