0

I work as a Lead Engineer and Individual Contributor on a project. Our team consists of an Engineering Manager, a Program Manager, and other engineers. After being with the organization for 7 months, I've noticed an unhealthy culture within the team, particularly related to the behavior of the Engineering Manager.

During our daily standups, which regularly exceed an hour, the Engineering Manager adopts an investigative approach. If a Jira ticket isn't picked up within the first week of the sprint, he starts questioning why it hasn't been addressed, even when the developer assures him that they will handle it soon. He also insists on receiving daily updates on the ticket, which can be interpreted as a lack of trust.

On multiple occasions, the manager has openly admitted to being harsh on me to set an example for the rest of the team. Additionally, he expects me to handle tasks such as providing release plans, coordinating with the team for successful releases, and taking on an overwhelming workload of 16 story points for a 2-week sprint.

When I explained to him that this workload, along with the planning responsibilities, would impact the sprint's deliverables, he disagreed and insisted that I should be able to handle both because of my role as a Principal Engineer. Furthermore, he consistently criticizes my performance in front of the team, which creates a negative atmosphere.

When I addressed my concern about receiving feedback in front of the team, expressing that it feels disrespectful to me, the manager dismissed my request and stated that he is just doing his job and will continue pushing me and asking questions.

Additionally, the Engineering Manager has mentioned that he expects us to work for 15 hours on the project, which contradicts the desire for work-life balance expressed by the extended team in other locations. This expectation puts undue pressure on the team and further contributes to the unhealthy atmosphere within our working environment.

I would appreciate guidance on how to handle this situation and bring attention to the manager's behavior with senior management. The atmosphere he creates within the team is unhealthy, and it seems like he uses status updates on tickets as a means to harass people.

7
  • Do you have any idea what the incentives for the manager behaving like this are? Is their bonus coupled to your performance metrics? Do they want you to quit? Even incompetent managers are usually rational in the sense that they have a reason for their behavior. It is always helpful to understand that reason if you want them to change their approach.
    – user29390
    Jun 12, 2023 at 7:03
  • 2
    Can you clarify what you mean by "Additionally, the Engineering Manager has mentioned that he expects us to work for 15 hours on the project". Is this per day? Jun 12, 2023 at 12:03
  • 6
    1 hour standups ... I can suggest a way to get 5 hours more development time for every team member back every week ...
    – Adam Burke
    Jun 12, 2023 at 12:07
  • 1
    @BrendanOtherwhyz Yes 15 hours per day. He says this is not a service based company where you work for 8 hours per day.
    – Dev
    Jun 12, 2023 at 13:06
  • 1
    15 hours per day for how long? You haven't mentioned what country is the work located, but most countries have strict rules about how long working times and vacations should be. You can eventually work longer times (eg: close to a critical deliverable) provided this is compensated by the corresponding free time afterwards (eg: some days of holidays for the effort on the deliverable)
    – Elerium115
    Jun 13, 2023 at 11:01

2 Answers 2

13

You fight micromanagers by making them choose your priorities

People on a power trip just like to stir things up, they don't want to actually decide things. M = Manager, W = Worker

M: "What's the status if Jira 12345?"

W: "It has been triaged, prioritized to be worked on after 12311 and 12315."

M: "We need to get it done now."

W: "So you're telling me to de-prioritize 12311 or 12315?"

M: "No we have to get them all done now."

W: "That's not how prioritization works."

M: "You should be able to get all of this done."

W: "I'll need your guidance on each task then because 12311 requires 4 hours of coding and testing, then another 4 hours because the specs are really bad and it likely won't pass testing. 12315 requires 8 hours of coding, testing, and delivery. We can discuss the code required offline if you like. We only have 7 hours of work time per day, so 12345 won't start until the day after tomorrow. Perhaps we can set up a Teams call, and you can watch me as I code and test each item."

At this point, most micromanagers shut down and go find someone else to bother, this is too hard. Do this for a week and they'll leave you alone.

This is also a good time to start looking for other work, this person is unlikely to change and unlikely to add value to your organization. Incompetent people also seldom promote competent ones. They promote the people that jumped the most when yelled at.

3
  • 1
    And ask for it writing. In your standups start taking minutes and distributing them to the attendees. Keeping records of what was said will help if you plan to stay with the company, or leaving isn't an option for the forseeable future. Jun 12, 2023 at 22:16
  • @BrendanOtherwhyz asking your manager for direction in writing is just a quick way to get fired ("doesn't work well independently, requires direction in writing"). The power here is in forcing them to make choices, which they really aren't interested in doing.
    – Tiger Guy
    Jun 13, 2023 at 15:49
  • Perhaps, it depends on how it's approached. If the OP takes notes (a more passive approach), they can use those to clarify the decisions later if the manager "forgets". I agree asking for direction in writing is likely going to escalate the situation. Jun 14, 2023 at 2:53
4

Sound like your organization has a severe case of mismanageritis.

Some of the keywords you use imply an agile approach (sprint, daily stand-ups) while other information indicates that there is no agile coach or scrum master role which would guide the different roles in achieving sustainable good results.

Your Engineering Manager sounds like a true Micromanager. 1-hour standups orchestrated by the manager are anti-agile. This is something where an agile coach (whose authority needs to be respected by management as well) could help define better ways of working.

Completely unrelated to this micromanagement problem, the 15-hour work expectation is a red flag. There are very, very few circumstances in which an isolated an 15-hour work shift is necessary, usually when hard deadlines for a presentation need to be met (for example at a fair or conference) that can' possibly be rescheduled, and it would behoove management to show their gratitude for such extraordinary effort afterwards. Note that this does not cover actual product releases - demos can be successfully faked if necessary, but products which aren't really finished will bite you painfully. Apart from such demo efforts, this is entirely unacceptable and in some legislations outright illegal.

You already consider bringing attention to this situation to upper management. The best way to do this is to compose a list of factual problems which likely jeopardize short- and long-term company success. Primary points should be those which affect everyone in your team, while the personal issues between you and the manager should probably be mentioned as a specific example of a more general problem. One possible suggestion to make would be that the company temporarily consults an outside expert who could help improve its project management and execution practices. Finding a good one may be hard, though, and bad ones may cause more havoc by suggesting ineffective and disruptive changes without addressing the real problem. There's no silver bullet, sorry.

1
  • 4
    Wooden stakes have complicated legal implications in the real world. Jun 12, 2023 at 14:37

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .