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I have a deadline coming up in two weeks. An internal web application needed a small new feature to finish the project. The maintainer of the web application has been extremely helpful in helping me do my work, and I asked if he could do the feature. He told me he can do it in 10-30 minutes, but seemed to push back on it because I think he had another piece of work he wanted to do that day.

I got stressed. In a weekly demo meeting we have with our manager, I demoed what we have done so far and called it a "sad demo" because we were missing the feature. I outlined the feature we needed and why it wasn't there. The manager pressed me on who I was working with to implement the feature, I told him I'm working on it with the website maintainer, who is also in the meeting and works remotely so dials in. I see he immediately turns off his webcam and sends me a text message about the project - I stressed him into starting work immediately.

By the end of the day, he texts me saying he finished it. I text back thanking him profusely. Later in the day I took some time to think about it, calmed down, and realized that the feature isn't even strictly necessary to hit the deadline. We could've done it later. I feel bad, and send him a text saying that we didn't even strictly need the feature, I may have overreacted, I apologize if I caused him to reprioritize his work inconveniently, and I'll try to be less stressed about deadlines in the future.

I feel pretty bad about all of this - I caused my coworker to reprioritize his work, and may have embarrassed him in front of our team. How badly did I mess up? Is there anything I can do to fix the situation if I did? My coworker works remotely so it's hard for me to tell how he feels about all this. He hasn't said anything.

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    I wouldn’t say you screwed up, you got the job done. But that was a dirty conscious tactic to embarrass and force a coworker to do something delegated to you...the worst is you did this to someone who was already going above and beyond to help you already with other things. Don’t be surprised if the person all of a sudden isn’t as helpful anymore. – morbo Jun 8 at 19:59
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    I think facilitating a positive work environment is more important than hitting my deadlines, and in that sense I feel like I have messed up. I didnt force him to do something delegated to me though, I think I forced him to prioritize work he was planning on doing for me higher than he may have wanted to. The webapp is his project and he has the skills and knowledge to implement changes to it the fastest. – user105545 Jun 8 at 20:52
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    If that feature made the whole demo sad then do no forget to profusely and publicly praise him in the very next demo (or meeting) because it made it happy with his fast and good implementation. It's that simple. <hr> For the future you may stick to a more neutral language and shield the people you manage/lead/coordinate. – Adriano Repetti Jun 9 at 7:47
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    Never call your own demo sad. An attendee will always have a different view than the one who built what is being demoed. Had you been positive or neutral about the demo (while still briefly mentioning the feature), the attendees might barely have bothered with the missing feature. It was you calling the demo a sad one that shaped the perception of your manager. – Jasper Jun 9 at 14:10
  • Don't feel too bad, there are people who do what you did for a living (yep, PMP's). You've got the consciousness to see why it's wrong and you apologized. That's good enough. Everyone makes mistakes. The problem now is for you to re-gain trust by not doing it again and offering some type of olive branch. – teego1967 Jun 10 at 11:17
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I think the only mistake you made was referring to it as a "sad demo." You shouldn't criticize your own work, especially when you aren't the sole contributor. In doing so, you kind of dragged your coworker down with you. What you could have done was to proudly demo the work that you had and if someone asked about the missing feature, said something along the lines of, "we had some other high priority items to tackle but we'll get to it as soon as possible."

How badly did I mess up? Is there anything I can do to fix the situation if I did?

You definitely messed up but it's hard to say how badly. It's not as if you ordered him to drop off the call and immediately get to work but it sounds like there's a good chance he understood that to be your intention.

The important thing is that you learned your lesson--avoid throwing coworkers under the bus, either implicitly or explicitly. Maybe he's upset about it, maybe not. It's hard to say without knowing more about his personality and your working relationship in general. The best you can do now is to make sure he understands you know you were in the wrong and that it won't happen again.

  • The reason I feel particularily bad is that I had a feeling he would immidiatly start working on it if I called it a sad demo, and thats why I called it such. The fact that I consciously did it makes it feel like I called up to immidiatly get to work. Now, its possible he didnt realize I thought he would react that way, in which case things are mostly fine, but I still feel guilty – user105545 Jun 8 at 19:09
  • @user105545 I see. Was the feature delegated specifically to him or was it something either of you could have worked on? – AffableAmbler Jun 8 at 19:33
  • The project was delegated to me, with the understanding that I would ask for help as needed - he had the expertise to implement the feature very quickly. It would have taken me probably 10x longer to do it (though I wouldve been happy to do it myself if need be and time allowed). It was thus sort of de facto delegated to him. – user105545 Jun 8 at 20:51
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Do the same thing you would do if you, when under pressure, said "This place is a huge mess" to your partner or roommate about your apartment.

Apologize. Tell the person the pressure got the better of you. Remind the person they did good work for you and your team.

Don't overthink it.

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I think you probably did make a couple of missteps in the handling of this situation, namely:

  • Calling out the missing feature in the meeting in the manner you did. It's fine to point out that there is additional work to do, but you shouldn't undersell the work already done and you certainly shouldn't put yourself in a position where you have to lay the blame for that with an individual who may have had other priorities preventing them from doing the work. That is a bad look, and it risks making them less willing to help you in the future without you having to go through more official channels.

  • Alerting the website maintainer to the fact that you realised later that the work wasn't urgent at all. This means you called them out in the meeting over not doing something that wasn't strictly required anyway, and potentially caused them to re-prioritise their work unnecessarily. If they weren't upset after the initial meeting, they're certainly not going to be any happier after this text.

There's not a lot you can do about this now other than learn from it! These things happen, but they can be mitigated by realising why they happened and taking steps to prevent them happening in the future. Hopefully there is no lasting damage in your relationship with the other person - you did the right thing in thanking them profusely for their help and also for apologising for the situation, which is a good start.

I would say the key learning takeaway from this situation is that, when there are inter-team work dependencies such as this, you should not rely on the people doing the work in each team to decide on priorities. Instead, you should have whoever manages the priorities on each team discuss the work between them.

It is their collective responsibility to ensure that work is done in the correct order as per the requirements of the business. If, between them, they deem that your work is a lesser priority and that you won't get to demo a particular feature, then that just becomes a business decision which is out of your hands and nothing you have to feel bad about.

And obviously it should go without saying, if you have issues with work not being tackled as per the agreed priority, then you need to take that offline (probably approach your line manager and have them speak to the other person's line manager). A demo is not the correct forum to raise such concerns.

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There is nothing wrong in reproiritising work, it's business as usual. You have not made him work overtime or doing some other personal sacrifice. It is done on expence of the company - the other tasks were delayed - but presumably it is an acceptable price.

What was wrong is that it has happened during the demo. Instead you should have contacted the manager immediately after you learned about other tasks and ask if it possible to prioritize the feature higher, so no unrelated person would have to witness the arguing. It would be better to discuss it with the developer beforehand. Usually it goes like "I need X. - Sorry, not now, I'm busy with other tasks. - It is important, whom could I discuss it with?".

So you generally go with "say thank you instead of sorry", but a bit of apologising for not articipating your manager's decision would be ok also.

Another thing: after you made a person to do something it is not polite to say "actually, I did not need it that much". Sometimes I have to lie a bit about this matter.

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