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Summary: I've been the technical director of a project. It finished well, but I made some mistakes that I don't know I can fix easily. This also ruined my manager's trust in me. Should I go back to a technical-only position or even quit?


I'm 32 years old, with 7 years of experience as a software developer for 3 different companies. I started working in my current company 18 months ago, after applying for a software developer position. At the time of the interview, I also informed the interviewer (the current manager of the unit) that in the near future I would like to start a path in "technical management", looking for more responsibilities.

After 3 months of software development, they offered me the position of "technical director" for an incoming project (a physical product combining both software and hardware). For these kinds of projects, the "top-level" figures are a "product manager" to share the needs of the industry, a "project manager" to keep the deadlines under control, and me.

Apart from 50% programming, this role also concerned activities like feasibility analysis, making decisions on which software technologies to use, evaluating suppliers (in terms of proposed technology, not pricing or sourcing), risk analysis, and preparation of the activities for the production chain.

I accepted it and started this path followed by my manager. My performance was initially really good. I've enjoyed these responsibilities (most of the activities were new to me), but after a few months I started making some very stupid mistakes:

  1. One time I was asked to propose a solution for a known limitation. This required knowledge of a particular topic that I had never worked on, so I asked the help of another team with experience in this regard. They proposed a solution that, in the end, was not the right one and I've been blamed for trusting the decisions of other people too much without actually validating them.

  2. Pure forgetfulness: I did not indicate that a particular software change was needed to enable a core feature of the product. No one (including me) noted it until the pre-release. Then I took my responsibilities and fixed it.

  3. During the development phase, I didn't inform the team of a decision of mine on a low-level aspect of the software. It turned out that it was important to share this with others.

In the end, the product was released on-time and with everything in place, but my "rating" and trust from my manager has dropped due to these episodes. My manager and I both think that these are very negative aspects for the position I've been assigned to. I'm not sure if the manager is still open to analyze and correct. A new project was presented to me earlier, and no new person has been asked to work on it yet.

At this point of "low self-confidence", I don't know how to proceed. I'm thinking of them as "behavioral" issues, not technical, and this scares me since they might be part of my attitude, not something I can study to learn. Is it a reason to say "I am not the right person"?

On the other hand, I'm still feeling very confident on a series of aspects. Many times I've received appreciation from different people I've worked with. Also, I've demonstrated to be very proactive in the research & development of ideas or ways to optimize the internal processes (compared to people that just "do what they have to do"). But, maybe, this "extra" work might be one of the reasons why I've missed some core tasks.

In this company it is very easy to stop and ask to go back to a "purely technical" job without repercussions. But by doing that I will unlikely be able to grow on those aspects anymore and I don't think I'll be so motivated as before. Is there a way to recover with my manager and continue on this path? Or are these kinds of mistakes so difficult to correct that I should stop here? Could HR be helpful in this situation?

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    No project in any industry ever goes without a hitch, it's normal. And despite that, it was your first time you delivered the work on time and on budget, so I am not sure why would your manager lose confidence? Can you expand on that? – Tymoteusz Paul Mar 1 at 23:11
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    "Could HR be helpful in this situation?" - You might want to read What does HR do for me? – Bernhard Barker Mar 2 at 9:10
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    Why don't you think you're capable of taking more care when trusting others, being less forgetful or sharing more information with others? Those all seem issues that are pretty easy to improve on. They aren't things you'll ever be able to completely fix, but then these are things everyone struggles with to some extent. – Bernhard Barker Mar 2 at 9:18
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    This is your first project, right? Did your manager actually expect you to make no mistakes? If so, that seems unrealistic. It sounds like you're learning, which is good. – Paul D. Waite Mar 2 at 23:41
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    Have you ever heard of imposter syndrome? – Sebastiaan van den Broek Mar 3 at 4:18
196

Relax. The project came in on time and on budget, so you succeeded. Everybody makes mistakes; mistakes are how we learn. If you make no mistakes, then you learn nothing and you don’t improve!

The proof here is that you’re being given another project, so you are not seen as a failure. Resolve to do even better this time. I have every confidence that you will not repeat the same mistakes!

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    Thanks. My worries are still related to the type of mistakes I've made, and the fact that I've lost some trust from my manager. I'm quite confident I can continue, but I'm looking for the best approach on how to recover from this situation. – mba Mar 1 at 22:45
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    If you feel trust between you and your manager has taken a hit, bring it up with him and tell him that you'd like honest and constructive feedback. Tell him the places where you feel you didn't get right. If he's a good manager, he'll love the fact that you want to improve. No one gets it 100% right, even experienced managers. The best is the learn and improve, and do better next time. – scuba_mike Mar 1 at 23:31
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    "The project came in on time and on budget, so you succeeded." No, the project manager succeeded. Those weren't his responsibilities. – nick012000 Mar 2 at 10:03
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    You owned your mistakes, covered for the team, and had the project finish without being a disaster. For a first time, sounds like a resounding success to me. I would ask your manager what areas you appeared to be lacking in so that you can fix them in your second project. Perhaps even writing up an email of "Lessons Learned" combined with a request for feedback could help. I agree, Relax. – IT Alex Mar 2 at 14:58
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    Too add to @scuba_mike 's comment: Even your manager does mistakes in management, and the loss of trust between you and him may easily be one of them. – yo' Mar 2 at 23:55
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my "rating" and trust from my manager has dropped due to these episodes.

Are you assuming it's dropped, or has it actually dropped? My first port of call would be to ask for a meeting with your manager so you can both talk about how the project went - you can ask him how you think you've performed from his perspective in that meeting, and potentially gain valuable feedback for the future.

If his trust has genuinely dropped because you:

a) Trusted another team's experience without verification; b) Forgot about a particular necessary change and remembered in pre-release; c) Neglected to mention a single low-level detail

...then I'll call it - he's being an arse.

You delivered your first project on time, on budget and with only the above issues - which aren't "very stupid mistakes" as you put it, but more "expected blunders" over the course of a project which happen to us all (especially the first time around.)

Now if the above mistakes were a couple of dozen rather than just those three, had caused massive delays, or could be shown to be incompetence - then I'd agree, you'd likely have some trust to build. But as it stands, your implication of the severity here doesn't appear to match the description, at all.

I would call it a job well done and move on to the next project - of course taking in learning points and lessons from the above, but ploughing on confidently nonetheless.

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  • "You delivered your first project on time, on budget" Why would that matter, when that wasn't his responsibility? – nick012000 Mar 2 at 10:02
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    @nick012000 If he majorly screwed up with any of his named tasks (feasibility analysis, taking decision on which software technologies to use, evaluating suppliers, risk planning, etc.) then the project would have almost certainly fallen behind and cost more than expected - that's the nature of big screwups. He may not be directly responsible for those areas, but that doesn't mean they're invalid metrics. – berry120 Mar 2 at 10:20
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    @nick012000 Developers and managers routinely are seen as (partially) responsible when projects go over time or budget, so surely this also has to work the other way? It's also a bit silly to assume the tech lead has no influence on these metrics. – xLeitix Mar 2 at 16:03
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    I'll agree with : a) Trusted another team's experience without verification; here, that's totally unfair. You can own the result of the failure, but you can not own the result of trust. That's why you call in outside experts. If they misrepresented themselves, or the company knew better, then you should have been warned. Now, personally, I've been burned by this- I accepted work had been done, pushed it, and found out it was falsified later. That hurt and broke trust- from above to me, and from me to the individual. But if the answers were in good faith then above should accept and move on. – J.Hirsch Mar 2 at 19:24
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This already has a bunch of other answers, but I feel like my own experiences may be helpful here.

I am a civil engineer and for years I'd worked as a project engineer which entailed essentially doing all the work associated with getting the project out the door. In the past couple years, I've been more or less moved into a project manager type role wherein I am responsible for things like project budgets, task delegation, timelines, etc.

Like you, I was able to get things done on time, but I'd miss budget targets. This was because I'd delegate things incorrectly, not notify management about the need for change orders in a timely manner, etc. Understandably, this would irritate my manager, but it didn't change the fact that they're still handing me work. And when end of year reviews came around, they were mixed; some managers expressed irritation about budgets, others expressed great appreciation that I got things done when things were chaotic and unreasonable.

It's been a bit over two years at this point and when I assess things with the benefit of hindsight, I'm definitely more proficient at all the general responsibilities of a project manager. There doesn't seem to be a manual for this job since the duties change from project to project and you just kind of have to figure it out every time.

Now I know who to rely upon when delegating work and who needs regular check-ins to ensure they don't go off the rails. I know the importance of forcing clients to commit to change orders when they want to impose unreasonable deadlines. I also know the importance of including more people in the conversation when it's appropriate to do so and when to just keep things one on one.

If they're still giving you work, you might not be doing great, but you're not sucking at it. And usually, sucking at something is the first step towards being sort of good at something. Sounds to me like you're sort of good at something, so keep at it.

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    "things were chaotic and unreasonable" -- anything to do with your user name? ;-) – donjuedo Mar 2 at 18:08
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    @donjuedo what can I say, I do well in chaos. – Pyrotechnical Mar 2 at 20:38
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  • Get your manager to have a post-mortem.
  • Clarify with them whether they want to go on with you or not.
  • If they want to go on with you, discuss what went wrong and what could be done better next time.
  • Do the same just for yourself. If there are behavioural problems, they can almost always be countered with processes. I'm sometimes forgetful, so I take a lot of notes, which ironically often gets me compliments for being so well organized.
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  • +1 for the post-mortem, but is it really a good idea to clarify with them if they want to go on or not? Sounds like OP already has the next project lined up, so I wouldn't want to hand management an easy way out, or come across as hesitant on trying again... – Mars Mar 2 at 6:46
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    @Mars Indeed, I'd formulate it positively in a way that gives them a chance to bring up other plans/challenge my assumptions. Depending on the current situation that needs to be more or less clearly formulated as a question or rather as an assumption that the other party can challenge. In the current situation I'd indeed strongly lean towards the latter, e.g. somewhat along the lines of "let's do this post-mortem, as we will have more such projects in the future lined up (, right?)" – Frank Hopkins Mar 2 at 9:10
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Understand "relax" is the "be nice ultra-PC" advice that any internet voting crowd will give you. Imagine if your manager went over these failures... would you say, "Relax."

This is really simple. You and your manager should evaluate each of these short-comings and determine.

  1. Did you make a bad decision because you didn't take time to research or were you relying on other employees? And will you research more in the future. And will you find more reliable employees to get advice from?

  2. Did you not tell them about dependencies because it is in your nature to forget things, did you just not understand the dependencies or did you not have systems in place? If you did not understand, you are in trouble and might not be ready - or might need help. If you are forgetful and not the PM type, then you may need systems in place that log these things so you can't forget and more importantly so others can access them independent of you.

  3. Same as #2. If you don't have a PM type personality to follow up on things stringently you need systems in place to put things.

There is nothing wrong with having a Technical Director that is a little too techie and not enough on the PM side. However your manager and you should not be assuming that your personality will change or you will have an Epiphany. You are you. Accept why you made mistakes. Find technical solutions and agree to them before your next project. Keep information available to teams and decision making constructs transparent.

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I think you're being too hard on yourself. Everyone makes mistakes when they are learning something new. And even when they are experienced, still make mistakes. The point is, do we learn from these mistakes so as hopefully not repeat them? Keep an attitude of learning and growing and you will do well.

At the end, the product was released on-time and with everything in place, but my "rating" and trust from my manager has dropped due to these episodes.

This is a fantastic result - well done! You couldn't ask for better. Few people have succeeded in getting anything finished on time, let alone feature complete. Give yourself a pat on the back.

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I will absolutely echo the sentiment that you did not fail, and that it's very likely that your manager does not look badly on your performance. You expressed an interest in a management track, were granted the opportunity, and apparently did it. Of course you "made mistakes." Of course you look back on things that you could have done differently. But remember: a software project is always a very difficult undertaking and no amount of management can guarantee there won't be problems along the way. (In fact: there will be!)

You should discuss this at once with your manager, fully expecting the experience to be informative and positive. Listen very carefully to the voice of experience. If you show yourself willing to learn, as you have, then you will learn much. Your boss is your first and most-available mentor. (Everyone can look back on their career and identify a number of mentors.)

While it is good to be demanding of yourself, you must also be realistic. Learn to forgive yourself. The only way to learn how to be a technical manager is to do it, many times. It sounds to me like you're well on your way. (As for myself, I am these days far more interested in the management / human side of software than the bits-and-bytes and syntax diagrams.)

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Well, you are too fixated on trust, etc. It’s easier to relate to this. You have a result and this is important. All, no other problems, should not worry you. If management decides to fire you, then it will. But if they still haven’t done this, then they need you. And yet ... if you decide to transfer to a technical position, it is better to go immediately to another company. So that you can calmly think about the future.

Good luck =)

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  1. Stay away from HR over this topic. Everything they may do regarding your case is to chalk you as hessitant.

  2. The company paid a rather low price for training a "technical director" (whatever that means). The price was a minor (or be it major) inconvinience for your manager and possibly someone else. Every manager is aware that there is a price and it is usually way higher in terms of lost money and missed deadlines. The price is paid by the company at every carrer step of every employee.

  3. Attitude vs something you can learn: sure, you can adapt to some degree and your coleagues can adapt to the way the new technical director works. The adaptation may or may not be enough, but one cannot tell beforehand.

The only thing that matters is you liking being a technical director for the new project or not.

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  • While I understand not liking this answer, I do believe it can be useful, could the downvoter(s) make constructive remarks about their vote? – Pierre Arlaud Mar 3 at 13:57

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