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I started my first job after university last September in an industrial company. I work as a programmer in a team of three people (only development). In October, a colleague of mine -- let's call him "Bob" -- presented a project he has worked on for about 1.5 years. It was supposed to be complete, but wasn't even close. After the presentation he got a new deadline, which just passed last week -- everyone in this meeting was pretty mad at him.

One of my (many) tasks assigned by our department leader was to help Bob finish his project -- no pressure, just along the other things. Bob was told that I "should work for him full time," which I did for about two weeks before I got other things to do. Around Christmas I got my own project and asked my supervisor how I should prioritize my work, especially the work for Bob. He told me I could drop it if I had other things to do. I wanted to talk about it with Bob but our supervisor told me not to talk about my project with Bob at all. He said he would talk with Bob but he didn't (I guess).

Bob chose a technology for his project that I have hardly any knowledge of, and I had a lot of difficulty working in the project's development environment. I had a lot of issues with the firewall, which Bob does not have because he works remotely. Bob tried to help me with the new technology and my problems and our development environment, but sometimes even he couldn't figure out if the problem was me or caused by the firewall, so that made clear that I wasn't able to support him directly but I tried to help him with other things, such as organizing meetings with future users. I sent him everything I gathered about the requirements, made some diagrams, wrote them down - just like his secretary. He said thanks, but didn't give me any new tasks after February.

Another presentation was held after Bob's second deadline, and it was disastrous. There wasn't any new functionality for the users. Not one of the requirements was fulfilled. Bob told them he worked a lot on background functions. He blamed them for setting the meeting a week earlier than he hoped for, and even blamed me for not helping him (but my supervisor defended me). Bob got a six-week extension of his deadline.

Afterwards he even complained to my hiring manager -- "Alice" -- for not using his chosen technology (which he thinks should be used everywhere) in my project, even though that was not a requirement. Alice did not attend Bob's presentation.

Bob asked our supervisor to assign me full time again to help him, but our supervisor left it up to me how much effort/time I want to spend for Bob. He recommended me not to get involved.

How should I professionally interact with Bob ever again? My goal is to keep my job and my sanity.

Update: I wrote Bob an email to offer him help with anything else than programming, he said thanks but never contacted me again. About two months were gone now and the last deadline for Bob passed away. He could not show anything new, so the company decided to cut off the whole project as well as Bob.

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    "He left it up to me how much effort/time I want to spend for Bob. He recommended me not to get involved." - isn't that an answer to your question? – Captain Emacs Apr 27 '18 at 13:46
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    If Bob is literally blaming the managers for setting the meeting a week too early as a reason why he has nothing to show ("not even a single requirement met"), I don't think you need to worry about anything he says about you. The people who make the decisions will be well aware of who's really to blame. – Steve-O Apr 27 '18 at 14:00
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    Aside: part of the problem is that Bob is being given work and then never interacting with anyone about it for very long periods of time. Clearly, there needs to be some kind of regular, frequent updating. The stakeholders need to know as soon as possible that the project is not going well, not a year and a half after it began. Bob might also work better with short deadlines on small chunks of functionality (sprints), as this offers him much greater clarity of expectations and a chance to get feedback early and often. This sounds like a textbook example of problems with waterfall. – jpmc26 Apr 27 '18 at 16:22
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    @jpmc26, it sounds like a classic case of no project management at all. Even in Waterfall, interim reporting is generally done. – HLGEM Apr 27 '18 at 18:15
  • Hello Kinaeh, I went ahead and made a pretty major edit to your question. I cleaned up some of the language and trimmed out what I felt were some unneeded details- please feel free to edit your question back to how it was if you aren't happy with my changes. – MackM Apr 27 '18 at 18:15
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It is your supervisor's responsibility to set your priorities.

It is up to your boss to set your priorities. For some reason that isn't happening here so the best thing you can do is "cover your ass" or "C.Y.A."

You need to find a way to document the lack of direction from your boss. If it were me I would send an email to him/her saying something along these lines:

Good morning boss,

I've decided to take your advice and not involve myself in the Bob Situation. If you need me to shift focus and help Bob on anything moving forward, please let me know. Otherwise, I'll focus my efforts on My Project.

Respectfully, Lumber Jack

You want to have something in writing showing that your boss gave you the all clear to avoid Bob's Project. Otherwise you might be thrown under the bus in six weeks when (inevitably) the project still isn't finished.

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    I like to CARE: cover ass, retain employment. – Wes Toleman Apr 28 '18 at 5:29
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Bob is a leach. He wants you to do his project because he can't. If you help him out, he will get all the credit if it succeeds and you will get all the blame if it doesn't. You don't need to worry about whether you need to have a good relationship to Bob as it appears that most of the organization already knows he is failing.

Where you have a an actual problem is your manager. He appears to be wishy washy and unable to set firm boundaries, expecting you to handle this issue on your own.

You need to have a talk to him about this project. Tell him directly that you don't want to work with Bob if possible as he recommended. Ask him to put it in writing that you have other assignments and do not have the time available to work on Bob's project. At your level, you will just get the blame if you don't work for Bob unless your boss gives you a direct order not to.

Also ask him to talk to Alice about your performance and contract to counteract specifically what Bob may have said.

If you end up not being able to avoid working with Bob, then you need to clearly document what specific things you were asked to work on. (and pushback in writing including a copy to your boss if the things assigned are more than you can do in the time frame.) You need to be the one to demo those things and you need to do them to the best of your ability. Even if he gets the credit, not getting the blame is better for you than the blame you will get if things do not succeed.

Use project management tools and commits to show that you did what you were assigned and met your deadlines. Prepare a document showing this and give it to your boss before each presentation. That gives him the ammunition he needs to support you to higher managers.

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I think if you want to gain some form of sanity you need to set Boundaries and require that when working with bob that there are clearer requirements that are documented. The reason I'm suggesting this is it'll allow you to be more honest without looking like your throwing the blame around.

For example if your tasked to work with Bob again and you can't get out of it or it'll cause too much drama within the company you retaliating or completely disagreeing, you just need to qualify what it is you're going to be doing. Then besides having to work alongside him it will be much harder to question you or your efforts in the long term. As a developer I personally find that project management tools such as kanban boards or github issues serve as a good trackable example.

If you believe that he may be out for you as a scapegoat it might be time to politely schedule a meeting with your higher up and logically lay out the case and ask for guidance. The problem only get's bigger if you don't attempt to reach out and get all of the information, Alice in this case has a responsibility to make sure you are content while in the work place as your employer.

If it's made clear you will be working alongside Bob and there's nothing you can do about it and finding a new job isn't an option. I would just minimize communication as much as possible and make it clear you wish to move onto a new project when applicable and not rude. I would also continuously relay information to my superiror not blaming Bob but reminding or encouraging your boss to move you on.

Failing all of the above, it might be time to find a new employer.

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Just worry about doing your own job. If you get assigned to Bob's project then just work on it with professionalism as you would do any project.

It sounds to me that your supervisor is well aware of Bob's quality of work, so he's probably wise to his attempts to blame others. I think your main problem is whether Alice is, when it comes to contract extension time.

Now I'm not sure of your relationship with Alice, but you could voice your concerns to your supervisor if you can't to her (it would be a little unprofessional of you to go directly to her unless that's the kind of culture your company has) - let him know if you're worried about Bob's blaming of you to her affecting your contract. I'm sure your supervisor will be able to put your mind at ease, and might be able to talk to Alice - in any case she should be consulting with him when doing your review.

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Be polite and friendly with Bob. Don't talk badly about him with others, and don't try to make management more aware of the problem -- because Bob could find out and retaliate, or managers might wonder if you're part of the problem too. Given that he's missed major deadlines, I'm sure they already know he's not a great engineer.

Try to have as little interaction with him as possible, as long as it seems like you're not shirking your duties and it doesn't impact your career (e.g., don't pass on an important responsibility to avoid Bob, unless you really really can't stand him).

Honestly, in most cases when dealing with difficult or unproductive people in the workplace, if you're not their manager, the best you can do is avoid them.

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