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I am in a bit of a strange situation. I am part of software development team doing core transformation of existing COBOL based ordering system. There are also plans for future sales channel being developed. I am also the tech lead.

I have a project manager, there is a chief architect for the organization and CTO. Due to the very technical nature of the project I supported heavily my project manager in the preparation of the estimates and the consequent budget. At one point we realize we need to go 30% over the budget and we can not cut features or resources to reduce the scope.

The project manager started relying so much on me that I have become almost his satellite being present on most of the meetings he has.

The problem comes when the CTO did not present the budget in front of the board, but instead reported all the time "All is good All is bright". The CTO also has placed the Chief Architect in between his communication with the Project Manager. This creates a ridiculous situation where the CTO asks the PM for something, but requests the information to be funneled via the Chief architect.

I personally feel very sorry for the position of the PM, I rarely feel so for PMs but in this case....

In this whole mess I am a contractor who actually tries to do his job besides to charge. The Chief Architect appears to have no basic clue about what we are doing, more importantly this project is dragging for a year so he has had plenty of time to figure out if he wanted.

I feel that the management is sabotaging this project for one reason or another. The PM is afraid to escalate over the CEO.

What is the best course of action for me (am I exposed implicitly via my close relation to the PM)? What is the best course of action for my PM ?

  • "At one point we realize we need to go 30% over the budget and we can not cut features or resources to reduce the scope." I think that something needs to give, here, because this sounds non-viable. Either the budget's going to get increased, or something's going to be rushed or dropped, whether you like it or not. I also you're not supposed to be doing Agile, because that's exactly the opposite of how Agile is supposed to work. – nick012000 Nov 30 '19 at 13:39
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    @nick012000 OP never raised Agile so I'm just curious as to why you've raised it. – ChrisFNZ Nov 30 '19 at 15:30
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    Agile is irrelevant here:) The project is not agile. – Pesho Nov 30 '19 at 15:37
  • It's unclear what you are specifically asking for help to do. But something to keep in mind is that being able to explain the essence of a highly technical task (and especially its late discovered challenges) to business stakeholders in plain, non-technical language is an extremely valuable skill. – Chris Stratton Nov 30 '19 at 16:11
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This is office politics, stay away from it.

Clearly something is going on and you don't know what it is. It doesn't sound like there is anything to get for you by escalating it - especially as a contractor. Write your concerns to the PM to cover yourself against later blaming, but leave it at that.

The CTO

I'm assuming that the information actually made it to the CTO. So he is holding back information. There could be reasons why he is doing it: he's taking a risk to get the project funded because the board doesn't understand the benefit or he will save the money through other ways or he is just not good at his job. The increased budget cannot be hidden forever, so you will find out the reason at some time anyway.

While skipping one or two levels, when something is going wrong, might be a good idea, ignoring the whole management chain up to the top will have unknown consequences. For example the project might be stopped immediately and you don't have a job anymore.

The Chief Architect

That's a minor issue. CTOs in bigger companies often don't have time to get involved in projects personally, therefore they have somebody who makes sure the right information is presented with the right level of detail to save time for the CTO. Normally this person would be a personal assistant, but maybe that company isn't big enough yet and therefore the Chief Architect has to handle this additional task.

  • Very informative answer. – rath Nov 30 '19 at 18:41
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Contractors are easy to blame within a company

The fact that you are a contractor changes things significantly, especially since you are also the tech lead. I don’t have an explicit answer to your question, but be careful that you aren’t being chosen to take the fall here.

The CTO could just hide the cost overruns until it they hit and then blame you. The PM in his "reliance" could just say that "he trusted you too much."

The CTO requiring that information come from the chief architect sounds like a classic "cover your ass" maneuver. The less he knows and the more intermediaries, the easier it is to blame the people at the other end.

Fulfill the contract and be careful about venturing into the rest.

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tl;dr - If you don't want to escalate beyond the CTO, then be proactive about doing all you can to make the right people aware of what they need to know, and document the fact you've done so.

This is really all advice for your PM / ways you can work with your PM rather than something you should do directly. That being said:

At one point we realize we need to go 30% over the budget and we can not cut features or resources to reduce the scope. [...] the CTO did not present the budget in front of the board, but instead reported all the time "All is good All is bright"

This is definitely, first and foremost, a CYA type scenario. Make sure you've definitely recorded all those emails you've sent saying all is not good & bright. If the CEO demands to know why the project is suddenly months behind and over-budget, you want to point to the email that clearly said this was the case. If you deem it necessary, send and record follow up emails confirming that the project is still going to be behind & over budget.

This creates a ridiculous situation where the CTO asks the PM for something, but requests the information to be funneled via the Chief architect.

Pick your battles. This is ridiculous, but I'd also just let it be. If you want to ask me something, but say "don't tell me the answer, tell Bob the answer and he'll tell me" then... ok, fine. I'll probably think you're an idiot who's just employed someone pointless, but it's not really any skin off my nose.

The Chief Architect appears to have no basic clue about what we are doing, more importantly this project is dragging for a year so he has had plenty of time to figure out if he wanted.

Again, with a CYA mentality - be proactive here. Make it your business to offer to meet with him, talk him through the existing architecture, ask him for suggestions, ask how he wants to be involved, etc. Write all this down, and do your best to follow it and keep him informed at every stage.

If the powers that be still decide to disengage and hide everything going on after that, then you've done all you reasonably can, and have plenty of paperwork to prove it.

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You are being uncharitable and ungenerous.

I'm assuming you work for a corporation.

Your chief architect reports to your CTO, not your manager, and the CTO has enough direct reports and doesn't want a middle manager talking to him about a single project, hence the communication channels.

The chief architect knows exactly what your project is about and has no need to understand the details (that's your job), as you are responsible for at most a handful of blocks on his diagram; as long as the blocks are connected to other blocks correctly (according to the standards he is responsible for) then how you do that is, literally, none of his business (it is, rather, the business of the CTO). This guy deals in abstractions rather than concrete implementations.

Your relationship with the PM is entirely proper. You should be supporting him like this. My PM and I are as thick as thieves. We support each other. We invite ourselves to each other's meetings so often that people just automatically invite both of us now. We are in this together, working as a team, to lead an engineering team that we've taken six months to build from 4 people in a single office, to 15 geographically distributed engineers, and get our first release out, all within a highly politicised and conservative bank.

I think what you're missing is a sense of value for the work of others. I've seen plenty of junior engineers like yourself make the same mistake (it's a rookie mistake, hence my assessment of your seniority, forgive me if you're actually more senior and are suffering a temporary lapse of maturity). Your project is an iceberg, and you've only ever seen the bit floating above the waves. Grinders, Finders, and Minders: you're the grinder here and you're seeing approx. 30% of the work.

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