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In the last year or year and a half, I have been in an unpleasant situation and I wonder whether my expectations are too high.

I have a boss whom I struggle to communicate with - I rarely get an answer to an SMS or phone calls and arranging a meeting takes about a month. That is unless he needs something done.

So what happens is that I get a general task, and the next time I get to show him the work for it is about two months later. The end result is that much of the work is thrown away. For a while, it's been only my work, but recently I got to be a Project Manager for a small developers team, so now it affects them as well.

I wonder how common this situation is and what could be a possible solution to this or at the very least an improvement.

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    @DannyL With a code tracking or version control system (VCS) the developers can check in features against a set of criteria/requirements. Your boss can read those and see what is being accomplished - often comments can be made on a check-in and those can be "boss friendly". – J. Chris Compton Jan 15 at 16:02
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    When you receive these general directives are there ever any meetings or subsequent discussions to determine the specific requirements? – sf02 Jan 15 at 16:08
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    I'm not sure why people are bringing up version control and code? I I understand it your problem is "I have infrequent contact with my boss/customer, which leads to the wrong things being made, at the cost of lots of wasted effort. I am not the one who decides what to make, my inaccessible boss/customer has that authority". Is that right? – Nathan Cooper Jan 15 at 16:08
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    Any time I tried to set up any kind of meeting, even for just 15 minutes, it took about a month to set it. I'm not exaggerating. – Danny L Jan 15 at 18:51
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    @DannyL what about regular meetings? For example every friday, 9am, you get together for half an hour to talk about progress. This means that he can work his schedule around it instead of having to shove a meeting into his existing schedule. Regular, same-place/same-time, meetings are usually much easier to schedule. – Morfildur Jan 16 at 7:36
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Unfortunately the way of things sometimes.

It depends on your exact scenario as to how to approach this issue, however, a good start would be explaining your problem to him. He is the boss, after all. It's his job to fix your problems and ensure work gets done. Explain to him that it is wasting your time and costing him money.

Not all bosses are willing to just do as you ask, however, and so you may want to suggest an alternative. Presumably, your boss doesn't pull work out of thin air and has clients or superiors that he talks to for the work your doing. You could suggest to him that you directly communicate with the client, as they'll have a vested interest in making sure the project is done as quickly and accurately as can be.

Another alternative depending on the sort of work you do is to is to keep your work flexible. I'm going to take a guess that you're a developer and hence you can make your projects and solutions flexible by using certain methodologies and practices. That way if the boss changes things, it won't be as much effort to make the work again.

It's annoying watching your work being thrown out, however your being paid by the hour (presumably), not by the amount of work you do, if your boss is happy then you've at least got a job.

  • Hi, thanks for the reply. 1) I did explain to him my problem - the answer was that he is okay with such a process as supposedly it lets me try several avenues in solving the problems we're tackling. While somewhat true it is incredibly wasteful for a process that isn't real R&D. 2) I have direct connection with the client, it's not part of the problem. 3) Actually a System Engineer, but the problem is sometimes at the feature level and higher. Flexible programming won't be much help. 4) Paid globally, not by the hour... – Danny L Jan 15 at 18:33
  • It's tough to answer your question without an example of how your boss has stopped your work and caused an upset, as frankly unless he's the project lead at which point he should be spending a lot more time on the project, then he shouldn't be interfering with your work, as your the professional in this area, not him. Either way, sounds like an unfixable problem, unfortunately. – DubDub Jan 17 at 9:25
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If your team doesn't have a version control system (VCS) you should implement it.

You can send him(her?) weekly updates that state what you accomplished and what you plan to accomplish (or will be working on) in the upcoming week.

Since your boss doesn't respond often, these should be short not lengthy. Include a link to the project tracking and VCS. Boss may not be able to read the code in the VCS, but the high level feature descriptions may be useful if they are ever read.

You can't control your boss - but feeding him/her a regular stream of digestable information might help with the rework... eventually.

  • Any half decent system will send the boss the email automatically - although IMHO it's getting the boss to read it that is the hard part. – Peter M Jan 15 at 16:28
  • I did think of sending him regular updates by email, not sure if it'll help, but it might bring a positive change. We have VCS, but using it for updating him will probably just make him hit delete more often. – Danny L Jan 15 at 18:39
  • @DannyL I agree that he would delete everything coming from the VCS. I meant for you to include references in your email on the off chance that he would want to follow them one day and see what is there. – J. Chris Compton Jan 15 at 20:23
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It sounds like you're trying to work in an agile way, without any of the agility that comes from frequent feedback from the "customer".

So, to me, you would be better off going "old school" and getting clear requirements up front. You need a statement of work, with requirements you can test against. You need to know what the thing should look like and how the users will use it. You need to know how you can tell that it's complete.

If the boss cannot produce that, then it may be up to you to generate it, and then send it to the boss for approval. Avoid wasting your team's time doing work that may turn out to be wrong. Get them doing other things like designs, test specifications and so on, until everything is firmed up.

  • I would add that you have a responsibility to your team to protect them, as employees, from negative reviews based on unclear requirements. Upvote for this answer. – Haakon Dahl Jan 16 at 1:09
  • The boss can't produce that and I am doing that myself. However, last time I was waiting for his approval I was told that "I'm not producing enough work". So I'm not waiting, and here we are. With the team I do let them work more on things that are absolutely necessary for the project, but there aren't that many features like that. – Danny L Jan 16 at 5:16
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IMHO, Best way to encourage interaction would be increasing your communication frequency.

Your boss may be busy with other things at his level of responsibility when you need to discuss issues.

From experience, i can suggest a daily / weekly report sent to boss, containing current task progress, plans for near / far future and some details on topics you need his input on

This way, not direct contact by phone, SMS or other instant messaging medium,

you give your boss an option to review your progress on his own time and comment on any detail should he find it necessary.

  • As I told on my comment to J. Chris Compton's answer, I probably should try sending him regular reports. I'm skeptical, but I should try this... – Danny L Jan 15 at 18:45
  • @DannyL i think it would be best solution for current issue, Also will give you a fallback to say / write that you mention specific issue in report ### when discussing it – Strader Jan 15 at 18:50

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