My response to verbal instructions like that has been to ask to have them written out so that I can be sure to get them right. That has saved me quite a few times, and it never comes across as a challenge to the instructions. Many are flattered that I "need to be sure to get the istructions right", and they are happy to oblige.
My favorite justification for this type of decision making was provided to me at my first job. "We can't change the design now.....We've got a lot of experience with the hardware." My boss was a brave and brilliant man, a PhD Mechanical Engineer, whose response to that was, "Yeah, but most of it is bad......"
"The trick he would use was to only work verbally (that way he could remember it any way he wanted). "
Hahaha, Harry was the same way. One of my colleague's favorite stories was the time Harry was doing his usual arm waving and saying the problem was this or that. My friend pulled out a pocket recorder, held it in front of Harry's face, clicked it on and said, "Please repeat that so I get it right." Harry just sputtered and refused to say anything else.
Unfortunately we did not have an e-mail system or correspondance repository or we would have tried to CYA with paper.
They used to have trouble doing estimates until I offered to create an Excel spreadsheet to automate the process. I discovered the problem. Every time I'd go back and ask for clarification of their method for estimating a piece of equipment, I'd get a different answer and frequently from the same person.
BrainiacV (AKA McGyver ;), Your story reminded me of a similar experience I had with a PM who was known for throwing his Engineer's under the bus (when his bad decisions came to roost). He tried it with me a few times, but I quickly (and I do mean immediately) responded with paper and Email trails each time. He quickly stopped trying that with me (though he got a few people fired along the way including, ultimately, himself).
The trick he would use was to only work verbally (that way he could remember it any way he wanted). But the trick I countered with was I would always follow any verbal conversation with an Email (usually disguised as a request for clarification or agreement).
It's unfortunate, but knowing how to CYA is a necessary skill for any Engineer.
Don Quixote, I used to work with a hardware manager that we called Harry Houdini. He could get out of anything. We had a project with a tight time line and he told me to work on just a segment of it so we'd have at least something done. Later in a meeting explaining our project progress, he threw me under the bus claiming that we needed a little bit of everything done instead of concentrating on just one small section I had worked on.
I didn't care, I had given my notice and he was obviously going to use me as the scapegoat as to why the project was not keeping to schedule. I had been warned by others that he would never take responsibility for his management decisions.
Sorry, your nick name just triggered a "that reminds me" moment.
I once worked with an engineer at my first engineering job who was very bright and an excellent mentor. Then he got promoted into management and things went south, especially his judgement. I once heard him say that his decision making was easier when he was, "unencumbered by knowledge." I left shortly thereafter and heard through the grapevine that he was demoted back into staff engineering. But, due to his previous behavior, didn't have a lot of friends.
They found the issue and then requested this person to investigate it. So it was not like he was offering unsolicited advice. If you are not willing to make any changes, then don't waste my valuable time on the problem.
As an Engineer that was nick-named Don Quixote by his boss (on more than one occasion), I can sympathize. Having fought (and lost) many battles, I (still) try to choose my battles wisely.
But, playing devils advocate, if it's working (producing in-spec parts on schedule) but runs hot, perhaps the bureaucratic machinery can handle replacing failed components easier than fixing a non-optimum situation. Often the true cost of changes are hidden (such changes can run tens of thousands of dollars, where as perhaps replacing a servo might cost a hundred's and is already rolled up in attrition budgets).
Communication runs both ways. I'm still on the non-management side but I underdstand that you need to understand "their" point of view to strategically pick your battles well.
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