I work in a startup of 9 people. It is my first position as a lead developer. I have started to build my team 9 months ago, we were two for many months and due to a tight deadline we have hired two more developpers 6 weeks ago. One of them tends to be stuck easily when the tasks are too specific and, most of the time, exceeds of an order of magnitude the estimated time.

To give a concrete example, we had to change a bit our API (we are three backend developpers for one frontend developper) for the frontend. It was a change in the json format. We did a first briefing (he and I) of 20 minutes, we took time to talk through the motivations, solutions, write the spec for the new format, we both agreed on it. He came back, one day later, with a new design, a new format, and a code quality below our standards (big, complex, not tested). Again, we have paired on it 20 minutes, reviewed the flaws, the code limitations, and so on. Half a day later, he presented a solution, which was slightly different than the previous one, fixing only one of the issues. He also insited on the fact that it was only a WIP.

At this point, the frontend developper was blocked, and his task was urgent. I have took the decision to wrote the code has had to do, which took me 50 minutes and 20% of his code size (tests included).

There are many things which are quite unpleasant:

  1. I should not have put him on the critical path
  2. My takeover was rude (I do not know if there is an appropriate way to act given the situation)
  3. I did not watch over him enough
  4. The time I have invested the synchronize with him is roughly equivalent to the time it took me to do the task

To state the situation, when it come to doing tasks from end-to-end, he can manages it regularly (the usual 2 or three times overtime), but when it comes to small fixes/changes he seems stuck. It will be an issue because we will start our beta in two weeks, and we will face a huge number of feedback requiring a lot of small fixes. Is there a way I can help him to improve his skills, in order to make him a better "bug fixer"?

  • Have you tried asking him what the problem is?
    – meriton
    Jun 4, 2021 at 21:28
  • wow! you're right, an order of magnitude (~10x) slower! damn!
    – Fattie
    Jun 4, 2021 at 22:51
  • As Joel politely said, it's tough to cut it in a startup; if Person can't cut it, they should move on. Don't forget - the result of failure is each and every one of you will be out of a job, not to mention all the money wasted by founders/invests.
    – Fattie
    Jun 4, 2021 at 22:55
  • "when it comes to doing tasks from end-to-end, he can manage it" — yes, but have you checked under the hood in those cases, or have you just checked in an "integration test" fashion: "if it works, it works"? If you looked under the hood in these cases, could it be that you would find highly suboptimal JSON structures and all sorts of sub-par things in there too?
    – Levente
    Jun 4, 2021 at 23:04
  • @Levente We it comes to leading a feature end-to-end, he performs normally, few things to change and an average number of change in the specs. I have no issue with that, but it's like he if needed to do the whole thing to understand what he is doing.
    – user102339
    Jun 5, 2021 at 6:08

1 Answer 1


In certain startup environments, there is pressure to perform. Not everyone is cut out for such an environment, and there is no real time or money in such enterprises to withstand that kind of individual.

The situation you've described can possibly be fixed with mentorship, leadership, training and patience. It doesn't sound like your company has the space to provide it. Those things are expensive, and they take time to accomplish. This is time taken away from other members of the team and project deliverables. If this is time (money) you can't afford to spend, then you need to let this person go and get the right person in (also time and money spent - well worth it in the long run).

If you DO have the bandwidth to attempt mentorship and training, then it's time to sit this person down and establish a series of metrics and behaviors that align to your expectations. There needs to be accountability for tasks and timelines and regular feedback. This individual needs to document what they've tried in the analysis of their problem, what has worked and what hasn't worked. This will require someone analyzing their work, their documents and identifying the patterns where this person needs specific training and coaching.

Odds are this person doesn't like being this kind of dead weight either. In the long run you'll probably be doing them a favor by letting them go so they can focus on an opportunity that matches their skills and expectations. In the short term it's going to be hard for everyone involved.

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