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My line manager was promoted from within so he has pretty good knowledge of the systems but lately (last six months or so) we've noticed that he seems to pick the most interesting tasks for himself.

The most annoying thing is that they almost never appear in the backlog and never in the sprint, he just does them and shows them to the team. Sometimes this has required either direct to production stuff (not customer facing features but obviously risky nonetheless) or a bypass of company policies in other ways, always explained in the interest of expediency

After the third or fourth time this happened one of the team members called him out on it but in a rather lighthearted and jokey manner, something like:

Hey you always do the cool stuff, maybe I should get my own team so I can do cool stuff too

This was received extremely badly, which makes wonder what is the best approach to raise this.

I want to raise it as there are a couple of interesting pieces of work that I'd like to do but I might not get even the chance given what's happened.

I can raise it with my line manager's line manager but I feel that this the nuclear option, which I'd rather avoid.

Any ideas?

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    That was nor lighthearted or jokey manner, it was passive aggressive as hell. – Tymoteusz Paul Feb 22 '20 at 12:36
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    what's the problem? the bypass of company policies? do you have a policy for production? or is the interesting work the problem? or both? – Benjamin Feb 22 '20 at 18:31
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    what are you trying to achieve? – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Feb 22 '20 at 22:16
  • @JoeStrazzere I don't want to decide what work my manager can or cannot do. I want to have the option to say: Hey that piece of work sounds interesting and I've got experience in that domain so I would be good fit to take it on – ManyRootsofAllEvil Feb 23 '20 at 11:53
  • @TymoteuszPaul It really was more jokey, than passive aggressive. It was not a verbatim quote as I want to try to keep a certain degree of anonymity. – ManyRootsofAllEvil Feb 23 '20 at 11:55
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Been there, messed that up. Got past it.

This unfortunately is very common when high-energy "individual contributors" take on supervisory roles. When I made these mistakes, it was because.

  1. I believed I could do the work faster than I could explain it.
  2. I was sure that my solution would be better than anybody else's.
  3. The new job put a lot of pressure on me and I retreated to my comfort zone rather than facing up to the challenges of the new job.
  4. I didn't really understand how different the new job was from my old job. Training for new supervisors? What's that?

Guilty on all charges. And, I was dreadfully insecure about it all. It was unpleasant for the people who worked for me.

Hindsight is wonderful, eh?

Your problem is this: the new supervisor is denying you the chance to do interesting work. And, he's not challenging his team to work together to solve problems. Instead, he's subverting your planning system so some of the problems get solved as if by magic. It's demotivating.

The business's problem is this: your team isn't performing to capacity, isn't growing in technical capability, and is having some morale problems.

If your manager asked me for advice, I would go all Yoda on him and say in a pompous voice, "the only way you can do enough is by doing nothing." In other words, treat the people who work for you as if they're much smarter than you. (And, BTW, only hire people who are smarter than you.) For your first year in the job, give the work you like the best to other people to do, to build their skill and confidence. Supervisors succeed when their teams succeed and fail when their teams fail.

But you're the one asking for advice. There's no magic formula to address this. Here are some suggestions.

First, try to see things from the new supervisor's point of view if you possibly can. He's obviously concerned about the problem or he wouldn't have overreacted to your co-worker's snarky remark. He could use a bit of empathy right about now.

Second, if you decide to intervene, first put aside any resentments you have about his behavior. Make it about business, not personalities. The point is to have a rational conversation.

Third, ask for a personal and private conversation. In that conversation, speak only for yourself. Ask him to give you the responsibility you want. If he asks why, say something about how you're committed to giving your professional best to the company, and challenging work helps you do that.

You could speak for the team if you had permission from all the team members. But getting that permission would require talking about the new boss behind his back. It's very hard to do that and keep everything at a professional level.

Fourth, if you want to bring up his working around your team scheduling setup, use the classic approach. Name the unwanted behavior. State its effect on you. Ask for a change. Use a real example. Something like this.

Boss, when you pushed stuff to production last night without telling us, It made me feel like I was wasting my time planning the next release. Is there any way you can loop me and my co-workers in on that kind of change in future?

One more thing: don't expect him to smack his forehead and say, "you're right, I'm wrong, I will change my ways." It takes time for people to absorb this kind of input.

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  • I think this is pretty good advice. I wonder about your third suggestion though. I would feel that it would be stronger argument if I came as representing the views of the team but obviously this could backfire (I get asked to name names for instance) or convince another team member to have a similar conversation. – ManyRootsofAllEvil Feb 23 '20 at 12:01
  • See my edit You could speak for the team if you had permission from all the team members. But getting that permission would require talking about the new boss behind his back. It's very hard to do that and keep everything at a professional level. – O. Jones Feb 23 '20 at 12:43
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I know this doesn't answer your question, but it may help to know people can find themselves in weird work situations. I was a contractor once, very inexperienced, when contracting was possible as a junior developer, which these days isn't possible. I joined a team and found myself working on the most complex aspect of the project, even though the architect in the team had no work of his own, this architect just spent his day researching whatever he liked to do and had no direct input into the main objectives of the organisation, no input whatsoever and no, we were not a software company, doing anything innovative it was all BAU for a home loan company. I became stuck trying to make this work and there was no compulsion whatsoever in this team for the architect to step in and assist. I thought the situation was bizarre and couldn't wait to get out of it as I was too inexperienced to work it out for myself

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