69

I just joined a new company four weeks ago. I am currently in the process of delivering a project, I am the project manager managing a tech lead, developer and dev ops.

Out of the 3, one of the developers is brilliant to work with, he communicates well and has helped me settle in as a new joiner.

The tech lead on the other hand does not communicate, complains, and works largely as an individual. Whenever I have given him tasks to do, he is always finding excuses and recently took annual leave in the middle of the project life cycle without informing me. (The leave was approved before I joined.) After committing to work and giving time frames, he is also not producing the work when he said he would leading to endless delays and subsequent flak from senior management to me.

This has put the project at risk to the point I had circulated an email telling the team that they would have to work overtime (not my idea, my boss's). The tech lead took this badly complaining that he has other commitments where overtime is voluntary etc. He seems to want everything his way to the point that as soon as I am forced by my manager to apply pressure on him he reacts badly.

Short of escalating this to my manager, what other steps can I do to mitigate this situation?

Update:

  • Tech lead has left
  • Next project I ran without his involvement was delivered at high quality on time.
  • Teams and project's are running a lot better without him, him leaving has confirmed what I've originally wrote, how he was an unnecessary bottleneck
  • 2
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Nov 9 '17 at 10:12
  • "annual leave in the middle of the project life cycle without informing me. (The leave was approved before I joined.)" Your failure to do your job. Also, it was likely planned a long time ago, and may incur financial loss if he does not take it. Most people are not rich enoug hto just hire a plane and rent a 5 start hotel when they go on holiday, so they go with an agency and pay way in advance. – TomTom May 9 '18 at 8:32
  • I doubt that the OP is suggesting that the leave be cancelled; just that the tech lead have the common courtesy to inform him of it. – Mawg says reinstate Monica May 9 '18 at 12:17
28

If you're managing a project, then it's your job to be aware of the resource commitments and ask up front when people have booked annual leave. You're also to be told when people ask for time off after that point. You then manage the resourcing of the project accordingly.

When it comes to the project, you're mainly concerned with each task that needs doing. You don't really need to make friends with the people you're managing.

If the project is at risk, then of course you set the RAG status to Amber (or Red if it's especially bad), state the reason for doing so and use the agreed reporting line for these kinds of updates.

Avoid pointing fingers in your project updates - the people who know they're holding things up should know who they are already.

To mitigate this problem, keep a regular track of resources for tasks and let the people who are involved understand that this piece of work is in danger slipping if people take unmanaged leave, slack, or are pulled off project for unknown reasons.

Also consider being involved in the approval process for leave for the people working on this project, so you can have some input on approving/rejecting these requests as the project resources demand.

  • 18
    What is the RAG status? – smith Nov 7 '17 at 9:50
  • 9
    @smith Red Amber Green – freedomn-m Nov 7 '17 at 10:02
  • 53
    To be honest find this answer contradictory at least. First you say that it is the PMs job to ask when people have booked annual leave. Then you say that PM should let the people who are involved understand that this piece of work is in danger of slipping when people take leave. Why would that ever happen if PM has taken the leave into account? Do you seriously expect people to cancel their approved leave for a project that wasn’t planned right to begin with? – smith Nov 7 '17 at 10:28
  • 24
    "Don't need to make friends with the people you are managing"... great attitude – Kolob Canyon Nov 7 '17 at 15:15
  • 15
    Attitude in this answer is a great incentive to start looking for a new job. – Ege Bayrak Nov 8 '17 at 13:56
193

View this from your tech lead's side. You've just joined the company, have given him a bunch of tasks that he's clearly unhappy with, complained that he's taken annual leave that he's entitled to(*), and then told him that even though overtime is voluntary, you're going to make him work it anyway.

Hate to say it, but that's pretty much a recipe for making yourself instantly unpopular with whoever you're managing.

There's 3 major sticking points I can see that you've raised here - the general attitude when you give him tasks, the overtime, and the holiday.

  • The general attitude is very dependent on the situation, but I'd really be trying to work with the guy here - why doesn't he like the tasks you're assigning him? Are they potentially valid points (you're giving him too many tasks to do in too short a timeframe and he needs longer, the tasks aren't ones that are critical to the current release, he doesn't have all the information needed) or just meaningless complaints? If they're meaningless complaints, then you can of course push back, and if he's still not performing to expectations, pull him into a 1 to 1 and discuss (then if needed, go through the procedure for underperforming employees in your company, whatever that might involve.) However, if they're genuine points then are you trying to action them to get him what he needs, or just telling him to lump it?
  • Assuming that he's correct and overtime is voluntary, then you shouldn't have mandated this in the first place. You could have asked if anyone would be willing to work overtime, discussed the issues with the team to gather their thoughts, and if you were still worried then reported the project to be at risk for the appropriate (no finger pointing) reasons.
  • Ok, the guy could have upfront told you he was going to be away, but this isn't really his issue alone - whoever authorised his absence should have told you this when they authorised it (or when you started, if it was prior to that point.)

We don't have a lot of information here - the guy could have an attitude problem, suck at his job and be giving everyone a hard time. But annoying as the guy may be, it certainly sounds like there's things that could have been done better from all sides.

(*) - I'm assuming he went through the proper channels to take this leave rather than just not showing up. If that's the case, then it's grounds for disciplinary action.

153

Managing IT people is like herding cats. Make them mad enough, and you'll get the claws.

Another analogy is that managing IT projects is like holding water, the tighter the grip, the more it escapes your control.

Let me start out with a word of caution to you. Our last project manager tried the same tactics with me, and he ended up right out the door. I have also been a project manager, so I know both sides of the issues involved in projects. With all due respect, it seems that you are the one who wants it your way and is unwilling to cede one inch of ground.

You need to work with your team, not try to force compliance with what they will see as arbitrary rules and time wasting policies. You've already got two strikes against you for complaining about your lead's taking annual leave which he's entitled to take, and then try to force overtime.

You are creating an environment where nothing will get done. You are dealing with people who are smart enough to know that if they tank the project, the higher ups will wonder "Gee, things were going well before, what's different?" and the answer will be YOU.

To regain control, you need to start treating your people like people, not like slaves or you will find yourself looking for new employment sooner rather than later. I can almost guarantee that.

Back off, stop trying to make them fit to your mold. Find out what their strengths and weaknesses are, their commitments, and interests. Then work with what you have.

To expect that everyone will put their lives on hold because you might miss a deadline is to treat them with a level of disrespect that will destroy morale.

GOING FORWARD

  1. LISTEN. Your team can make you or break you and have been on the job a good deal longer than you.
  2. RESPECT YOUR TEAM. We all have to deal with different people and personalities. Respect them for who they are and what they need to perorm.
  3. KNOW YOUR TEAM. You said that your lead is complaining about his commitments. Do you know what those commitments are and how much you're disrupting his life? If not, the problem is you.
  4. ASK, DON'T TELL: You will get a MUCH better reaction with "Guys, we're behind schedule, I need some, if not all of you to work overtime, can you help me out?" than you will with "We are behind schedule, overtime is now mandatory"
  5. BE FLEXIBLE: Life happens. People get sick, people go on vacation, people leave, people have issues at home that can temporarily affect their work. Part of being a project manager is to take these things to account and plan around them. your project timeline should include time left for unforeseen difficulties, if it doesn't, adjust it now.
  6. MANAGEMENT IS NOT YOUR FRIEND: If I were the manager and you came to me with this, I would have serious doubts about your capabilities. Follow steps 1-5 and work WITH your team. You are a project manager, not a dictator.

EDIT RE COMMENTS:

If it is not formalized policy that one provide coverage or notice to you, then anyone doing so is doing you a courtesy, anyone not doing so is simply doing his job, not being a nightmare.

Also, another way of approaching people is "Can you help me with" or "I need your help with". Most people react VERY well to those phrases

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Nov 7 '17 at 21:54
  • 7
    To anyone coming to this question in search of the actual answer, this is the right answer. The accepted answer gives no real advice and only addresses the situation of leave, which to my understanding, is only part of the problem. – Bryan Goggin Nov 9 '17 at 21:59
  • 3
    @BryanGoggin - exactly. The accepted answer is "from one PM to another" - the blind leading the blind. then of course you set the RAG status to Amber (or Red if it's especially bad) .... Sure, that'll work... – Vector Nov 10 '17 at 23:04
45

Given that I largely agree with The Snark Knight's answer https://workplace.stackexchange.com/a/102122/79228

I'll just add a few things here.


Just joined a new company

The thing that you fail to even define, when exactly you've joined the company, is speaking for itself.

one of the developers is brilliant

So, you are making assumptions and / or friends already? Hm... You're not supposed to do any of that, not yet, anyway.

The tech lead on the other hand does not communicate, complains, and works largely as an individual.

Again, you're looking at the situation as you would have know him / her for a year or so. How can you tell already? Maybe he / she is afraid of the new situation, remember, YOU are the new element there.

recently took annual leave in the middle of the project life cycle without informing me

You, again, fail to provide information, about when this leave has been scheduled. Before or after you've joined the company...

This has put the project at risk to the point I had circulated an email telling the team

You WHAT? You must be JOKING, not really, no, I take it you are serious. Given what you have done, in again, a exactly unspecified form, I'm starting to develop some serious doubts about your leadership abilities.

as soon as I am forced to apply pressure on him he reacts badly

Well no comment, rather than it be offending.

what other steps can I do to mitigate this situation?

This interests you, probably as much as the other employees.

What you can or shall do now:

  1. Stop p*ssing your teammates off.

  2. Listen to their needs.

  3. Stop with dictatorship, you're supposed to be part of the team.

That's about it, it's sort of simple to say, but harder to accomplish, given your attitude, that is.


Who am I, anyways? I worked as a general IT guy, and then as an IT manager of a 1000+ company. So, my only advice will be: BACK OFF now.

  • 62
    If management is putting pressure on you, your job as the project manager is not to relay that pressure down the chain. Your job is to provide "top cover" to your team and help them organize, prioritize, and track the project goals. If management is asking for more than the team can deliver, abusing the team over it won't help. You're supposed to protect the team by communicating to management that their demands are unreasonable. If you can't reason with management, either you are a bad PM or management is bad, in which case, yes, you're screwed either way. Time to update your résumé. – Bloodgain Nov 6 '17 at 20:51
  • 13
    Pressure NEVER works in these situations. First thing I would do, as this project seems to have a history of missed deadlines is to look at that data, project if forward (This gives you a reasonable estimate of how much overestimation has been going on and how much this phase is going to slip) then let the stakeholders know that it is going to be late and by approximately how much unless they obtain more resource (And remember what Fred Brooks said about adding more people to a late project, it is all too true....) . – Dan Mills Nov 6 '17 at 20:53
  • 18
    By the way, I've worked under project/build leads that pushed pressure down the chain, even after admitting to me that they knew the goals were unreasonable. They had reasons for it, but they lied to the development team about what they knew was reality. Everyone on those projects was miserable, and turnover was high. Treat your team like you're part of it, or let someone better equipped take your place -- otherwise, your developers will solve their problem by leaving you high and dry. – Bloodgain Nov 6 '17 at 20:54
  • 10
    @bobo2000 Estimates and deadlines are two completely different things. Both have value in their respective contexts, but keep in mind that you confuse the two at your own peril. If that is indeed the case, then have you made it clear to the developers that they are being asked to set deadlines as opposed to provide estimates? – a CVn Nov 7 '17 at 21:02
  • 8
    One more important thing: I am the project manager managing a tech lead, developer and dev ops - heck no, you manage the project, not the people. You are not their boss. In most cases, I would guess the tech lead is the actual boss (of the developer and devops) - which would additionally explain why you are perceiving some conflict there. You're a Gantt jockey (since I assume from this attitude you're mandating they use your useless Gantt chart), responsible for the timelines - not their supervisor. – AviD Nov 9 '17 at 13:11
21

In addition to the other good answers (which IMO the OP should take into serious consideration rather than just arguing in the comments, but that's just me):

I have always operated (as a software developer, that is, an individual contributor) under the assumption that the major part of the PM's job is to manage expectations upward. That's even more important than to "put pressure on the guys" (though that can be part of the job). Yet neither in the original question nor in any of the OP's comments is this even mentioned - not a word about getting accurate time and resource estimates from the small team, correlating that with the schedule, and informing higher management that there's an issue. (Or, alternatively, nothing about using judgment to determine the schedule is reasonable and thus decide that the team is shirking if that's the honest conclusion.)

Furthermore, it seems to me that as a new hire to the company as well as the team you've got a once-in-a-lifetime (well, once per company) chance to honestly apprise the management of the true state of the project and the resources and time you'll need to complete it without having it reflect badly on you. (Because you're describing a situation left behind by someone else.)

  • I agree with you but at some point when the team keep on setting deadlines and are missing them it reflects badly on me. It comes down to accountability in the end. I can only protect the team so much but they need to help me hence why I am stressing teamwork. – bobo2000 Nov 6 '17 at 21:09
  • @JoeStrazzere good point, will do this at my next stand up. – bobo2000 Nov 6 '17 at 22:38
  • 18
    @bobo2000 - Your team sets deadlines and misses them. Are they doing it on purpose? If not, then it is not an accountability issue. It is either a lack of skills in estimating task durations or pressure from above is making them give unrealistic task estimates. Maybe it's a process issue. Either way, YOU are the one with the power and authority to correct the issue. Are they missing estimates by a factor of 2, then multiply all their estimates by 2. Make sure someone is responsible for collecting some sort of metrics so that future time estimates can be improved. – Dunk Nov 7 '17 at 0:15
  • "the major part of the PM's job is to manage expectations upward" -- this – David Nov 9 '17 at 15:45
19

A lot of this is informed by statements the OP has made in comments, which gives more insight into the question.

1) lots of complaining about the lead going on leave when there are "time sensitive issues"

In my experience there is never a "good" time to take leave. Can you really anticipate a time when things will be "slow"? No. I don't think you can. So when can he take his vacation?

2) lots of complaining that he has not helped you find a replacement lead to cover while he is away.

As others have pointed out, you are in the position to ask for substitute or additional resources. He is not. I don't understand what you don't understand about this.

Additionally, I'm not sure why you think a temp lead will help. Even on a long term basis, very often you can't simply throw people at a scheduling problem to secure the desired effect. But especially on a short term basis, to cover someone who is on vacation, by the time the sub is up to speed, the lead will be back. This solution makes little sense, IMO. And in any case, it's your responsibility to make this happen, not the team lead's.

Finally, on the topic of leave in general, did it occurr to you that the lead may be "underperforming" precisely because he actually and in fact needs some time off to avoid complete burnout?

3) lots of complaining that the lead is not performing his tasks as "required".

You have not thoroughly explained what these tasks are, but from comments it sounds like you have set up extra requirements for the lead and team members which seem to support giving you a view into what they are doing, at the expense of them actually getting work done. In short, this sounds like micromanagement diguised as a "productivity enhancer". It's not. It rarely is.

A group of three people simply do not NEED to coordinate their tasks via jira to achieve a level of teamwork amongst themselves.

You commented that it is in their best interests to update jira (by hand?) to keep you from bugging them every 10 seconds to find out what they are working on?! No. Just no. That is just not effective management. They have presumably been working together long before you arrived so let them do their thing, and find a different way to get status updates that does not rob them of precious development time.

The other specific "task" that's mentioned is that the lead is not keeping up to date with the project planning software. Again I have to suggest: it's your job, as the project manager, to do this kind of paperwork. Why are you having him do that, while at the same time complaining that the actual deliverable, which he can actually contribute much more to, is slipping?!

I'm sorry to be harsh about all of this, but this whole thread gives me flashbacks to the worst boss/PM I've ever had in my life. We would keep her informed of any risks, she would ignore us and tell management everything was "green". When the risks came to fruition and things started to slip, she would start piling on extra "tasks" that were supposed to keep us "on track". She would also schedule extra meetings to discuss what was going on, to "stay on top of things". She constantly interrupted our work and made it even more difficult for us to reach our milestones. She basically robbed us of valuable time that we could have spent finishing the deliverables, and filled it with nonsense busywork that basically gave her more rope with which she then tried to hang us, to management.

Which of course quickly extinguished any fire left in our bellies to forge ahead and do everything we possibly could to make it work.

I mean, why bother?

My overall take is that you were not hired to be a real PM, but to serve as a human stick. You will not "win" this battle by rolling over and alienating your team by trying to beat them down. There is so much good advice here. Stop responding with "but he..." and focus on what you can do to implement the treasure trove of excellent answers here.

  • 2
    "My overall take is that you were not hired to be a real PM, but to serve as a human stick." Not only as a stick, but also as a scapegoat. I mean, four weeks and already several missed deadlines, a management that wants to force overtime on the employees and the OP getting the (verbal) slap in the face? That can't be serious. No one can expect a new PM to be fully up to date in four weeks, let alone get a derailed project back to delivering on time. Except the old PM has resigned and the middle or upper management needs a new scapegoat. – Thern Nov 10 '17 at 10:00
12

I will write as from the perspective of a Dev as I see myself in some of your points.

Never assume malice when you did not rule out honest personal weaknesses first.

Communication:

A lot of people including myself are missing social skills. Sometimes it is hard to find out what information the other party needs and how they need it. If you find that your communication with this person is lacking and you didn't talk about it yet, then try to find a modus operanti that works for you both.

Estimating deadlines:

Oh boy... I can tell you - I never get this right. Even though I know I have to add extra time for the case I run into unforeseen problems, I estimate not enough... ever... So here is what my PM does: He writes down what he thinks that has to be done (to reach goal xy) and how long it will take. I write down what I think has to be done and how long it will take. Then we compare, this is actually very important as details are often overlooked or underestimated and sometimes we come to the conclusion that some things will be implemented differently. He then uses his experience and his time-factor for me to set a more realistic deadline than me. So if your team is not able to meet their own deadline - find out why their estimation was off and add your own experience into it. You are the pro in this regard.

new steps in the workflow:

If you must add new steps into the workflow - don't do it if everything is on fire. Do it in a calm moment where everyone has time to learn adapt and voice their concerns/find compromises. If you are already in panic mode - you don't have the brain capacity to learn something new.

Vacation:

As a developer I would never have assumed that my PM does not know when I am going into vacation. The idea would just not cross my mind. So your situation may actually mean a wrong assumption on both sides. As for the timing - if you are under a lot of pressure for a long time then there comes a point where you just need the time out. Because you will break down otherwise (especially if you are perceived to be overworked - because that's often true then). You will do yourself no favour in not taking this vacation because if you break down - the downtime will be significantly longer then.

Overtime:

Well if you are able to do overtime or not has many factors. I will go for the part of the personal energy threshold: If you are running on 80% output normally - then you are able to give 100% in times of need without problem. But if you are giving 100% over a long time already then your output will decrease at some point - say to 80%. But in this case you will not be able to give 100% anymore - you don't have the energy. You can't know which case it is unless you talk to your team about it.

All in all - work together with your team and find ways that works for both sides. Talk to them, value their opinion and make it work together.

3

Whenever I have given him tasks to do, he is always finding excuses and recently took annual leave in the middle of the project life cycle without informing me. (The leave was approved before I joined.)

When I lead a team that I just joined and I have to answer to the customer, my first task is to find all the hurdles. Part of that is to find who is gone at what times of the project cycle. He has done his part by getting his leave approved. You could have found this out but you haven't done your homework.

After committing to work and giving time frames, he is also not producing the work when he said he would leading to endless delays and subsequent flak from senior management to me.

Have you asked him why he hasn't been able to produce? What hindrances has he been facing? Do you have a daily routine that exposes these hindrances before delays happen?

This has put the project at risk to the point I had circulated an email telling the team that they would have to work overtime (not my idea, my boss's).

This is a recipe for disaster, both in terms of morale and actual work productivity. If you tell people they don't have a choice and force them to do something without asking how it would affect them, without having a conversation about how they would be affected, don't expect them to be happy about it. On top of that you did this over email, which is as far from personal as it gets, especially because you circulated it instead of mailing it to each and every person. How can you expect your team members to communicate well with you when the standard that is set by you is highly impersonal and dictator-like?

The tech lead took this badly complaining that he has other commitments where overtime is voluntary etc. He seems to want everything his way to the point that as soon as I am forced by my manager to apply pressure on him he reacts badly.

I don't know if you are new to the project management game or not, but I personally haven't seen a single case of anyone, let alone senior devs react well to being forced to do overtime. Overtime is a consequence of bad planning. In other words, if I as a PM tell my team to work overtime, I planned badly and now they are suffering the consequence.

I understand that you are new at the company and this post might sound a bit harsh. It is not intended that way. I am sure that you are capable of doing a good job as a PM (which is why you got hired). This post highlights all of the problems I see in your communication style and in what you expect from a team. Hopefully it helps you sort the problems out.

  • 2
    > "He has done his part by getting his leave approved. You could have found this out but you haven't done your homework." - Exactly this. He jumped through all the hoops when he had the leave approved in the first place. It's your role as PM to understand what resources you have available for the project, and there's no reason for him not to assume that you would have done this. – timbstoke Nov 9 '17 at 17:29
1

The best you can do is manage the project. You're never really managing people only their personalities. As the newbie and the PM you have to assess the current state of the project and create a game plan. Obviously what's in place isn't working. Once you create that game plan, communicate that with the team. If schedule conflicts occur, work with your team to provide an alternative. Always come to the table with something!! Being a dictator never works. Management dropped this in your lap and it's your job to get it under control. Whinny PMs get let go. Your job is to deliver.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.