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I work in the engineering department of a Canadian manufacturing SME. My responsibilities mostly consist of designing products and production support (answering questions, solving issues, etc.). I report to the engineering manager, which reports to the CEO.

Our production team has been severely understaffed for several months. Since leaving employees aren't being replaced, we're down to a core team of employees with very little margin. To compensate, the production manager (PM) has been taking on more and more responsibilities which leaves him working unreasonable hours and losing focus. We've been able to mostly avoid delays, but we're seeing a large number of mistakes and redoes. Things that should easily be caught by QA get shipped because the PM doesn't have/take the time to properly inspect products.

I discussed the issue with my manager who suggested I go talk the PM into assigning an employee to QA for a couple hours a day. When presented with the idea, he refused as that would leave one of the departments even more understaffed. I suggested that he should present the situation to upper management and stop overworking himself by taking on the work of 3-4 people (both of which I would gladly back him up on). I also told him that by doing everything, he is obscuring the situation from management (since they see orders fulfilled on time), but he said that if he doesn't, he'll be the one that gets shit or even fired. He then asked me to not do anything or tell upper management and that he'd take care of QA.

As he doesn't report to me, I don't have any hard recourse other than going to upper management, but that would likely damage our work relationship. Furthermore, even if I did, nothing stops him from saying everything is under control.


At this point I'm very concerned. If one or two employees get sick or quit, production will very likely grind to a halt, likewise if the PM burns out. Should that happen, the company will likely be in a very bad situation, which puts my own job in jeopardy. Given that I have a baby coming in a few months, changing jobs now would be very difficult.

Now to my question: What can I do to improve the situation given my position? I don't thing I should leave things as they are, but I'm not sure what actions I can take that won't alienate the PM in return.

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    What does your manager think? If they suggested you talk to the PM about this they probably agree with your assessment of how problematic the situation is - they should be able to escalate the situation without risking the same office politics that you would have to.
    – InBedded16
    Aug 9, 2023 at 20:04
  • @InBedded16 My manager does indeed agree with me. Sadly, I'm unaware of why he has not escalated yet.
    – BigCheese
    Aug 10, 2023 at 12:25

3 Answers 3

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Continue to problem-solve it with your manager for a few more cycles before escalating to upper management. A reasonable next step would be a sit-down with you, your manager, and the production manager. The PM needs to hear the tough message that the current approach simply is not working.

If that doesn't cut through, an escalation to upper management may indeed be necessary. Try hard to escalate in partnership with your direct manager, as it will make your case stronger and avoid alienating them.

If the production team isn't doing the job needed, that's hardly in the interest of any employee or manager at the firm. None of you will make any money if there's no product to sell. At an SME you won't be able to just hide behind the larger corporate structure, either, as suggested by others. Though sometimes we may hit political limits, slopey shoulders are not particularly admirable in general, and a lousy first reaction. You are right to care about delivery.

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    The major issue (ironically) is that the production team IS doing the job needed (at the PM's expense), so from the POV of upper management, everything is doing well and staffing cuts haven't reduced output... It makes it quite hard to justify that we have a problem.
    – BigCheese
    Aug 10, 2023 at 12:37
  • Not quite, right? There are quality problems starting to show. Also, what happens if the PM has to be away for a week? You can push both quality and key person risk arguments.
    – Adam Burke
    Aug 10, 2023 at 23:47
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    Valid point. I'll keep that in mind.
    – BigCheese
    Aug 11, 2023 at 11:45
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My responsibilities mostly consist of designing products and production support

You shouldn't overstep your role responsibilities. This isn't your problem to solve.

Should that happen, the company will likely be in a very bad situation, which puts my own job in jeopardy.

The company is not yours, they will need to continue paying you and solve whatever happens, not you. It usually takes a lot more than missing production deadlines to kill a company off. It's just a problem for the relevant people to solve as part of their role.

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I'd try to get the project to focus on the Minimum Shippable Product.

Do a proper planning pass -- figure out relative priorities of everything that still needs to be done, and focus on the ones that must be done or you don't have a product you can ship at all. Tackle those first, and nothing but those. When they're completed and tested and documented, set a copy aside as Release Candidate 1.

Repeat that with the next set of priorities that you think you can complete before the deadline. If you finish this cycle that becomes Release Candidate 2.

Repeat. When the deadline hits, ship the most recent Release Candidate and continue to work on the next. Repeat. Repeat.

If you try to do more than you have resources for, of course it looks overwhelming. Don't try. Break it into pieces you can deliver, and it will immediately look much more manageable.

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  • We mostly deal with individual orders rather than big projects that can be divided. Each order takes somewhere between 1h to 2-3 days and can't be shipped partially. As for not taking on more than we have resources for... I absolutely agree, I'm just not sure how to convince the PM.
    – BigCheese
    Aug 10, 2023 at 12:36
  • If your manager knows of the issue they can and should take it to the PM's manager. If that hasn't worked, at least your own manager knows what's going on and your evaluation shouldn't suffer for things beyond your control. I do say "shouldn't", admittedly
    – keshlam
    Aug 10, 2023 at 12:52

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