42

I'm a new team lead on a project integrating my companies' software with an outside vendor's. This project was planned out and estimated before I came on, so I'm pretty much just following the roadmap.

However, we just got a delivery from the vendor requiring a completely new method of communication between our code and theirs. This was completely unplanned-for work that must be done immediately and will require a decent amount of effort, which will push out our other planned features. I've also found out that this vendor has been known for springing these "surprises" in the past.

Basically, I need to tell my boss that we just got told about feature X, which will require Y hours of work to do, which will push out features A, B, C, without sounding too much like a complainer. What's the best way to do that?

  • What does your contract with the vendor say about surprise API changes? – Mr.Mindor Feb 14 at 23:13
103

Just tell him the facts as you currently see them. It's really that simple.

You may need to organize a meeting to discuss the implications of this change and how it relates to the roadmap. Come to this meeting with estimates, as well as you can do them for now (and what items you can't estimate for, due to lack of information).

And then let him decide how this will play out - whether or not you have to change your development path, and by how much.

If this vendor has changed the goalposts before, this won't be entirely unexpected and there might well be a backup plan for this eventuality.

I've worked at companies where there's been an agreement that vendors don't trash the API interface whenever they feel like it - the promise of non-payment for a service can be pretty persuasive.

  • 10
    +1. Good advice from @Snow. I would add that Y should be a range, not a specific number. – Justin Feb 14 at 13:54
  • @Justin Agreed, something like a three-point estimate should work well enough for all parties involved. – Eric Feb 14 at 19:44
  • It could even be something that is outside their contractual scope of work. I'm sure the PM would appreciate being paid for that instead of having it eat away his budget unexpectedly. – JMac Feb 14 at 19:53
24

What's the best way to do that?

Immediately get into a discussion and tell your boss: (borrowing words from yourself)

"Hey Boss, we just got told about feature X, which will require Y hours of work to do, which will push out features A, B, C. I've also found out that this vendor "PQR" has been known for springing these "surprises" in the past. Even if we can get some concrete assurances from "PQR" that this is the last of them, we should consider reviewing the remaining road-map to ensure we can handle a few more surprises without missing our deadlines."

What's the way out (plan B)?

You'll figure it out after the discussion with your manager and team.

  • 8
    Just as Souravs says, the key is to immediately bring the information toyour boss. – Fattie Feb 14 at 14:12
  • Might wish to add to the discussion that: "as 'PQR' has done this in the past, and thus most likely will again in the future, we might want to start looking into an alternative vendor, one with more stable release/change management and or backwards compatibility" – rkeet Feb 14 at 14:52
  • @noslenkwah OK, I would not know. I thought mentioning sorry, but then again, OP did not account for the original planning, so nothing to be sorry for. Any better wording? – Sourav Ghosh Feb 14 at 15:00
  • 2
    @SouravGhosh - I would leave it out. There's no reason to think that OP is going to get blamed for a customer moving the goal posts and thus no reason to address the issue. - just my opinion – noslenkwah Feb 14 at 15:12
  • Agree on immediately. As someone I know likes to say, "Bad news doesn't get better with time." – David Conrad Feb 14 at 19:49
10

Don't delay, act now

This is pretty standard for the industry.

Give a quick summary to boss ASAP.

X happened, causing Y, we're looking at how bad it is, and I'll let you know by Z how long this will take to correct.

If the boss isn't already aware of the vendor's tendency to pull things like this, let him know. He may need to escalate within the organization. The company should probably take steps to include compensation for such "surprises" in the future.

then continue, business as usual.

5

Honestly, I don't see where the problem is. It's not like it's your fault, the fault of someone else in your team, or even the people who made the planning before you (unless maybe this kind of behaviour by this vendor is so usual that they should have included appropriate buffer in the planning for that!).

As others have said, just inform your boss, including the time required for the additional work, and the new delivery estimates.

Depending on whatever other constraints there may be, your boss may then decide (alone, or with you), to scrap the whole thing (it's becoming too costly, let's focus on something else), scrap some features, reorder some features (I need feature X before time Y for reason Z), add more resources...

Of course, if you are already aware of some of those contraints (feature X is required before time Y, or maximum budget whatever happens is Z...), you should probably take that into account in your communication, possibly taking the initiative to suggest whatever other changes you think are necessary (but leave the decision to them). Your boss will appreciate you coming with solutions rather than problems.

Depending on whether this is a new standard feature or something that is made specifically for one customer (or a few customers), there may also be a need to communicate with the customer and/or charge them more.

2

Tell your boss that you just got told about feature X, which will require Y hours of work to do, which will push out features A, B, C. Don't complain. Simple.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.