4

Here's the situation:

I work in a team of 12 people, responsible for two applications. Our project manager has been working on one of the applications for over 5 years (project A), while the other project has only been ongoing for a year (project B). I am responsible for testing, release management and general communication with the business on project A.

For the past year, our project manager hasn't really been actively involved in my project. He stopped going to our application meetings, and generally doesn't seem to care about incidents or escalated problems.

Lately we've been having a big staffing problem on project A. Project A is understaffed because we've lost some developers and testers because of budget cuts, a problem which I have already mentioned and officially escalated to our PM several times. Yet he keeps asking developers responsible for A to work on project B. This has created a work environment where both the lead developer and me are overworked and overstressed.

I've confronted him about this several weeks ago, and he told me (and the rest of the team in earshot) that he was "working" on the staffing problem, and that it would be solved "soon".

Here's my question: He has been known to lie about "working on" or "handling" things, and I would like to ask him, in a one-to-one meeting, what he has effectively done when he says he's "working on" the problem. Is it ok to do that? Is there another way to mitigate this situation?

  • 3
    Does your PM have a supervisor? Does the PM report to anybody? – superM Mar 1 '13 at 7:59
  • The PM reports to the COO, but I'd like to exhaust my options in communicating with my PM, before going to the COO. – Hammer Mar 1 '13 at 10:25
  • 2
    @superM yes, it might work, but the PM will start hating you for putting you on the spot in front of his superior. – uncovery Mar 1 '13 at 12:10
  • 1
    @uncovery, you're right. But I think there's little chance to solve the problem without displeasing the PM. – superM Mar 1 '13 at 12:23
  • 1
    Make the loss of resources visible in dead lines and estimates. Don't work your butt off to cope with the situation. If they get away with less people, they will continue. – Petter Nordlander Mar 2 '13 at 12:09
6

You will most likely not achieve your goal in asking such a direct question. He will perceive that you are trying to manage him despite the fact that you are not even his peer or superior.

The issue with underfunded projects is that the top teams in the company are normally not aware about consequences. They think they save money while in the long run spending more, or creating a dysfunctional outcome (a failed project). Instead of pressuring the project manager who most likely also suffers from underfunding, pressure from above and lack of resources, you should try to come to a solution which either postpones the project or gets enough funding. You can do this either alone (with your team mates) and present the solution to the project manager or do it with him together (the better way) in order to convince his superiors to have a solution to the problem.

Get together with others of the team and make a summary of issues created to the understaffing (late fixes etc). Then compile a list of real-world consequences for the customers (bad service, loss of income, compliance risks etc). If you can, quantify them (lost sales, higher costs, delay). Then, instead of adding additonal pressure to the project manager, help him to get more funds from his superiors, based on the outcome of the analysis.

The risk: If you have an egomaniac as project manager, he will think that even proposing this action is out of your bounds (and not his idea). He might also try to pretend to his superiors that everything is fine and rather present a failed project than escalating the issue. It all depends on the PM's boss, if he values constructive input or if everyone is rather trying to keep up appearances in a failing environment.

The upside: You have a chance to present management skills and collaboration, proactive thinking and solution based management.

  • 1
    or if everyone is rather trying to keep up appearances in a failing environment. This should be easy to figure out. Look at the history of past projects by this PM or by the department in general. If it is littered with messy projects, issues being swept under the rug, redefinition of core milestones/deliverables/deadlines, periods of staff turnover or overtime, then you might be dealing with a department that never has a failed project. For CYA and political purposes it is easier to just redefine success than strike at the core issues. If you notice this history then the risk is high. – maple_shaft Mar 1 '13 at 13:53
7

First step - stop overworking. This is enabling the behavior. Do not under any circumstances should you or the rest of the team members work more than 40 hours a week.

Next step. Document. Every time he reassigns to the other project and it casues a delay in project A, write an email stating that the reassignment will delay project A by X hours (Or days or weeks). With every reassignment, tell them in writing what work will not get done as a result of the shifting priority. Make these clear objective documents. You are simply reporting on the change in priorities, no blame, no emotions. Becasue they are factual, you can eventually start cc his manager if nothing is done.

Sometimes the documentation and the proof that the problem is at his end is enough to get him moving. Sometimes you need to escalate and then the documentation is needed. But especially the documentation is needed to keep him from throwing you under the bus for the delay.

2

I think it would be very helpful to clearly document all the interactions, asks, promised actions, deadlines, etc. This can be done by just saving the relevant e-mails and/or keeping a diary. Make sure there is an e-mail about any relevant communication. If it's only verbal, you can follow up (politely and respectful) with e-mail like this:

Hey Jim, I wanted to follow up on our conversation today and just make sure that I have a all the details right: We'll do release xx by yy, but we'll miss release zz unless we get two more guys by xxx. You will look into hiring and/or getting internal people re-assigned and update the team next week. Is that correct?

Once you have a decent set of those that clearly support your case, you can have a heart-to-heat with the project manager. The paper trail will make a big difference in the communication. The conversation will be about things that actually have happened and wan't be quagmired and stalled in "he-said, she-said", "opinions" and "interpretations".

In preparation for the heart-to-heart (or "come to Jesus" as one of our VPs calls it) you need to decide for yourself what is the ask and the desired outcome, what are the acceptable outcomes and what you will do if none of those can be achieved or if your PM goes into full stalling mode. Present some options and be creative: "drop the project, have yourself re-assigned, staff up by a committed dead line, find a new PM". Run a couple of likely scenarios for this meeting through your head, be prepared to play them out when they happen.

If you need or decide to escalate, the paper trail and the list of "acceptable" options will be enormously helpful. Instead of whining "my PM isn't doing it right" you go in and say

  • We need to support project A but we really can't because of these clearly documented issues
  • I don't have the resources to solve this on my own. I have tried X, Y and Z (again documented) with my PM. Nothing has worked (again document that it hasn't).
  • Here are the options that I believe would make this go away. Here is what's needed to implement these options. I personally would recommend option X
  • Can you help and please advise me what to do next?

2nd and 3rd level managers really don't like escalations, the easier you can make it for them, the better it will go. Having a clear documentation about the problem and potential options will really help with that.

0

It seems your PM has a lot more authority than most. You indicated that team members have been assigned to one or the other, but the PM assigns them as he/she sees fit.

Usually, when there are two distinct teams each one has their own leader. The leader of team A has failed. This person should be telling the CCO to hire more people. It's a benefit that the PM agrees but a person with this title shouldn't be the only person to make this request.

I don't know why the PM would be offended if you helped improve the staffing needs of your company. It would make his job easier, but there's no subsitute for ignorance.

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