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Often my manager will ask for a simple task to be completed ‘urgently’, and in the majority of these cases will ask for the team to divide the work amongst itself so that it gets done as quickly as possible.

Without wishing to sound arrogant, for quite a few of these tasks it would be quicker if I were to perform the whole task myself. However, I am aware of the fact that if I continually do all of these tasks there is the risk of alienating my colleague and also making them look bad. I have tried the following ways of working so far:

  1. Splitting the work directly in half – each time I complete my part notably sooner and my manager has to wait accordingly (not that they know what has caused the delay).
  2. Splitting the work unfairly (I do more) – we tend to finish at the same time, but I feel that this isn’t great for our working relationship (as it suggests I feel I can do more in the timeframe).
  3. One of us performs the task and the other checks the process used – if I perform the task I will typically have to wait twice as long as it took to run to always be told that my approach was fine. If they run the task I often have to wait for a long time and then find errors in their output.

This is only really an issue when my manager asks for something urgently (as otherwise the additional time isn’t such a problem), and I feel torn between trying to maintain a good working relationship with my colleague but also delivering as efficiently as possible.

What can I do to make sure these tasks are completed effectively without destroying a working relationship?

  • Given method 3 that you attempted: Did you explain that their output was incorrect and why? Did you describe a better process? Did they acknowledge that the described process would be an improvement? Do the individuals that you are working with express (or do you perceive) a desire to improve? Can you use something in which they are better than you to create a training opportunity, where they share their knowledge and then you share yours (this may be less off-putting than scheduling a session where you talk at them)? – Matt Aug 2 '13 at 17:48
  • @Matt - I did explain what they did wrong, and they agree that it was a better process (and have used it since), hinting that they are keen to improve, just not sure how. I have already done a few knowledge shares, but these are quite time consuming and not efficient for when urgent requests come in. – Dibstar Aug 5 '13 at 7:40
  • The Mythical Man Month does not only apply to software engineering. Maybe sneak a copy on to your boss' desk? :) – Codeman Aug 6 '13 at 17:38
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...In the majority of these cases, [the manager] will ask for the team to divide the work amongst itself so that it gets done as quickly as possible.

This is an abdication of responsibility and a great way to make people feel overworked. Remember - Everyone's responsibility is no one's responsibility.

I am aware of the fact that if I continually do all of these tasks there is the risk of alienating my colleague and also making them look bad.

Have you ever heard the saying, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."?

Your manager needs to make sure that he/she has sufficient coverage on each type of task that may be assigned. That means he/she should have people work together on tasks in order to: 1) Promote knowledge sharing. 2) Ensure that the more junior member of the pairing will be able to perform the task alone in the future.

Have you ever heard of the term 'bus factor'?

The bus factor is the total number of key developers who would need to be incapacitated (as by getting hit by a bus/truck) to send the project into such disarray that it would not be able to proceed; the project would retain information (such as source code) with which no remaining team member is familiar. A high bus factor means that many developers would need to be removed before the project would necessarily fail.

"Getting hit by a bus" could take many different forms. This could be a person taking a new job, having a baby, changing their lifestyle or life status, or literally getting hit by a bus: the effect would be the same.

It sounds like your manager's ineptitude has left your team with a low bus factor.

In short - Increasing your bus factor will solve your problem.

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