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A recent problem is that my boss is more worried about how our actions make him appear to the rest of the company than he is about the actual results of our work. For example he is willing to deliver a poor product on time so that he looks good in the eyes of his superiors (having lots of on time deliveries checks a lot of boxes for him)

However this is negatively impacting on myself and my coworkers as we are having to be overloaded with the additional work of fixing the problems that rushing to meet deadlines causes. This, in turn, is leading to high tension, lots of stress and mistakes and poor reviews for the employees because of all the mistakes that rushing is invariably causing.

I'm fairly certain that if this is prolonged it will lead to the resignation of a few key people in this team which would make this problem much worse.

He seems to be aiming to meet goals that pay off for him in the short run (on time and good appearance to upper management) that are causing a loss in the long run (lots of bugs, high tension, annoyed customers, annoyed employees)

How can I convince my boss that aiming only for wins in the short run will cause him exponentially worse problems in the long run?

Is there any way to convince him of this or is waiting for his failures to catch up to him the only way he is likely to be willing to change?

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Is it really an "either/ or" situation? Is your boss's appearance to the rest of the company really not impacted by the problems that are created when the deadline is met by cutting corners on quality? Is upper management only focused on deadlines and not concerned about quality? –  Justin Cave Feb 18 at 9:46
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Is your boss there for the long term? Or is he someone who is nipping in, "delivering" to get his bonus and then moving on leaving a trail of technical debt in his wake? Not that I've encountered such an unmoral human being ever!!! :-) –  Mike Feb 18 at 12:56
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@JoeStrazzere im sure these are his choices, not mandated from upper management –  RWY Feb 18 at 13:35
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Welcome to the world of business in the 21st century. Entire companies are run this way, with the top executives sacrificing the future stability of entire companies so they can earn that quarterly megabonus. The hope is that they will cash-in and be out before it all hits the fan. After all, when a company tanks after they've left, it makes them look like they were awesome because it was a successful company while they were there. It must be the new leadership that caused the company to tank, not prior leadership decisions. Same philosophy applies top-to-bottom of most companies of any size. –  Dunk Feb 19 at 16:46

6 Answers 6

up vote 14 down vote accepted

How can I convince my boss that aiming only for wins in the short run will cause him exponentially worse problems in the long run?

Instead of trying to get your manager away from their focus for short-term wins, use that focus.

Explain how, right now, timeliness might be important to the higer-ups but it's short sighted to only focus on looking good in a schedule. It will cost them more quick wins, than they collect.

The project management triangle is a trilemma, i.e. "Schedule, quality, cost, choose two".

Right now, your manager is completely focussed on looking good in the schedule department, but ignoring quality (and probably only paying minimum attention to cost). Management's focus may rapidly change though, placing emphasis on something completely different: A deal might have fallen short, triggering cost anxiety; bad press may call for a quality offensive.

Recovering from that change of company focus will cost that manager a lot of wins they could have earned if they planned a tiny bit ahead.

By following a balanced strategy that only ever so slightly may lean towards one of the three corners, will your manager ensure a consistent, sustainable positive appearance, because it anticipates and prepares for any changes that might otherwise leave them severely exposed.

Why will that work?

With these arguments you can turn your managers focus on quick wins to your advantage, making them your champion. Finding common ground between their priorities and your goals is the magical key and the common ground here is securing more wins for the future.

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Or point out to him that he will look bad to management when the customers start complaining about the low quality of the products! –  starsplusplus Feb 18 at 11:30
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This rarely works, as documented in Moral Mazes, because companies often reward short term, check-box wins quickly enough that managers get promoted quickly. So basically, a manager can quickly climb a corporate ladder by exploiting lower workers via overburdening them to make lower quality products faster. By the time the problems have compounded from those projects, that manager is long gone (promoted away, or headhunted by a new company) and some poor sap new manager, plus the hard workers on the bottom, are left to deal with the messes and take the blame. –  EMS Feb 19 at 15:28
    
@EMS so you think pointing out how focussing on one type of quick win will cost them quick wins of other types won't work, because they are focussed on quick wins? –  CMW Feb 19 at 16:48
    
Yes, absolutely. Quick wins that have anything at all to do with investing in the future will be totally shunned. The problem here is that "quick win" is fundamentally at odds with "well-planned" and "high-quality." You can't jam those last two into any sort of "quick-win" disguise. It doesn't work. Managers looking to burn the commons as fuel for their climb up the ladder won't go for it. You'll just exhaust yourself trying to cleverly package good planning as if it could possibly ever be a quick win. –  EMS Feb 19 at 16:50
    
I disagree with the assumption that quick wins and investing in the future are fundamentally at odds. In fact, usually one results in the other. The company invests in the future by focussing on one fact (bad idea, but that's usually how it happens), say growth, which leads to managers finding quick wins around that topic. At some point the company sees their investment not paying out as expected and starts focussing on product quality instead. A lot of quick wins there too, unless one blocked them by previous actions. That's what I'm talking about. –  CMW Feb 19 at 16:56

For example he is willing to deliver a poor product on time so that he looks good in the eyes of his superiors (having lots of on time deliveries checks a lot of boxes for him)

This make it sound like an issue with top management, and not your boss. If the top management is pushing him, he will also push you. What you can do here is actually go to your boss and refer to the issues that has occurred with rushed timelines. As you say there has been mistakes, he will certainly be aware of this, and thus you can play the "quality over quantity" card on him. If the deadline is too tight, and work mass to high, it will tire the workers, and tired workers are ineffective workers. Ineffective workers deliver lower quality products meaning higher chance of customer coming back angry. In other words, a snowball down a hill effect. To fire workers is just counter productive in this situation, what is needed is either more workers, or less tight deadlines in order to secure good products and a steady on-time delivery.

The boss then has three choices: Either push the info on to his superiors, deal with it himself or ignore it.

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The problem seems to be that you and he do not share the view of the benefits and the costs of the current approach.

I believe the trick here is making him understand that the cost of delivering unfinished products is much larger than he thinks, and it is cheaper to the company to spend the effort at the right time. A car analogy that might be usable is to ask whether it is the cheapest approach for a car manufacturer to recall all sold cars for a fix of a defect not found earlier in the process, or to spend the time and effort needed earlier to catch that and other defects.

As I understand it, this primarily comes from the fact that the deadlines you are required to meet are not set by you or based on your input. Perhaps you could state that you have a hard time meeting the deadline and perhaps he would like to discuss what a good deadline could be (for this and/or future deliveries) and then start with "what do we need to do to create a good delivery" and then estimate each of these and when they need to be done for each other to use and an estimated price of doing it at the needed time in the pipeline. Then see what date that brings you, and ask what he would find reasonable to postpone to reach his arbitrary deadline, and then make a reasonable estimate of what the cost will be of doing it later. Then at the end he can see that his approach makes the delivery more expensive and by how much, and as he has been part of the calculations he understands why and can decide what is the approach he wants on a much better foundation.

By all means avoid having him loose face - this is all about image.

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Also, if for any reason he decides to cut away a procedure he at least knows why you want it to be there, and can explain why it had to be pushed to later. –  Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Feb 18 at 13:49
    
I think this is the best answer. The OP needs to somehow get involved in the setting of goals/deadlines in cooperation with the manager. –  Angelo Feb 18 at 16:23

Unfortunately, the opinions of your boss' boss are likely more important than your boss' employees since performance is commonly decided from above rather than below. A bit of finesse is required. To get your boss to listen to your opinion, I suggest the following:

  1. Figure out what your boss finds important
  2. Find a solution that fits in with those priorities
  3. Suggest it in a way that makes him look good

Preparation

Schedule a meeting for your boss (or use a regularly scheduled one-on-one if that's the way your company rolls). Give yourself time to do the following:

  1. Analyze the cause of the problem
  2. Gather data to confirm the problem
  3. Revise the cause if the data disagrees
  4. Come up with a solution you think will work
  5. Prepare a non-accusatory way to describe the issues

In this case it sounds like you think the problem is that your boss is judged on meeting deadlines over providing quality. Hopefully you have several examples of projects you think this happened on. Collect data on things like estimated time required vs. actual time taken, number of bugs that slip through, causes for not meeting the estimated time. Make sure that your data actually matches the assumption that deadlines trumped quality.

You may discover that your assumption was wrong. Maybe the issue isn't the deadline (meeting schedule), but rather that other tasks took time from the amount of time that could be committed to the scheduled project, or that the amount of bugs is actually going down as people gain domain knowledge, or something else entirely. Make sure your assumption is correct before going in to the meeting. Once you understand the problem, brainstorm some potential solutions.

The last thing you need to do is come up with a non-accusatory way of bringing this up to your boss. Maybe his schedules are absolute rubbish. Maybe he doesn't give one lick about quality. Saying either isn't likely to endear him to your perspective.

Meeting

Give your summary of the issue to your boss, and follow-up with an open-ended question like "How can we solve this problem?" In your case, perhaps something like this:

Hey boss, as you've been pointing out, recently there have been a lot of bugs and careless mistakes after a release deadline. As a team we want to make ourselves look good and make problem-free on-time releases, but we're running in to a bit of trouble doing that. Part of the problem is that tight deadlines make mistakes pop up, and then fixing those mistakes impacts future deadlines causing more mistakes in the next release. How can we deal with this problem?

The main points are:

  1. Be non-confrontational (don't place blame or make excuses)
  2. Acknowledge where you want to be, and where you're falling short
  3. Share what your perspective is on where the problem lies

Once you've summarized the issue, be an active listener and try your best to see things from your boss' perspective. This will give you more information on what he thinks the issue is, what he cares about in a solution, and whether or not it meshes with the information that you've gathered beforehand. Don't try to rebut or debate any of the points he makes, just gather information with the active listening and follow-up questions. At the end of the meeting, thank him for sharing his thoughts, and start preparing a solution.

Solution

Now you have all the pieces required to craft a solution. You know what the problem is, you know why it's a problem, and you know how your boss thinks it should be solved. You should be able to craft a solution that makes everyone happy and actually solves the issue. Find some time to bring it up to your boss. You can say something like this:

Hey boss, thanks for sharing your thoughts yesterday. I learned a lot from your approach, and I think I understand how to implement it. As you said, we need to spend less time on bug-fixing from the previous release, and more time working toward the next release to make the deadline with fewer issues. I entirely agree. After looking at the bug database, it looks like we can take care of the major bugs from the previous release if we were able to focus for two weeks as a team. Can you negotiate an extra two weeks in the next deadline to take care of that?

The key points here are:

  1. Reconfirm your boss' solution (and that you agree)
  2. Explain how you think you are going to solve it
  3. Ask for your boss to sign off on it

People are always far more likely to say okay to something if they think it's their idea. By being an active listener, and explaining the solution in the context of what they've already said, they are far more likely to be willing to listen to your idea even if it doesn't match what they had in mind. If the problem will really get solved that way, and you can demonstrate confidence (because of the time you've put in to gathering information on the problem and the solution), then they are probably going to give the okay.

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When you start a project and get the requirements, there are some things you'd like to change and can't. Sometimes, your manager is one of those things. I don't necessarily think your manager is the only thing that needs attention here. Let's look at what you've provided in some detail.

A recent problem

This is only recent? Did this come out of your manager's year end review for 2013? If it did, take a look at your 2013 projects and see why they didn't get done on time, and learn from those mistakes. Honestly, you should be doing this anyway.

my boss is more worried about how our actions make him appear to the rest of the company than he is about the actual results of our work

Other than aiming for quick wins, do you have other evidence of this? Keeping up appearance for box-checking at review time, and how you appear to the rest of the company are two very different things. For example, my manager takes my team's reputation very seriously, but he doesn't box check. The two do not necessarily go hand in hand.

he is willing to deliver a poor product on time so that he looks good in the eyes of his superiors

Did this happen with just one project? Or with many. If it happened with one, don't think that's a pattern. Just deal with the one project and move on. If it's happening with many, you really need to look at how your estimates are being determined and start adding more time in because if all your team's projects are late, there's a disconnect between the productive capacity of your team and the estimates you're trying to meet. And it's a lot easier to give yourself more time than it is to make your team more productive.

poor reviews for the employees because of all the mistakes

This is very unfortunate. If there's anything that needs an intimate sitdown between the team and your manager, it's this. However, in my experience, most employees don't talk about their reviews, so I have to ask: how many employees are getting bad reviews that you know of (not suspect, but know because they told you or you saw their review for some reason)? Is it just you that you know of?

He seems to be aiming to meet goals that pay off for him in the short run that are causing a loss in the long run

Do you know what his goals are? Has he stated them to you? If so, then there needs to be a discussion (at a level higher than yours) that make sure that his goals are actual representations of what great performance is. That is to say making all your short term goals should put you closer to your long term goals, not further from it. Are these the goals that affect his bonus at the end of the year? If they are, can you blame him? If they're going to give him an extra 4-7% of his salary for meeting these goals, you can damn well bet he's going to do what it takes to meet them. Maybe there needs to be more KPIs, such as support:development ratio to try to bring up code quality, or something like that. But if these are the goals he's been given from upper management, you can't blame him for trying to meet them even if they're the wrong thing to do.

How can I convince my boss that aiming only for wins in the short run will cause him exponentially worse problems in the long run?

You haven't even convinced me that it will. Honestly, this sounds like a situation where you'd rather be doing development work than support work, but you've got a lot of support work to do. All us developers do much more support than we wish we had to. It could be the cost of fixing the bugs first is just not worth it. It might be better for the company to deal with the technical debt than to fix it first. Think of the technical debt like credit cards. You pay down your highest interest cards first right? But you don't know the interest until it gets sent to production. If there's minor bugs in a system that people use once or twice a year, it might not be worth it to fix them -ever- much less before you ship the product.

waiting for his failures to catch up to him

What failures? So far, you've done nothing but describe a manager who is directing his team to meet his stated objectives. I don't know of any managers who set their own objectives, so if there's a failure here, it probably isn't with your manager but those above him.

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Yes, Joe, but I also know you're a director of QA. It's your job to know what the defects are before you push to production. I would venture to say most developers have no QA department at all. In fact, working in four different software shops, there has not been a single tester in any of them. (You've seen some of my questions on SQA!) Developers by and large are responsible for testing their code to send to the business users for UAT, who then rubber stamp everything that isn't "happy path" testing. –  corsiKa Feb 18 at 21:19

poor reviews for the employees because of all the mistakes that rushing is invariably causing.

Seems like everyone takes the path of least resistance. Better to immediately satisfy my boss and suffer a poor review later, than to address what most people would see as unfair.

One solution, is to just start writing better code and stop using your boss's uninformed time demands as an excuse. By definition, good code has to be shippable, but in your case it may be a little behind in schedule. That cannot be an excuse not to ship. Hopefully, as the code base improves, he will see the benefits. There is a risk of punishment if the project becomes too late.

A second option, is someone needs to sit down and connect the boss's choices with the technical debt that the team is taking the blame for. He may not see this bigger picture, so you can either draw if for him or suffer the consequences. Find a specific instance where not doing it right the first time made a subsequent request take even longer. It's difficult to claim a bug was introduced because you didn't have time. More objectively you need to indicate that proper testing wasn't being done.

There's no guarantee he will make any type of rational decision. If he has evidence the team is slacking off, that will get used against you. It may take the loss of a key member to get the point across.

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Gee, I wonder who issued the down vote. –  JeffO Feb 18 at 19:41
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can't tell for other voters but to me, the part about "just start writing better code" looks questionable. It seems to lack a clear explanation connecting to the question asked ("How can I show my boss etc") and, additionally, doesn't explain how to get there, specifically in this case when management seems to make an obstacle there. Part about technical debt looks more (much more) relevant but it's rather brief and overall doesn't look presented better than it was done in another answer. –  gnat Feb 19 at 7:00
    
@gnat - The OP indicates the code suffers because they have to rush. Should I indicate that they take their time to write better code? What is management's obstacle? Are they going to get an even more negative review for a late delivery. –  JeffO Feb 19 at 22:58

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