I am a software development team leader in a mid-size startup company (about 80 people). My direct manager is the VP R&D of the company. He basically hired me and I report to him on the progress etc.

There is also a product manager who is responsible for the mobile app (the product my team works on). His responsibilities (as far as I understand) are to define the features, make sure the product meets the clients' expectations and to give tasks to the development teams.

The product manager has made some attempts to manage (not just give tasks) my team, but until now I succeeded to avoid it. A couple of days ago after a meeting with the VP R&D I have been given some tasks (researches mainly) and have inserted them into the company's project management system. A day later the product manager called me at evening hours and asked about those tasks. After my answer that the tasks come from my direct manager, he nearly screamed that the VP R&D doesn't decide anything and it's not his business, and next time he gives me tasks I should refuse.

My guess is there is some plot to throw the VP R&D away. From the bigger picture I assume the CEO is involved in it. Basically it's not my business and I would live with that. But there was another thing he nearly shouted in that phone conversation. He said that from now on no single line of code should be inserted into the project without his approval.

Apart from the fact that for more than five years nobody has been telling me how to write code and design architecture unless I asked, which makes me feel uncomfortable, I sense here some distrust. I honestly have no idea where and when I had major failures. And even if there were I haven't been told about them.

The question is how should I act now in order to keep myself and my team from micromanagement? Assuming I cant go to my direct manager since I have a strong feeling that he will be outside very soon. Direct confrontation with the product manager won't do me any good. Of course the option to find another job is always there, but I'd like to stay in this company for a bit more.

Any advice is highly appreciated.

  • 2
    Why do you assume you cannot go to your direct manager? Until he is removed he is your manager. If the CEO is involved then your direct manager would have been removed.
    – paparazzo
    Dec 1 '17 at 21:21
  • 1
    As paparazzi said, follow your COC. Direct manager is your report-to. If they want that changed, then they will change it. Simply tell the PM that he will have to clear any misunderstandings or issues with your boss. I've told a company director of another department this on multiple occasions. "I understand you might have issue X, but I can only direct you to Boss to discuss how to best proceed, mainly because I don't argue with the guy who signs my paycheck" (yes, a little facetious there, but I have actually said this before) Dec 7 '17 at 15:46

The question is how should I act now in order to keep myself and my team from micromanagement? Assuming I cant go to my direct manager since I have a strong feeling that he will be outside very soon. Direct confrontation with the product manager won't do me any good. Of course the option to find another job is always there, but I'd like to stay in this company for a bit more.

You are assuming way too much.

You assume that there is a plot. You assume that the CEO is involved. You assume you can't go to your direct manager.

Until your boss is no longer your boss, just talk to him and do what he tells you to do.

If you are reorged, then decide if you still want to be there or not. Jumping the gun won't help.

  • I didn't tell all the details that let me assume all those things. Thank you for the answer. In any normal situation I would do what you suggested. I'm asking this question because I feel going to my direct manager won't do me any good in a near future.
    – Max
    Dec 1 '17 at 20:16
  • that's the backup plan. I was hoping there is some way to avoid it.
    – Max
    Dec 1 '17 at 20:24

I often have chain of command vs. right from wrong vs. knows someone/something issues come up.

Every situation is different and good judgment is needed to fine tune things to where you work, whom you work with, the market, the pay, and your own strengths and weaknesses.

What I found works well, even if it's my first day is:

  • If someone random approaches me and mentions "did you check/do this/that" and they're helping/correct I say "thanks buddy". If they're interrupting and especially if they're wrong I explain that "such and such a person said"; they should interpret that as a request to be on about their own business.

  • I do what is asked by the person in charge of me as they are the one who answers to next up in the chain about how things are going. If random person continues interrupting or someone above my immediate superior comes into the picture I let my supervisor know.

  • It's difficult when the owner or another family member interjects but you have to accept those interruptions, as does your superior (as you mentioned, leaving is an option; even for the owner's family members). As long as your supervisor knows that the chain was pushed in it's for them to sort out.

  • Keep your supervisor happy and intact, they are your insulation from unwanted distractions. Put it on them to either insure the intrusions don't occur or they'll be the one whom answers to next up the chain why things aren't going as they should.

  • If next up the chain doesn't like your supervisor that's for those two to sort out, if your supervisor goes guess whom is your new supervisor; don't sabotage how things work, your supervisor, or your own future, dance correctly.

  • If your supervisor isn't insulating properly get them onboard or out of the loop. If they micromanage let them know you got this, show your progress and that you're on target. They want to know that they can tell the people above them that everything is OK.

  • If you have suggestions for your supervisor to pass up or down stairs and they are well received then offer them otherwise don't.

  • Don't battle people helping you or support people sabotaging your work/battle.

  • If it's somewhere that it's appropriate to go to HR or the owner that's what you have to do, even about family or senior staff - make it a last resort if appropriate and convey the efforts you made to resolve the problem before escalating.

If you're getting extra work (annoyances) it's appropriate to ask for more money. That shuts down BS quickly or pays you more.

Balance your situation, pay, the people, and the difficulty of finding a new job judiciously.

Understandably you can't tell us everything nor can we micromanage your answers. Keeping everything in order means everyone is happy and neither you, someone else, or the next person inherits a mess.

Undo "micromanagement" by showing them and taking the time to assure them that things are as they have asked for and are prepared to answer for, then they can be on their way.

If they want to receive an hour long explanation you'll be an hour behind schedule - so they don't want to keep doing that.

Don't be the scapegoat, the one whom doesn't listen or doesn't do. Don't feed or play with the goat when you should be working.

Someone pays and someone does, do what you're paid for and be paid for what you do.

Be prepared to row when there's no wind and stoke the fire as needed. If your section is getting hit close the watertight doors and don't get sucked into the undertow if/when it goes down.

In the evening let the phone go to voice mail if the call is unexpected and not part of your job to be on call. You were out of the room or in the tub but got back to them promptly.

Use email/SMS if you must, sometimes interruptors like the instant gratification of control; the ability to interrupt and derail. Sometimes slowing the feedback loop makes people flee for more satisfying people to annoy.

Don't be the problem, be the solution. Tread not, nor be tread upon. Be certain that the grass is greener and better tasting before crossing a burning bridge.


This is a case of split authority.

While technically the VP might be the PM's boss, since your team task is only to work on the mobile app that the PM is in charge of, the PM is essentially the authority for your day-to-day tasks. I doubt that the VP would say anything different.

Where it gets murky is when the VP assigns you tasks directly without going through the "chain of command" (the PM).

If the VP tells the PM that his tasks need to be done, and they aren't done or even assigned, then the responsibility for failing to do those tasks falls directly on the PM. This could result in reprimands, etc.

But since the VP went directly to you, and is listed as your direct supervisor, then you are ultimately responsible for completing those tasks. If he was not formally your supervisor, then your responsibility would be to accept the tasks but say that you need to get approval from the PM.

Where it becomes a challenge for you is if the PM has 100% of your hours blocked out with his tasks, how can you complete the tasks from the VP?

Personally, I would go to the VP and explain the situation to him. You don't necessarily have to go into the "VP is on his way out", but you should clarify the chain of command for those tasks the VP assigned to you. Explain that you are in a difficult spot, and see if the VP is willing to help you out with one solution or another.

By treating you the way the PM did, you probably could file a formal complaint with HR or with your VP. If you really don't want to work with the PM, this might be your best chance to make a positive change.

If you feel that it is too risky to meet directly with the VP, you could send am email addressed to the VP and CC the PM: The PM has asked that you not work on the VP tasks and that you are confused about priorities -- ask for clarification. By doing this you essentially put the responsibility back on the VP and PM do deal with the issue, and you should remain out of the direct line of fire.

  • 1
    Give tasks and authority for your day-to-day tasks are not the same. PM should not be working at the code level.
    – paparazzo
    Dec 2 '17 at 0:09
  • @Paparazzi that's also what I think and know from the company's structure chart.
    – Max
    Dec 2 '17 at 7:57
  • 1
    @Phil M, VP is not PM's boss. Product department is not really a part of R&D.
    – Max
    Dec 2 '17 at 7:58

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