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I have a project that needs to be completed by the end of the year and I've been working on it for a little under a month. Another more senior co-worker is working on another project, but has given me "tips" for my project.

Monday of last week I sent this co-worker an email saying that I was close to completing my project, but that I will need him to help me on the final steps. He can either show me how to do the final steps or if that takes too long, he can do it then show me another time. I never heard back from this email, which isn't unusual because he usually takes a while to respond. Friday I send another email tell him that the project is completed, except for the final steps. I also CC'd our boss so that he knows we're close to being done before the end of the year. At this time I was really proud of myself for getting done so early because there is still 2 weeks left to complete the final steps, even with Christmas.

Well today I found out that my co-worker took this entire week off and won't be back until Monday. It also wasn't on our vacation calendar. I have a day off on Monday (vacation I requested weeks ago) so that means we probably won't communicate until next Tuesday. That only leaves us 2-3 days to get this complete, which is likely not enough time.

My question is how can I speak to our boss about this without disparaging my co-worker? My boss was on the final email Friday when I said I will need the co-workers help, but he probably hasn't made the connection between my co-worker's vacation and the project. This project is vital to the health of the business.

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    Who set the deadline for the end of the year when almost everyone is taking time off? That's just poor planning. How critical is it that it actually get done at that time?
    – Seth R
    Dec 21 '20 at 15:46
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    @SethR, how "critical" depends on who you ask. Sadly people who do the work are rarely the ones who are privy to what the actual urgency is for any particular deadline. In manufacturing it is not unusual for customers to demand delivery before end of quarter (for budget reasons) and to simultaneously delay placing the order until as late as possible as leverage to get a better price, at the same time the supplier needs to hit their numbers for the quarter and the orders are all bunched up at the end. It's all fabricated by bean counters but that's who dictates reality, sadly.
    – teego1967
    Dec 21 '20 at 16:12
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    How would you solve this problem if your coworker left or never came back ?
    – Maxime
    Dec 22 '20 at 9:31
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    You don't mention your coworker whatsoever; it's not their project. Be grateful that their help has enabled you to be so far ahead of schedule. You need to approach your boss with your exact concerns for completing the project such as "I am not sure if I have enough to to finish on time" or "I am not sure if I have enough skill/knowledge to finish on time". You need to present the exact roadblocks to your progress and 100% avoid mentioning the fact that you expected so-and-so to finish your project for you. It is your boss's job to allocate resources and juggle deadlines.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Dec 22 '20 at 17:15
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    If you dare try to say it's your co-worker's fault that you didn't finish on time then you are effectively "burning that bridge" and your supervisor isn't stupid anyways. They assigned you the project because they felt it was something you could manage. Communicating with your supervisor should be the top priority; time to put on your big boy pants and take responsibility for your work.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Dec 22 '20 at 17:18
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My question is how can I speak to our boss about this without disparaging my co-worker?

Don't talk to your manager about your co-worker or their time off. Talk to them about the work that is left to be done, and state what\when you think you can finish.

Eventually your manager will say something like "Well what about INSERTNAMEHERE, are they not assisting?" At this point you can mention the time off bit, but focus on the amount of work to do and the time left to get it done, don't be the first one to bring up your co-worker.

Then ask your manager for assistance.

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    Exactly, talk about facts, not perceptions. Also talk about what you did, not what someone else didn't do. Talk about what needs to be done to fix a problem, without focusing too much on the problem itself. As Arthur Mendelson in the movie Patch Adams said "You're focusing on the problem. If you focus on the problem, you can't see the solution. Never focus on the problem!" Besides, (good) managers don't care (much) about problems, they care more about solutions. Dec 22 '20 at 18:05
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You are not throwing anyone under the bus. Your coworker did nothing wrong. They took a paid leave. The week before Christmas. That's super normal.

What you need to do is tell your boss what you can do and what you cannot do. Tell them the coworker is on a vacation and ask them what to do. They might need to adjust their plans.

Neither of you did anything wrong. Stop thinking you did. You are not the companies slaves, you are entitled to paid time off, that is not a shortcoming, that is a right. You did not approve your coworkers time off, your boss did. Let them figure out how to manage the resources and deadlines.

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    There's nothing wrong with taking paid leave, of course; but you might consider it unhelpful, at the least, to take a chunk of it without putting it on the calendar, informing colleagues, or providing any other way for colleagues to know about it, especially when involved with a vital project on a tight deadline.
    – gidds
    Dec 22 '20 at 0:29
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    Depending on the level of responsibility assigned there may have been a need for OP to signal requirement for someone to be on call around the holidays to complete the task, and now is much too late, that is not necessarily their "fault" but they could be faulted for that.
    – crasic
    Dec 22 '20 at 1:54
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    @gidds That's correct. So do not mention it. When the boss asks you can answer, but don't start pointing fingers on your own. Report the facts, let the boss worry about the reasons or consequences.
    – nvoigt
    Dec 22 '20 at 11:21
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It seems you're overstepping many workplace boundaries here.

Another more senior co-worker is working on another project, but has given me "tips" for my project.

Okay, so this person is not actually working for your project. He just offered some advice. I cannot stress this enough, and we will come back to this several times. He does not work on your project.

but that I will need him to help me on the final steps. He can either show me how to do the final steps or if that takes too long, he can do it then show me another time.

I hope you didn't phrase it like that. He's not obliged to help you, nor do you have the standing to order him to do anything (I surmise from your question).

"He can" is much too imperative. Ask if someone can and wants to help (both are relevant considerations). Don't just command them to help you.

Well today I found out that my co-worker took this entire week off and won't be back until Monday.

Were you expecting the company to ask for your permission before they approve this person's leave requests?

It also wasn't on our vacation calendar.

Are you in charge of planning the work, managing the staff, or handling payroll? No? Then there's no need for you to second-guess that someone got their leave approved, regardless whether it's short notice or not.
Remember, you don't even get to demand this person's help even if they were in the office.

I have a day off on Monday (vacation I requested weeks ago) so that means we probably won't communicate until next Tuesday. That only leaves us 2-3 days to get this complete, which is likely not enough time.

There is no "us". At least not until he has actually agreed to help you any further, and even then the project doesn't automatically become his personal responsibility. It's your project (and possibly that of others, but not him).

You have all week to work on it. Whether someone who doesn't even work on the project is present or not should not be a blocking obstacle here. If it is, that suggest that you are not assigned to a project that matches your expertise.

This project is vital to the health of the business.

That is not your call to make. That is your manager's call (or further up the chain, depending on your manager's position).

It seems like you are trying to call all the shots here. Deciding the importance of the project, deciding that your co-worker is somehow now roped into working on the project with you, and effectively proclaiming that no work can be done until they are present.

You need to take several steps back and remember your role in the organization. You have a job (doing your project). Your manager manages your workload. It seems like you are running into obstacles and blocking issues that are hampering your ability to do your job. Therefore, you should talk to your manager about the issues you're dealing with.

Do not even hint at the presumption that this coworker "must" help you, or pointing out the burden their absence puts on you. You have no standing to expect their presence or input, based on what you've told us.
At best, you can point out to your manager that this person might be able to help you if and when they might be available.

It is then up to your manager to decide whether waiting for this person's availability is the right course of action, or if other solutions present themselves. This is not your call to make.

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    This is the second answer to mention engineering or software. Am I missing something?
    – jcm
    Dec 22 '20 at 2:48
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    @jcm Unless the user asking the question specifically states the industry/type of workplace most users seem to assume that it is likely to be software related. Which is understandable due to the fact that stackoverflow started out as a site for Software Developers and as such the vast majority of users have that type of background.
    – EdHunter
    Dec 22 '20 at 8:45
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    @jcm Everyone on this site is a software developer who lives in the USA. Didn't they tell you that in the introduction tour? /s
    – BrtH
    Dec 22 '20 at 9:37
  • @BrtH Unless they're a badly overworked and exploited Indian programmer of course :) The truth is that you can approximate and expect one those two as the company culture in the U.S. && European union is broadly similar and the people asking on this site are mostly literate in the matters of IT.
    – mishan
    Dec 22 '20 at 13:03
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    @Myles - Mentors are not normally assigned to different projects than the mentoree is assigned to.
    – Donald
    Dec 23 '20 at 23:50
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Unless the other engineer is responsible for this project and your manager has assigned him to work on or assist you on this project, you shouldn't mention him at all. This project is not his responsibility, it's yours.

Talk to your boss. Let him know where you're at with the project and that you need the assistance of the other engineer, or another engineer who can assist. It's then your boss' responsibility to coordinate the resources that you need to complete this project.

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You don't need to throw anyone under the bus (you can't even if you tried). Point here is - you need help, and you're not getting it from the usual source, so ask

  • if there's someone else who can guide you.
  • assuming worst case scenario that the work is not going to complete and what could be the next steps?

Don't complain, don't sound frustrated - people take unplanned leaves some of the times, that needs to be handled gracefully.

Your course of action:

Hope for the best (that you manage to pull it off somehow within the remaining work time), and plan for the worst (what are the things can be done in case it's not completed and the next steps).

There are couple of things wrong (already) here that I'd point out:

  • The dependency resolution was not done properly. If you know (knew) you cannot finish this yourself, you need to request for help / support / guidance in official way (no shame in this, actually smart people knows when to ask for help), and make sure you have that help available when needed. It's entirely possible that you are not aware of your senior colleague's calendar, but your manager most likely is. They could have helped plan it better.

  • Never plan and release / completion around the holiday (and even on Fridays/Mondays) - people tend to be on leaves and when things go south, either you'll be helpless or have to disturb people to get help. Have some buffer time for unforeseen issues (like this one), even it means going a bit over-estimate.

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I would fully communicate the likelihood of not reaching the deadline to your superior. Approach the conversation with what solution you can bring to the table including how long you think you will need to get there and any resources you may need need. At every moment possible, make it a point to communicate that you take full responsibility for the state of the project. It might seem painful to practice extreme ownership but in the long run you will gain mad respect from your superior. It's easy to blame others. Don't blame anyone but yourself (even if it's not your fault). You will get the resources you need to get the job done. If they write you up or fire you for approaching it like this then these are most likely people you do not want to be working for.

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Let me be clear-- If I was a co-worker, let alone a senior coworker, I would be very angry with you. You told him what to do and CC'd the boss? Where I come from, we call that "running to daddy". You used an email to demand that he help you and went over his head to the boss to get him in trouble. You don't need to tell on your co-worker. You already did. If you wanted to burn a bridge, you just did. I hope you like your position because the boss will not want to move you up the ladder so you can do to him what you willingly did to your co-worker.

As for this project being so important, if it was so important, the boss would be asking you about it on a regular basis, to make sure his work was done. Unless, of course, you are the only competent person on the team, which I doubt.

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