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For the past several months, nearly all of the developers in my project have been exclusively allocated to fixing defects. The various managers involved have set goals for the number of defects that we need to fix every two months or so. The team is not meeting these goals, but the target numbers get significantly increased each time.

Despite this, the team has not been given any additional resources to help us meet the new goals, and so we just keep failing by more and more each time.

How can I ask my manager to give the team realistic goals that we can accomplish instead of constantly demanding more when we're already over committed?

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You probably can't.

I've been down this road before. Last place I worked, the VP came around and said "the CTO says we have to fix all bugs within 90 days." As we did scrum and I had a backlog and team velocity, I did some quick calculations for my team and the other directors' teams, and said "At the current rate of clearing bugs with the current team that will take months just to clear the backlog and after that it'll be 80% of our dev capacity on ongoing bug fix. Are any of the product deliverables moving?" "No..." "Well then it can't be done, not and hit those." "But... The CTO said..." So we prioritized bugs slightly more, but also had to work to hit deliverables, and even with people doing the usual "well but is it really a bug" shenanigans we fell way below the bar. For a couple months, the VP kept asking for updates on it. We'd tell him and remind him about the team's capacity. Eventually he stopped asking because the CTO largely forgot he had tossed that edict out one day.

So that is to say you can try, you can use metrics and projections to indicate what the team's capacity is and what they can do per unit time, and you can certainly propose improvements that would reduce bugs/speed fixes/whatnot, and/ir ask for more people, but in the end most of not all organizations are not metrics/data/reality driven, they are emotion and snap decision and politics driven.

Focus on doing the work and continually improving. Show graphs of your fix rate creeping up. Then play the politics game of tooting that horn, saying "we could do more if only X", and then at the right time, strategic silence to let upper management save face by letting the edict slip into the night unremarked.

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    So the CTO had some harebrained idea, sets a goal, you figure out there is no way to achieve the goal, the goal is not achieved, and by that time the CTO has forgotten his stupid idea. Well done, CTO. Makes everyone wonder how you got the job. – gnasher729 Feb 18 at 22:17
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    By being a boomer 1%-er. That is by and large the only qualification for any C level enterprise job. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Feb 19 at 14:23
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    +1 for the phrase 'strategic silence'. – Pyrotechnical Feb 19 at 14:39
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Sometimes this behaviour comes from managers who believe in 'increasing pressure until the pip squeaks'. They worry that you're not working hard enough, and think that setting arbitrary goals will motivate you.

I find that the best defence is to point out that under pressure, developers cause more bugs and testers miss problems. It's the managers' job to reassure the higher-ups that their team is working hard, and not sacrificing quality for quantity.

You can ask for overtime and more staff, but you're not going to get it if the management think the problem is that you're not working hard enough. It does tell you that the company doesn't think the backlog is worth investing extra money.

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Unrealistic deadlines/goals are just a fact of life for a dev. Everyone wants it now and wants everything working like they thought it should without having to tell you what exactly they need (including all the one off situations :/ ).

I work in development myself and all to often my manager likes to promise crazy deadlines. "Oh ya it will be done by next weak no problem"... The "problem" is that my manager is not a dev so she is not able to account for all the inevitable issues. IE: Having to refactor code to deal with CPNI security issues. Dealing with error handling for the one offs. Fixing unexpected/expected issues that are bound to happen and so on.

All you can really do is express your views on what the team can accomplish even if they say "Get it done". Most management especially higher up don't really know what it takes to get it done. Their job is to push you to get it done or rather to push your team lead/supervisor to push you to get it done :D. Just speak you peace and do your job the best you can.

Do what you can without compromising your quality of work. As long as you produce quality work and are not slacking off you should be fine. I always make sure to let my direct supervisor/lead know exactly what I think it will take to get the job done and I always say "baring any issues that might come up" so they cannot tell me I promised any specific time frame. Out of all the projects I have done I might have had 2 or 3 that didn't run into any problems. (system access issues, CPNI issues, validation issues, and so on)

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