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I'm a Full Stack developer and I've been assigned a soul-crushing project that another developer couldn't finish. The code sucks, the workflow sucks and I've been struggling with it for months (even having to delay the deadline by a couple of weeks because I couldn't finish it, and its also a HUGE learning curve for me because I've never worked with the platform). I'm in tears at the end of every day, and in our daily meetings I have nothing to contribute because I rarely make progress on the project.

I'm really at my wits end. I hate coming to work because I know I have to sit with a project I don't like that just isn't getting done regardless of how many hours I spend on it. The client is getting impatient and roll-out is looming. I also have exams coming up next week and haven't been able to study because this project keeps my mind racing all day and night. I get hardly any sleep because of it too. I have zero motivation to get up in the mornings to come to work. I used to love development but after this project I actually just want to do something else with my life.

How can I approach my boss to ask if someone else can take over without sounding like a brat who just doesn't want to do it?

EDIT: Just had a meeting with my superiors. They were both super understanding of the situation and appreciated my honesty. We have decided to put more hands on deck to assist me with it and take over while I am on leave for my exams so the project doesn't get further behind. Thank you everyone for your kind advice.

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    @JoeStrazzere yes they are aware of the lack of progress.. but still pushing for me to stay on it
    – Naynay
    May 29 '20 at 12:36
  • Are you a full-time or part-time employee, and a full or part-time student as well? What kind of arrangement do you have? May 29 '20 at 13:15
  • @ErnestFriedman-Hill I am a full-time, permanent employee on monthly salary. I study part-time.
    – Naynay
    May 29 '20 at 13:22
  • Does your boss know about the part-time study? Are there any accommodations? May 29 '20 at 13:24
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    @ErnestFriedman-Hill yes they do know about my studies. I get leave to write my exams and we have discussed my plans and where I want to go and they were very supportive and receptive.
    – Naynay
    May 29 '20 at 13:26
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You need a multiple-front approach.

First front: you start taking care of yourself. No overtime, no matter what. You put in regular hours, you do the best you can, but you don't take the pressure personally. The project may fail or succeed. Not your personal problem. Yes, you do all you can to success, but only so far as you stay well. There's a whole area between being lazy and uncaring (I'm not advocating for that) and burning you out (not advocating that either). Pick a reasonable amount of investment.

Second front: Communicate factually. Be candid and honest but not judgmental. "I was not able to deliver feature X to client yesterday because Y was not ready in Z database. Process U took 4 hours and prevented me from doing V. Client is impatient, but I stayed polite as I told them it was not ready". Everybody is aware of the situation, they know you are doing the best possible. Will remove tons of pressure.

Third, set aside a token amount of time to think about how the process could be improved and mention it to your boss: "Hey Boss, if we did J instead of K, it would save me 2 hours a day I could put toward L". This is where you show professionalism and this is where promotion will come from, not because the project succeeds or not.

The project is not your personal problem, it's the company's problem. Your job is to do your best while taking care of yourself. Do it effectively, but don't invest yourself personally too far (unless you want to).

Take care.

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  • Thanks for the answer. I'm having a meeting with them on Monday. Hopefully it will be constructive!
    – Naynay
    May 31 '20 at 15:22
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How can I approach my boss to ask if someone else can take over?

First, I would say to you that you need to relax a bit. Work is work, or to put it another way, you work to live not live to work. Find a way, no matter what, to give yourself a mental break so you don't go crazy.

As far as this project, it is a bad scenario. The only way I can see you making this successful is to suggest a re-write on a platform you are comfortable with. This would allow you to make real progress, and not be stuck in a never ending mess.

If this conversation with your manager goes they way of tough it out and get it done, I would be agreeable (keep the job), and then you may need to look for another job -- just to keep your self sane. Remember though, it is always easier and less stressful to look for a job when you have one.

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  • I normally go to the gym as a break, but since its still quite heavy lockdown here in South Africa gyms aren't set to open until October/November. I've been trying to work out at home but its not the same and there's very little motivation there as well. I won't quit the job. Our economy has taken enough of a hit that it will be an absolute nightmare to find another job now so that's definitely not an option. I need the job, there is nothing at the moment. Companies are closing left, right and centre because they can't keep their doors open anymore because of lockdown.
    – Naynay
    May 29 '20 at 12:40
  • I would love to do a rewrite, but the client is insistent on this platform because he knows it as well and doesn't want to learn something else.
    – Naynay
    May 29 '20 at 12:41
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    @Rene you may be hosed here....perhaps the best bet for you would be to start your job search while still employed. :-\
    – Neo
    May 29 '20 at 13:41
  • Let's be honest. If it's at the point in the project when the customer is pushing for it to be delivered, then the odds of rewriting it from scratch and then delivering on time are pretty much nil.
    – Simon B
    May 29 '20 at 16:53
  • @SimonB Don't disagree, but based on what I read, it won't get done on its current course either....
    – Neo
    May 29 '20 at 17:02
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Ouch - you definitely have my sympathies, we've all been there and had that project or task that becomes the bane of our existence. What I would say is that in my experience these things aren't forever.

How can I approach my boss to ask if someone else can take over without sounding like a brat who just doesn't want to do it?

The good news is that your boss is aware that there's an issue - I think you need to have a 1-1 chat with your boss and lay the situation out in terms of the business. You mention that the project is getting delayed and the client is getting impatient so take this angle.

That way it's less of "I don't want to do this" and more of "I'm concerned that we aren't going to be able to meet the client's deadline(s) and I need help to prevent that from happening". Which means you are then talking about a goal that the business will be motivated to help with (i.e. getting the work done for the client), that's not that actions of a "brat" that's the actions of a professional.

Hopefully your boss will be on-side with this and will look to support. Now this may translate into the project getting moved to someone else or it may translate into someone getting tasked to provide you with more comprehensive support than the isolated ad-hoc answers you've had from your boss thus far. The latter might not be ideal - but I think it would likely be a significant improvement over where you are right now, even if they could give you a day or two of someone available to effectively pair with you I think that would be a big help.

Of course it's also possible that they get the situation, want to help but simply don't have any more resource to help you or take the project over - if that's the case then I think you need to stress that they are going to need to manage the client's expectations. If you can get them to take the immediate pressure off then at least you'll be able to concentrate on getting your exams out of the way and just the removal of some of the stress in and of itself can be a big boost to your ability to think clearly - and actually improve your ability to make progress.

If they aren't supportive in one way or another, well then it's time to start looking out for yourself, take a figurative step back. You'll have done what you can to address that the project isn't likely to meet the deadlines and if your boss chooses to ignore reality then keep making best efforts while you're on the clock and outside of that focus on your health, your studies, (although honestly you need to be doing those things anyway - you are more important than work!) and probably keep at least one eye on opportunities elsewhere.

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  • Thank you. I have scheduled a meeting with them for Monday morning to talk about the project. My one boss is aware of the anguish it's causing so hopefully they wilm be super understanding and will be able to offer me some kind of solution.
    – Naynay
    May 31 '20 at 15:21
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First of all - relax. Setting clear boundaries between work and your personal life is a skill, but it's one worth acquiring. The fact that you're at a point when you're losing sleep over your work and aren't able to focus on your studies is a clear sign that things need to change.

To address your concerns piece by piece,

The client is getting impatient and roll-out is looming

This is not your problem. Your manager is the one who has to set clear expectations regarding the project completion dates and communicate those to the client. Your job is to communicate those expectations to your manager.

This brings me to the next point: communication is key.

The code sucks, the workflow sucks and I've been struggling with it for months (even having to delay the deadline by a couple of weeks because I couldn't finish it, and its also a HUGE learning curve for me because I've never worked with the platform).

All of these constraints have to be communicated to your manager: the amount of technical debt you have to work through to get things done, the fact that you're not familiar with the platform and have to learn as you go, etc. As long as you've communicated all of these clearly, it's your manager's job to come up with a plan. If the plan involves you working overtime to finish the project - they have to get your buy in on it and get extra budget to pay for your overtime. If it involves bringing in more resources - they'll add more people to the team to increase productivity. If it involves moving the deadline - they'll have to discuss it with the client. Your job at this point is to continue making progress and reporting to your manager on a regular basis.

Lastly, if you're feeling like you're being made a scapegoat on a failing project, it might be a good time to consider moving on to greener pastures. I know it's everyone's answer to all problems in this community, but there's plenty of work for professionals with your skillset and you'll definitely find something that you'll enjoy working on.

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  • You're the first person to suggest that I've been put onto a failing project and quite honestly that is how it feels. I've started looking for other jobs but no one is hiring at the moment because of lockdown but I'm going to try and communicate my concerns. Thank you
    – Naynay
    May 31 '20 at 15:26
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    There's a number of good answers in this community about handling this kind of situation, and I encourage you to review them for guidance. It's easier said than done but try to not take it personally, be professional, and most importantly - take care of yourself. Best of luck!
    – Egor
    May 31 '20 at 16:48
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How do I approach my boss to be removed from a project?

You probably were assigned to this project for one of two reasons:

  • Your boss thinks you can do a good job.
  • Your boss thinks you are the least costly way to get this project done.

You can get off the project by changing your boss's opinion of your suitability for the project. To do that it would help to estimate which of the two reasons is more likely.

If it's the first reason, you are in a tricky situation because you would be saying that you can't or don't want to do a good job. This is likely to not reflect well on you.

If it's the second reason, if you can demonstrate your value to the organization perhaps the boss will put someone else on this project and will put your skills to better use. However, demonstrating value is challenging if you have nothing to say for yourself:

in our daily meetings I have nothing to contribute because I rarely make progress on the project

I would address this first, and I would start by examining whether this is really true.

Are the tasks assigned to you too big to be done in one day? Break them down into smaller tasks.

If you spend several hours per day working on this project, you should be able to set realistic goals for each day of work and consequently report on the progress/completion of these goals.

You could for example say something like:

"Today I was working on the expense report submission. I had to change the text on the submit button but the new text did not fit in the available space. I decided to reduce the font size. Since the font size is set in each file individually I had to inspect all of the files in the project to see whether any of them might affect the font size on this expense form. I did get the font size reduced today and the submit button has the proper text now. Tomorrow I will look into the other buttons."

This is not as glamorous as saying you finished the entire form but is much better than having nothing to report.

Once you can verbalize what you are working on and are going to work on next, you open the door for other people involved with the project to potentially:

  • provide assistance to you.
  • appreciate the work you are doing.
  • use your feedback to renegotiate the project with the client.

At the end of the day, if you want to stay with this company (which is a separate question) you should look at the situation from their point of view. They have some kind of a contract with the client, so the company needs to either deliver the project to the client or provide good reasons why it can't do that. By communicating what you have done and what your roadblocks are you are giving the company the information it needs to deal with this project in a way that is also in your best interest (most companies don't want to lose employees unnecessarily, so the company should be at least somewhat motivated to keep you).

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Sounds like you are in a vicious circle. If you aren't getting much sleep, that's not helping the situation :(

What type of team organization are you working with? It sounds like you are alone on the project. Can you get any help? Can you get someone to pair-program with for example?

I would share your feelings with your boss. Maybe don't start with you want to quit the project, but definitely let him know that you are struggling and it is having a big impact on your life. Also ask him for help, see what he proposes.

So sorry for you, things will get better :)

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  • I am alone on it, yes. My boss sometimes assists with my questions, but its a case of getting help with one question and then getting stuck again literally on the next line
    – Naynay
    May 29 '20 at 12:37
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You are definitely between a rock and a hard place; my sympathies. Your priorities (doing well on exams) and your employer’s (delivering this project) are directly in conflict. There is no win-win here. I would do two things simultaneously:

  1. Talk to your boss and tell them that you need help on this project, that the deadline is impossible, and that no matter what you do, one person can’t deliver it anywhere close to on time. If he wants it done, he’s going to have to add more resources. If he says “no,” then tell him that your health and sanity have to come before his deadline, and although you’ll do your best 9-5, you won’t kill yourself in pursuit of an impossible goal.

    1. Start looking for another job. Any place that would put you in this situation is not a place you want to work.
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  • Hey there, I've scheduled a meeting for Monday. To be honest I've already started looking for something else. Just tough at the moment due to lockdown but I'm going to try stay positive and see what happens
    – Naynay
    May 31 '20 at 15:24

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