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Problem

I need to make my boss aware that a project is going to take quite alot longer than originally estimated.

The reason is because of unfamiliar technology which I have to learn how to use. After an initial appraisal from me that it would likely take 2x the length of a similar project in more familiar tech, it looks like I was way off and I need much longer to get to grips with the tech.

The problem is that I'm expected to deliver sooner than I think is possible. The unfamiliar technology is just not well suited to what we want to do with it, and I'm finding that most "simple" tasks become hours-long nightmares, and while the tech is well-documented it's very very short on actual examples of how to go about using it.

Because of this I can't accurately estimate how long the rest of the project will take. What I have now is very much NOT deliverable, even to my boss as a "this is how far I've come" statement.

Question

How do I approach my boss with these issues without coming off as unmotivated or incompetent, while making it clear that I have been working on it hard (but with little to show for it)?


background info

my boss has little understanding of my job and hasn't been very supportive with previous issues.

There is no-one else in the company that could help with the project, I have to do it regardless.

I've spent about 25 hours of my own time over the last week working on it, and during office hours things are hectic so it's hard to set aside enough quiet time to study. My boss isn't aware of my overtime.

  • @JoeStrazzere there are some milestones that, if I could hit them, would put me in a position where I could make a call on that. I'm focusing on achieving those, it will probably be a few more days to get there. – nurgle Dec 13 '17 at 0:29
  • @JoeStrazzere That sounds like exactly what I need to do. Thankyou. This would make a good answer. – nurgle Dec 13 '17 at 0:40
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This is the approach I would recommend:

  1. Schedule some time to meet with your boss.

  2. Be straight forward and up front about the issue. You could something like: "I feel that I need to make you aware that a project is going to take quite alot longer than originally estimated."

  3. Explain why. You could say something like: "The reason is because I am unfamiliar technology we are working with, as you know. But my initial appreaisal did not tak into account that while there is ample documentation on the techonlogy, it is seriously lacking in examples. Making it more time consuming to complete tasks I would normally consider simple."

  4. Express your effort. You could say something like: "I hoped that I could solve this issue on my own by just putting in more hours, so I have spent 25 hours of my own time over the last week working on it. Unfortunately, putting in extra hours appears to still not be enough"

  5. Propose a solution. You could say something like: "If we had more time or more resources, I feel we could get the job done. I understand that allocating additional resources may not be possible, so could we extend the deadline? Although I don't have a concrete date to extend it to, given the uncertainty that learning this new technology has introduced, I would be happy to give you status updates on a [daily/weekly/monthly] basis so that you remain up to date until we can set a concrete date."

Note: If you will reach something presentable soon, I would hold off on bringing it up until you can show your boss something. But, if it is going to be a significant (or uncertain) amount of time before you have anything presentable, it is better to talk with your boss sooner than later.

  • 1
    @JoeStrazzere, Thanks! You make a good point as well. I agree with you that it's never good if it comes off as though the problem was "hidden." I do find myself appreciative of when someone brings something presentable of his/her progress along with bad news on a deadline. If resources are available or the message needs to be relayed up the chain, any presentable work at all can help a boss to be able to make a decision to allocate resources from another project or present the issues to others if necessary. It's really an art, but again agreed that "hiding" things is no good – Rbar Dec 13 '17 at 3:12
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No one else whom could help, or do the work, is an important distinction.

If anyone can do it but you that's a tough sell. You need to 'fess up early rather than late. Explain that you're the only one available and you've discovered that the learning curve is steeper than you first estimated.

Explain that the office has some distractions and that you've spent additional time at home, despite your efforts there's no way you've going to meet the expected time of completion (rather than saying the word deadline).

Explain your interest in continuing and ask if there's someone who could assist. Ask if you can swap assignments with someone.

Taking you off the work and reassigning it is inefficient but something for the boss to decide. Waiting too long to mention problems isn't good, you make it sound like you've been sitting on this for a week.

Be careful not to put the boss in your shoes if they too are unfamiliar and equally unable to estimate how long it will take. You shouldn't have taken on something particularly difficult or unknown if there's been previous issues you want forgotten. Explain that you know this now and explain how your experience holds some benefit and that it wasn't a completely wasted effort.

You might ask for your question to be migrated to IPS.

  • thanks for your answer. I think there are a few inferences here, my apologies if my background was too vague. To clarify: there's nobody else who is capable of doing the work in the company, and sadly taking it on wasn't optional. The previous issues I mentioned weren't related to my performance or ability. – nurgle Dec 13 '17 at 0:41
  • That makes the answer shorter: "Boss, I stepped up to the plate when needed and it has turned out to be quite the challenge. I am ~1/2? way through and thus will need X more weeks.". – Rob Dec 13 '17 at 2:56
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Since you mentioned that your boss has little to no understanding of your job/work… I am guessing the initial project planning was skipped or was lacking. You could explain to your boss that the initial estimated delivery date did not take into account for the unknown.

Were project requirements defined in detail from the start or was the project generally ambiguous? If you identified new requirements that were unforeseen, you can use this to show how your scope of work grew and your timeline was affected.

I recommend setting up a meeting with your manager as soon as possible to discuss. I would also summarize the work you have done (including what you have learned) and the issues you ran into (how this expanded the work required). In addition, I would come with barriers that have slowed you down. Tell your boss what issue you ran into and how you were unable to move forward on that piece without proper (detailed) documentation. Explain your solution and ask your boss if there is better documentation available or how he would approach these issues/barriers.

Overall, I would focus on how the lack of understanding and “unknowingness” of the project was not accounted for in your initial estimated delivery date. Then move onto how various barriers/issues arose as work progressed (missing requirements, unforeseen reqs) and how the lack of resources affected finding a solution to each of these new issues that were not accounted for originally. Be sure to be as short and concise as possible so your boss (with little understanding) can realize the expansion of scope you experienced.

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