18

Recently I've signed with a new employer and am currently serving the notice period at my old employer. There's a rather long notice period where I live, given my parameters (13 weeks, Belgium). Currently we are bringing a customer up-to-date with regards to a software package I've done most of the analysis, design and development for. In fact, it is a product that exists by merit of me generalising common aspects of similar projects and has come to its current form over the course of many projects and years. Most of the knowledge for it, both technical and functional, lies with me. The code itself is well documented, but the way everything fits together, domain knowledge, installation and best practices in using it all needs much more documentation.

I'm working together with another developer on this update implementation and he's learning quite well. But with me doing part of the work, explaining things to him and having to decide what to delegate, there's simply no time to explain everything. Even if I did I can't expect him to remember everything or grasp it immediately. If I could use the remainder of my notice period creating thorough user and developer guides, it would leave him with solid reference material and any future developers and users as well.

Instead, this project needs to be completed ASAP because there's a much bigger customer for the same product waiting to get started on an implementation. It's clear that my boss is expecting me to get started on that as quickly as possible, bring the other developer up to speed and have him learn and document as we go. I know for a fact that this will lead to little more than very patchy knowledge and notes, lacking insight and missing much of the techniques I've had to learn by experience. Without full documentation those left at the company will have to waste huge amounts of time figuring out how to use the software, how to expand it and will not be able to avoid many mistakes I'be made and learned from. And finally, I've spent years of my life building this architecture up, tuning and improving it; it's my brainchild and I'd hate to leave it behind "helpless".

How do I convince my boss that the company, my colleagues and future projects are best served by me setting up the resources needed for its continued support rather than having to spend my last weeks here squeezing billable hours out of a customer and setting up scaffolding that no-one will really know how to build upon?

  • How much overlap is there between the way this product is (or is likely to be) implemented at each customer? – Player One May 17 at 13:39
  • @PlayerOne A lot. That's sort of the essence of it. Frequent overlap and common grounds between projects is what led me to develop a common solution with a lot of templates for data models, data mappings and configuration. This is then extensible and modifiable as needed for a specific customer/project. So looking at existing implementations can certainly let you "cargo cult" your way through it, but will miss the mark in understanding why things are done that way and not teach anyone much about extending the software. – G_H May 17 at 13:52
  • 18
    @G_H if you believe documentation is so important, why wasn't it done already? – BittermanAndy May 17 at 14:24
  • 1
    @BittermanAndy There's documentation for various parts, but there are plenty of gaps, some of it has become outdated over time and lots of it is terse and technical, not so much functional or insightful. And apart from that, the same old story... Moving forwards on projects always had priority over documenting and refactoring, and even now on the current project it has been suggested to me that taking shortcuts would be okay if it means we can start faster on the next one. – G_H May 17 at 14:35
  • 1

10 Answers 10

27

Problems caused by you leaving the company are not your problem.

Plain and simple. This is something that managers like to claim when employees are leaving the company, and incidentally, those managers who make such claims are also those who have to utter them the most. That being said, let us assume that your manager is merely misguided and does not mean to be malicious.

You can explain to him that your time is best spent on documentation than on a new project. If you work on documentation, you will leave behind a usable product with capable developers, who understand exactly what it does and how it works.

If you work on your new project, you will either have to rush the development (resulting in bad work) or you will drop out mid-project (resulting in lots of wasted time building knowledge that is effectively lost to the company).

In the end, no matter how your boss decides, it's their problem, not yours. If he makes a bad choice, it's not your fault.


What happens if your boss is uncooperative?

In a perfect world, your manager would be reasonable and understand that leaving your workplace intact is the best course of action. We all know we don't live in a perfect world, and in some companies, the policy seems to be to squeeze as much work out of leaving employees as possible - after all, they are leaving anyways, so who cares if their morale is low.

In order to prepare you for this scenario, here are some common things you may hear when you talk with your manager about how you should spend your last weeks at the company:

If you leave us now, the company will go bankrupt!

Not your problem. You are (or were) an employee, not a shareholder or owner. As an employee, your task is not to keep the company afloat or successful, and as such you should not take the blame for failure to do so either.

There is a deadline and you have to fulfill it.

No. That deadline is simply not your problem. Your manager is trying to squeeze maximum work out of you while you are still here.

While it might be advisable to keep your reputation as an employee as good as possible, in some cases the demands from management are just too unreasonable to meet. In such cases, it's better not to stress yourself, miss the deadline and just leave the mess behind you. Yes, your former boss will blame everything on you (even the things you had nothing to do with), but in such cases that boss will likely be known by all other former employees to be similar.

I thought better of you that you would leave us hanging.

Just a personal insult. Next.

What should we tell the customer? They were expecting you on the project!

This is again not your problem. If the customer "expected" you to be on the project, then it's their fault for having expectations that were not clearly formulated during sales talks. If you personally were sold to the project after you announced your resignation, then the person selling you made a mistake. Don't let "I made a mistake, now you have to fix it!" get the better of you.

  • 5
    I don't really see how most of this applies. There's nothing in the original question to suggest that the boss is blaming the OP for anything, or guilt tripping them, or telling them they can't leave. That all just seems to be an unrelated rant that has nothing to do with what's being asked. – BittermanAndy May 17 at 14:22
  • 3
    The question is still "How do I convince my boss?", and I think that it's unnecessary to try. If his boss makes the wrong decision by assigning him to the wrong task, then it's the boss' fault. – MechMK1 May 17 at 14:30
  • 2
    @MechMK1 Your last comment is BittermanAndy's point. The question is "How do I convince my boss?" The first half of your answer is not related to the question. You are throwing out hypotheticals and answering them... just stick to answering the question like you did in the second half. – JeffC May 17 at 20:07
  • 1
    @MechMK1 If it were me, I would move the bottom half to the top... put the direct answer first. The on the bottom half, put something like... "Here's some comments you might hear and how to deal with them:" and then list them. That way there's more context to that part of your answer. – JeffC May 20 at 13:05
  • 1
    @MechMK1 Looks good to me. To be clear, I don't think your original answer was incoherent, I just thought it could be improved to be more clear. I think the points you made were valid, it just was less to the point... at least IMO. – JeffC May 20 at 13:50
37

How do I convince my boss that the company, my colleagues and future projects are best served by me setting up the resources needed for its continued support rather than having to spend my last weeks here squeezing billable hours out of a customer and setting up scaffolding that no-one will really know how to build upon?

You don't. If there are any negative consequences of your boss assigning new projects rather than having you document he will have to deal with that, not you. It is your boss's responsibility to ensure a smooth transition of your tasks to the other employees, if he does not plan properly that is not something for you to concern yourself with. Yes, it may make things more difficult for your colleagues in the future but that is something that they will have to address with the boss due to his decisions.

There is no harm in expressing your concerns to your boss, but ultimately he will make whatever decision he feels is best for the company. Whether he makes the correct decision or not is not your concern.

  • 16
    +1. Your boss has taken the view that clearly you've managed this long without piles of documentation, so it can't be critically important. If he is wrong, then it is on you for not doing it as you went along. – Julia Hayward May 17 at 13:48
  • I see what you mean, and certainly the responsibility is for a large part with management. But there might exist misconceptions about how complex learning to work with this product is and how much writing down domain knowledge would help with projects. Maybe my boss thinks people will figure it out just fine and misjudges the added value of me condensing years of experience and experimentation. So I wish to make this clear. What's more, I truly care about what I did and have pride in it. Just leaving it without guidance would hurt a lot. – G_H May 17 at 13:57
  • 4
    @G_H There is no harm in expressing your concerns to your boss, but ultimately he will make whatever decision he feels is best for the company. Whether he makes the correct decision or not is not your concern. – sf02 May 17 at 14:05
  • 1
    @G_H, sounds like you may have held this project to closely up to this point. While your concerns are valid, all of those reasons applied long before you gave your notice, did you raise them before? – cdkMoose May 17 at 16:46
5

It's clear that my boss is expecting me to get started on that as quickly as possible, bring the other developer up to speed and have him learn and document as we go.

This sounds like your boss is expecting you both to spend some of your notice period on creating documentation, so your boss is not against documentation on principle. Could the new developer be the one to ask your boss for more focus on documentation? Your boss has little reason to consider your desire for the project's future because you are leaving, but they have a lot of reason to consider the needs of the developer who will be working on it.

Even if I did I can't expect him to remember everything or grasp it immediately. If I could use the remainder of my notice period creating thorough user and developer guides, it would leave him with solid reference material and any future developers and users as well.

If you don't have time to make good documentation, could you record a video of you walking through of the project, talking about the design? Preferably you and the new developer discussing it, or just you talking with a whiteboard.

It would be better than nothing, much quicker than writing clear production quality documentation with working links and tidy diagrams and so on. It would not need anyone to remember what you say after one hearing because it can be replayed and paused. You wouldn't need anyone to take notes as you go, so you could cover more topics in less time, etc.

Get a smartphone or webcam, book a meeting room for 30 minutes and record. Do the same the next day, for questions and confusions that have come up since the day before. If you could do a few sessions in 13 weeks, it might be a useful balance between no documentation and ideal documentation.

3

It is fundamentally your boss's call asto how much effort you put into documentation at this point.

Professionally, it is good to want your project not to burn down after you go.

However, you asked for something to convince your boss. I might try something like this:

As a general rule, a professional developer continuously mitigates against "hit by a bus" events -- developers disappearing (including themselves). That is one of the reason's I have updated and kept written documentation on this project. The extent of this documentation, the work put into it, was taking into account that the chance I'd be "hit by a bus" or otherwise disappear in any one month was low.

The payoff of a unit of documentation was Chance(I disappear) times Cost(Lack of Documentation). With the first term being low, I focused on the highest cheapest and highest return documentation.

Now, the chance I'm gone soon is 100%.

This means the payoff matrix of documentation has changed.

Investing far more heavily in transition could make a huge difference at this point. And you won't get another chance at this information.

I can and will focus on delivering this next project, as requested. This will likely generate short-term revenue. But there will be a longer-term cost saving opportunity lost.

I understand either choice, but I wanted to make the choice clear. Short-term revenue is important; that is how we stay in business. But in exchange, you are accepting increasing problems maintaining the product and/or you will find further modifications are much more expensive going forward.

I will enthusiastically and professionally deliver based on whichever choice you make.

Now, truly and honestly accept that the Boss may want to choose short term profits over longer term pain. That is a valid business decision. Companies that regularly choose longer term over the short do this thing called "going bankrupt", and projects that do that get cancelled.

Even if the Boss is making the wrong choice, you have explained the situation as you understand it, and it isn't going to be your formal responsibility in a month anyhow.

You care for your project, and that is both admirable and acceptable. But it isn't your project any more, if it ever really was.

1

Use some of your time implementing the product at your new customer to document the way that it needs to be implemented, and the choices you've made while implementing it.

This will benefit:

  • Your new customer - as they will now find it easier to onboard your replacement
  • Your old customer and colleague - as they can also use this as handover for the old customers implementation (since you say in comments that there is a lot of overlap)
  • Your (soon to be) former employer - as their two clients will both appreciate your effort
  • You - through the references and reputation you'll get from being professional in your last weeks.

Don't worry about anything else - your responsibility isn't for the future success of your former company, it's to remain professional as you leave.

  • There's a close eye on how time is spent. For every aspect of the implementation there are Jira issues and time estimates. This might work very well if I can work the time needed for documentation into the estimates and make it clear that it will move both the new project and knowledge transfer forward. I'll give this a shot! – G_H May 20 at 9:33
1

It is not up to you to convince your manager how to run their team/department. There is nothing wrong with raising your concerns once, but leave it at that.

It is up to your manager and your employer to determine the best use of your remaining time. If they feel that revenue generation or client timelines are more important than this documentation, then accept that and do the best you can with the tasks they lay before you. Just like you should do even if you haven't given notice.

1

If you really want to convince your boss, then the best way is indirectly. Perhaps discuss this issue with the person meant to replace you, and have them talk to the boss. Presumably, your replacement will acknowledge that there is a lot to learn, and beg the boss for documentation.

If that person also doesn't seem to care, then you have done all you can do...

1

As the other answers have pointed out, this is not something that you should worry yourself with. As long as you have talked to your management and told them what your opinions are, they are the ones in charge and the ones that will have to answer to their superiors when/if they make the wrong decision.

I have been in a very similar situation. The last company that I worked for I was the senior developer that had been there for 6 years, my colleagues had been there for less than a year and had not been focusing on the main line of business application, so had little knowledge of how the actual business worked. When I turned in my notice I also sent a letter with an exit strategy including several hours of training on every major subject area in the company for the remaining developers (only 2). Instead my bosses manager wanted me to complete a project that while important, could have been completed at any time within the next several months. I proceeded to complete that project and gave them my phone number with an hourly rate in case they needed some help after hours.

In the end all worked out, they did hit some stumbling blocks and the management team knows why. It is always difficult leaving a project that you have given years of your life to, but if you are able to leave it with a good team of developers they will eventually figure it out.

0

Answering your exact question ("How do I convince my boss...") is pretty simple.

Show this from money prospective. Do calculate extra efforts for other developers to jump in and potential losses in money, and let the boss decide on this amount of money. Do calculate value you bring mitigating those losses. Do calculate value you bring working on new project and bring these two values to your boss. Convince with numbers - words are ambiguous, numbers are not.

Hint: Probably, after calculation you will find out that you working on a new project bring more value to the company and you won't need to convince your boss anymore

Hint2: You might have false assumptions on losses - probably, your customer will be charged for all extra efforts new developer needs to put in order to get things working and the company actually doesn't lose anything

Hint3: Your quote "this is my brainchild" discloses your personal attitude towards a problem, so you might be misguided in assessment and decision-making just from very beginning - you take this personally

Hint4: Like other answers said, it's not your responsibility. Knowledge transfer and business contingency is up to your boss.

Best of luck with your new endeavour!

0

Your work time is paid for by your company so it is reasonable and probably even legislated they get to decide what you do during that time.

If you are lucky they will realize how stupid it was to let you go with also no documentation and then ask for you to come back.

Usually during the course of doing something for the first time, you realize several architectural improvements that can be made afterwards, but only with serious rework or even starting from scratch. If they won't want you back, if you have the money saved, then you can rewrite your brain child on your own. (I am here assuming this is software). Maybe you can do this by form of employing yourself.

That this can happen is a risk every employer will take when un-contracting you.

  • I'm not let go, I made the decision to go. If anything I'd like to avoid this coming back to haunt me. Also, I think leaving a company and then creating your own project based on the architecture established at that company could be illegal or in breach of the contract (some aspects of which continue to be in force after departure). – G_H May 20 at 9:31
  • @G_H Well.. okay. Then I suppose you should have thought about it before signing or leaving. If you rewrite everything as long as software patents are not in force in your legislation and the company hasn't patented it, as far as I know there is nothing they can do. – mathreadler May 20 at 11:51

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