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Background

The company I work for has the HQ in the Central Europe and a very important branch in a Eastern European country (within EU though). Many important projects start in the HQ with hybrid teams (internal managers, architect(s) + external developers, tech leads etc.) and are typically transferred in the branch after a while, in most cases with great delays.

I was part of a medium sized team working for such a project after being transferred in the branch a few years ago and things got quite ugly:

  • the main architect (from the HQ) was in charge with some back-end stuff that also involved some Business Intelligence R&D. When the project was handed over to us, we realized they have implemented almost nothing and massive rewrite was required
  • the manager (from the branch) responsible for the entire development effort failed to understand the required roles and also the repeated feedback related to unsustainable deadlines
  • when it became clear that significant overtime was need, some of the team members were accused of not "shouting" loud enough about the issues in the project ("Cassandra")

The project was eventually finalized but did not live for long. As far as I know, there was no postmortem analysis performed.

Today

Fast forward to 2019. I am working in a another team (much smaller) and we have to deal with writing a small application to perform the security management for a custom data analytics system. As a bizarre coincidence this data analytics project is lead by the same two persons (the manager now a PO and the architect).

We had a couple of meetings with the PO, the architect and a developer and things can be summarized like the following:

  • they are working at this project for more than 1 year and as far as I know it was started several years ago using external resources
  • they do not know how to model the security in the system. I have told them that this (along with other things like logging) are cross cutting concerns and should be clarified as early as possible in a software development project
  • they are unable to provide any timeline for their activities that must be performed before we can actually start the analysis + effort estimation
  • PO asked when can we start despite our concerns that it is impossible to even make an effort estimation

For me there is a great similarity between these two projects and I am afraid that someone from the top management will notice that they are pouring money with little progress being done and things will turn really ugly (this is exactly what happened with the old project).

I want to raise these concerns to my manager, but I am interested in how to do this in a way that does not back-fire on me since my manager is kind of a friend with this PO and I want to avoid any finger-pointing.

Question: How to provide the appropriate feedback about this whole context to avoid my team paying for what it looks like gross incompetence in the bigger project?

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    "I want to raise these concerns to my manager, but I am interested in how to do this in a way that does not back-fire on me...". From what you're describing, that's not possible. Your question is very well laid out and well researched, but you've given us impossible parameters with your question. – Stephan Branczyk Jun 29 at 23:37
  • Perhaps the manager wants the team to “carry” the PO so he can keep his friend employed... – Solar Mike Jun 30 at 4:46
  • @SolarMike - no, my manager is actually a "people manager" and knows very little about this new project and my team is self-organized (we develop, but also deal with product ownership activities). Also the PO is a person with great influence in the upper management and certainly does not need my manager's help with this. – Alexei Jun 30 at 5:01
  • Then it soundslike you need to carry him... – Solar Mike Jun 30 at 5:03
  • What's your role in the project? How much authority do you have in the team? Could you possibly suggest running a pre-mortem as an opportunity to learn from past mistakes? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-mortem – Llewellyn Jun 30 at 8:49
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Like many things in the workplace, this situation calls for communication.

One thing your company got from that failed project is experienced people, namely you and the others who worked on it. It's expensive and time-consuming to get experienced people, as you know too well.

Raise the concerns with your manager. Ask for some time for a private conversation about it. Tell your manager you have learned a few things about projects like this from "the school of hard knocks" (or whatever you call it in your country.)

Explain to him what you explained to us, then ask for advice. "How can I, personally, take advantage of my experience to help make this project succeed?" It's your manager's job to give you advice like that. Let him do it.

It's business. If you treat it as business you can't go too far wrong. And, by asking for advice you enlist your manager as an ally to do better this time.

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