I was tech lead on a complex project for nearly 2 years and was eventually transitioned off of it after I got promoted. One of my senior coworkers ("Joe") was assigned to replace me on that project. Joe is one level higher than me in seniority, so in theory he would have been well qualified for this.

The transition period was pretty rough because it took Joe a while to learn the ropes. It took us nearly 3 times the amount of time that we expected it to take (our expectations were based on transitions with similar projects). Even once it was officially "transitioned", the project manager & myself both got frustrated after a while because it seems that Joe really just doesn't have what it takes.

I had acted as the architect and lead developer (there are junior developers involved too). Since the transition, the project has only been afloat because I keep extending myself to help (joining meetings, answering lots of very extensive questions, etc) but I know that I have to stop doing that eventually.

The project manager escalated concerns to our manager (Joe & I have the same manager). My manager scheduled time to discuss it with me.

I'm a drop concerned for that meeting because I don't know how to explain the situation in an objective way. Joe's generally pretty good at his job & I enjoy working with him; his brain just isn't wired for an architect role & the leadership step seems to be a bit too early for him.

Because of the seniority differences, I'm afraid that it will come across as arrogant from my end (ie. as if I'm saying: "I was so good that even a more senior colleague isn't able to take this on).

How can I phrase this in a way that's professional AND doesn't hurt Joe's reputation too much AND doesn't make me sound conceited?

Any specific phrases to use or to avoid?

If you were my manager, what type of details would you expect to hear from me, as "proof" that Joe lacks the needed skills?

Related questions are this and this, but my question is different because I'm not leaving the company & we already have proof that this person isn't capable enough to take on my role.

4 Answers 4


How can I phrase this in a way that's professional AND doesn't hurt Joe's reputation too much AND doesn't make me sound conceited?

I would suggest not to get into the meeting discussing your Root Cause Analysis of the problem (it seems that Joe really just doesn't have the skills at this point to lead the project).

There can be any number of reasons for the current status quo: maybe Joe is taking it as a demotion to be made to work on a project managed by a junior? maybe Joe is simply not well versed with the technology of this project? maybe Joe doesn't find the nature of the project interesting? maybe Joe is overburdened with other projects? maybe Joe hasn't understood the nature of handoff/isn't aware that he is overburdening you?

All these potential problems and diagnosis are for the manager to solve and arrive at.

So instead, I would suggest to initially highlight the problems that you are facing, and how your commitments/deliverables are getting affected by being pulled into discussions/problems for the old project.

Once your manager understands the impact, keep examples ready on how and where you believe that you were pulled in when problems should have been resolved by Joe. Keep at least 3-4 good examples ready for such cases, and ensure that these are the ones that happened on mail/chat/with another person in room. This will make your examples more credible rather than being hearsay.

Next, let your manager know about what you expect from it all: Not being pulled into discussions again for the previous project (since project officially "transitioned"). Ensure that your manager understands this expectation, and highlight the risks (impact on other projects) if it is not met.

Finally, offer to hold 1 more recorded knowledge transfer session for Joe to reference in future, and any other one time help they may need with documentation etc.

  • 1
    IMHO this answer is too defensive and overall not very helpful. Yes, there can always be 'hidden causes' for someone not being able to do some job, but often enough it is just plain obvious when people are lacking the necessary soft/hard skills, etc. Also you are suggesting to essentially dump this issue on your manager by resorting to frame this exclusively as "Oh, I don't know what the issue is, but it impacts me personally". This might cover your ass, but is not very productive, doesn't show initiative and won't help if the manager actually presses you for actual feedback.
    – fgysin
    Commented Apr 27, 2021 at 8:16
  • @fgysinreinstateMonica OP specifically asks for How can I phrase this in a way that's professional AND doesn't hurt Joe's reputation too much AND doesn't make me sound conceited? and hence I've answered like that. True, sometimes things are plain white and black, but IMHO, here there was enough grey areas, which is why I've suggested to work backwards from impact OP is facing, to probable causes where they felt Joe didn't step up. Commented May 7, 2021 at 16:11

Some observations:

  1. Your manager's got this. It's not on you to figure out how to fix a skill gap, unless your manager gives you that (manager's) assignment.

  2. In your conversation with your manager, let them take the lead and ask questions. Then ask your manager to keep confidentiality. Then answer the questions truthfully.

  3. Depersonalize the issue. It's about the business, not the merit of individual people. It's about the project, not "Joe", or with respect, you.

  4. Your old project is going more slowly than before. Does that matter to the business? Why does it matter to the business? Is a slow project for a few months a reasonable price to pay to help somebody learn a new job? Maybe it is. That's your manager's call (and the whole business's call).

  5. Is your new project going more slowly because you have to bounce back to your old project once in a while? Is that a reasonable price to pay to train the new person?

  6. It's very unpleasant for a person to have a job where they're not doing well. Your manager may well do "Joe" a favor -- a big favor -- by reassigning him.


Assuming this is about software development: You can be an excellent software developer and at the same time rubbish at management. And you can be an excellent manager and rubbish as a software developer. (Some people are rubbish at both or excellent at both. And some people are intelligent enough to do a decent job at both things, but don't enjoy it).

Forcing someone into a role that they are not good at or that they don't enjoy is rather pointless. It sounds to me as if having Joe in a top development role does everyone a favour. The company, you, and Joe. If you want to avoid a wrong impression, don't emphasize the lack of Joe's qualities as a manager, but emphasize Joe's qualities as a software developer.


Don't bother. It's not your job. Let your manager figure out that Joe doesn't have what it takes. If he has any inkling of intelligence at all he'll figure it out eventually. If not he'll end up praising Joe for a job well done and promoting him. This is why you should always avoid becoming the manager at all costs.

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