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TLDR:

PO-like position (+ a little dev) in a project that drags on. Team members won't consider a less complex solution; after deadlines are missed and postponed, I suggest and proceed to implement simple solution.

How could I have handled this better, how to deal with fallout?

Details:

I've got an uncomfortable mix of roles in a joint project my team has with three other teams: I'm something between a PO, a PM, and a team representative, and also I'm a developer in my team. I was involved in planning the project and I go to the project stand-ups.

When I sat with our architect to estimate how long the project would take, he was confident that six weeks should be enough. Our project partners agreed, but we added another two weeks to the plan for good measure. We're in week 15 now, and and our partners are still waiting for us. We've been thinking for a long time now that we were close to finishing but somehow never did.

We're three people on the team: the architect, a data engineer, and myself. Between us, we have different skills and responsibilities; I'm a decent programmer, but not a data engineer or a system architect. My part of the technical work was therefore limited and I finished it weeks ago. Since then, I've been waiting, supporting where I could. I can't help thinking that the architecture is too complex and often I thought estimates were too optimistic. However, lacking the experience and not being the one actually implementing the solution, I expressed doubts but didn't argue the point and otherwise left the decisions to the experts and implementers.

To our partners, I always presented solutions and estimates as team decisions. This has become difficult and very stressful, since I understand our partners' frustration with our lack of progress and I can't really believe what I'm saying anymore myself.

After many missed and postponed deadlines, I've come to the conclusion that we're riding a dead horse. I think the task is relatively simple and it should require only a simple solution; at least until we have more time to come up with possibly a more solid and scalable one. I called a team meeting and, knowing that they were convinced that the technology was right and the architecture was not too complicated, I suggested that we implement something simple that does the job for now. I offered they could keep working on their approach while I did the quick fix.

As I expected, they were totally against it, saying that we were close to finishing anyway, and that this was a waste of everybody's time. They also accused me of heroism, trying to save the day all on my own. We fought. In the end, we ended the meeting without coming to an agreement and everyone did what they thought they should do. It took me a day to implement most of my solution. I haven't declared success to anyone else, yet, and when I do, I will not mention that it is my work as an individual.

Question:

I have a few ideas what I did wrong. I should have been more vocal about my doubts early on, regardless of my role and lack of experience in their field. I should probably also have started to convince them to implement a temporary solution a while ago, and tried to get them to do it with me. Probably, I should not have accepted or kept my PO-like position when it became clear that I fundamentally couldn't represent the team's decisions any more.

My questions are: is there more? And what can I do now? I want out of this position and I want to move on to projects where I can actually contribute. At the same time, I don't want to spoil our working relationship.

1

The way you describe this, this project has huge potential of damaging careers, includng yours. That's the first thing to think about, and you don't seem to have given this a thought of all.

First, go to your manager and find out clearly what your responsibilities are, and what your authority is. If you are "something between a PM and a PO and a team representative", your manager might assume that you have the responsibility for the failure of the project, so this might count very badly against you. And you need to find out what authority you have. With authority, your meeting wouldn't have ended without coming to an agreement.

And make sure that you have in writing what happened during your meeting. That the data architect, and the engineer, insisted that the task was almost finished, and rejected a simpler solution. "Almost finished" when you are far behind is a very bad estimate. You should have insisted at this point on a timeline, like "two weeks". ("Almost finished" is Ok if I have a task that I thought should take four days, and you ask me after three days about progress).

So since you talked with your manager (which you need to do), if you have nothing written yet, you can have a very quick meeting where you tell them that your manager is quite unhappy and very worried about the project, and you need them to confirm - in writing - that their solution is the right one, together with an actual estimate how long the job will take.

  • Actually, I'm acutely aware of the potential consequences for my career. I just didn't mention it in order not to make my question even longer, but thank you very much for confirming. We've made several attempts at timelines over the project, as you describe, and we never made good on them. You're right, I need to talk to the manager, but it won't be easy as he wasn't around (our boss, yet), when we set up the project. I don't have anything written, but we've told him a couple of times were were "almost done", so he knows. – A Hooded Stranger Apr 29 '18 at 12:49

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