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Like many of you, I am experiencing a heavy workload and shoulder many responsibilities beyond my role, including those of several levels above my normal duties. That is understandable and I believe, to a reasonable degree, workable. However, the challenge is, there is barely any communication and documentation of timelines, requirements, and expectations when it comes to the projects we need to complete, department/company goals, and employee performance. I am a software developer by title, and somehow, ended up managing projects and leading initiatives. While I appreciate the opportunities and gained experience, I am extremely cautious. I may be working within a culture that is characterized by a sink-or-swim, do-or-die mentality.

I think much of the situation lies in the IT department head, as they typically set the tone and example for the department. Over time, this individual has explicitly told us repeatedly:

  1. You only grow when you are put through hardships, including holding the responsibilities of other positions and those several levels above you.
  2. I want employees that I do not need to manage and motivate. If I have to manage and motivate an employee, I have made a hiring mistake.
  3. Boundaries prevent growth. There is no stopping you to take on and execute other people's responsibilities, including those of several levels higher than your position. If this results in conflict due to stepping on their toes, just apologize.
  4. You should be able to execute fast at a moment's notice.
  5. I want employees with good attitudes.
  6. You need to push contractors, leaders of other teams and departments to get their responsibilities done, or else the entire project will fall flat.

We are experiencing the following in our department:

  1. Large project delayed over one year.
  2. Department head does not communicate any expectations, not even high level, deadlines of major milestones, and who is in charge of what aspects of the larger project. We typically hear about these matters through the grapevine.
  3. Department head verbally commands us to execute particular tasks in production without requirement documents and sign off formalities, yet expects us to document what we do and follow standard protocols.
  4. We often end up in a situation where we only find out about requirements or discover that we have not assessed and evaluated the system close to the intended release date of the product, then we have to scramble/rush to get jobs done.
  5. Lots of duplicate and conflicting work by various teams.
  6. Situations where something not discussed was not done and the department head questions why we did not think of that something and there was nothing stopping us.
  7. Since we know we are not given timelines and expectations, we make one up to the best of our abilities. Suddenly, the department head asks us for a timeline we were not told to create. Then the department head says that this does not align what we need to accomplish.

What we've done:

  1. Voice out concerns to the department head regarding gaps, communication, and process. The response is always "you have to be resilient and just get the job done."
  2. We have had to check in with every cross-functional team to ensure we are all in the same page. We arrive at situations where the department head must make decisions on orchestrating dependencies, prioritizing projects and sub-projects, and they still say that we have to step up and get the project done.

Heavy workload and many hats may be common across workplaces, but having no communication and no clear expectations appears to be the issue. I feel that it takes a highly exceptional, gifted, and talented individual to even survive this kind of environment, let alone thrive and succeed.

What kind of example is this department head making? What kind of culture is being shaped/encouraged in this situation? Is this kind of management a strategy of some sort? What suggestions do you have to manage and thrive in this kind of environment?

Aftermath

Thank you everybody for your responses. A vast majority of you strongly suggest that the best move is to seek opportunities elsewhere. As many of you have stated, a situation like this is by conscious design and a change towards process and communication fixes is highly unlikely. Maybe there is a reason why none of the answers address what we can do to fix this kind of situation.

This question was closed because it only presented the situation with little mention of any mitigation on my and my colleagues' part. So, what is the goal? To achieve a more effective, efficient, engaging, and rewarding workplace, without leaving, and that starts with implementing measures to fix process and communication gaps. How do we implement this goal without the support of the department head?

If we decide to stay and give it a shot to "steer the ship", that will take colossal amounts of iron will, courage, and sacrifice. My immediate supervisor tells me that we should go above and beyond in matters pertaining to solving core problems like communication gaps, despite higher leaderships' styles, and after all, there are supposed to be ways around everything (yes, they are an MBA), and we look forward to the day when all that hard work has paid off and we would be considered, recognized, and respected as heroes. Honestly, that doesn't jive with me very well, but maybe it does with you, and if it does, I wish you the best in pulling this epic feat, and if you write a book about it, I will be one of the first to buy and read it.

Perhaps a situation like this might be a wake-up call for all of us, for varying reasons. Maybe we didn't ask the right questions at our interview to elicit such a management as this, so that's an opportunity for us to reflect on our values and preferences to seize opportunities with policies and cultures that will advance us further. Maybe this could be an opportunity to learn to figure out what kind of leader we want to be, and we do that by implementing all we know and we can within our sphere or influence, document the results, and then present those as evidence that clarity, documentation, and boundaries are not hindrances to growth and production, but are core necessities that enable growth and production.

As some of you advise, we can take advantage of the situation and learn as much as we possibly can (in the shortest time that we can) because this all will be valuable in our next places of employment.

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    Do you have a project manager ? Commented Mar 9 at 13:32
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    There is no project manager for the top-level project, hence no top-level orchestration for managing priorities and resources. In my sub-department, we recently initiated the use of DevOps to manage the requirements we discover. One other cross-functional team uses DevOps to manage their own requirements, and the other cross-functional teams are not implementing project management. Commented Mar 9 at 14:03
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    This reads as a rant, not a question.
    – keshlam
    Commented Mar 10 at 11:07
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    Thoroughness vs. venting - I get it. In this case, it's impossible to separate the two. I care about the valuable feedback. Commented Mar 10 at 11:24
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    As a manager of an IT function myself, I find myself curious as to what you Department Head does do?
    – ThaRobster
    Commented Mar 11 at 12:03

4 Answers 4

29

In short, you are dealing with a very poor management structure. I would suggest you look for better opportunity where they are ready to set expectations. Without a proper set of expectations in place, you are always bound to fail, sooner or later.

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It sounds like you are dealing with a feckless department head who doesn't see it as his responsibility to actually participate in organisation and communication.

A number of things which you say are policy sound quite reasonable, but evidently there are also failures and contradictions accumulating and there doesn't seem to be any interest in resolving these or creating better order.

It also seems clear that the situation is not accidental, but a situation your manager sees as normal and pushes to create.

I'd simply decide whether you can cope using your own initiative, or use the experience gained to move on elsewhere.

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It sounds like this workplace sucks and IMO is one of the stronger cases for finding a job elsewhere.

"Large project delayed over one year", with apparently no plan for process improvement, is probably the biggest red flag. The fact that you're expected to stomp on other people's procedures, to an arbitrarily high responsibility level, and then apologize after as a matter of course, is very bad (I've never heard of that).

Having to take over arbitrary responsibilities of any level and apparently not getting any recognition for it is bad. The response when asking about advancement opportunities ("Since we have projects to complete, one being critical, I will need to wait", per comment) is classic stringing-you-along. There will always be projects to complete, obviously; that response is not coherent.

It sounds like the only way to advance your career is to look elsewhere. Until then, your skills/instincts may erode in the context of this essentially broken IT department.

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  • I am trying to rule out pursuing a different workplace, for now, until that one critical project (the one whose release is one year late) is complete. I am aware that my skills, morale, etc. may erode the longer I stay. My app is a key player in this project, and leaving at this critical time may not look good on me to prospective employers. So, I am torn between saving my career and sanity and not burning bridges. I am only seeking advice on here, and so far, there is a stronger leaning towards seeking a more structured environment. Commented Mar 9 at 23:55
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    @MickaelCaruso: I think that kind of concern is over-inflated and usually more about you than any coworkers. See this comparable Q&A: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/193426/…. Or this one: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/195336/… Commented Mar 10 at 0:03
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    I also thought of the "stringing-you-along" thing, and I thought I was just being paranoid. Thank you for the advice and the link pertaining to my situation above. Commented Mar 10 at 0:14
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    @MickaelCaruso you have to do what's best for yourself first of all, not for the company. If they can't organize the project well enough to get it done, that's their problem, not yours. It's unlikely even if you complete it that you will get the recognition you deserve from the current employer anyway, and people leave companies with projects mid-stream all the time. Again, that's their responsibility to take care of, not yours. Commented Mar 11 at 18:12
  • What's that saying? People don't leave bad teams, they leave bad managers? Commented Mar 12 at 22:03
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What kind of example is this department head making?

The example of an utterly incompetent manager who should not be in this job, because they don't do this job. They flat out told you, they are not managing the department.

The fact that this person has a manager of their own, and they are still in this position, tells you a lot about the management structure of this company. Obviously their boss isn't doing a good job of managing subordinates either.

You cannot change bosses. Even if they were to win the lottery and retire, the new boss would be selected and reviewed by the same person who hired and kept this one. I heard the term "manage upwards". But that would mean you do your own job and your managers job, and you even get less than half of what both jobs pay.

I say that rarely, but if you want to improve, you have to fire your manager. This is known as "quitting".

Find a new job, and in the interview, make sure you ask questions about management, requirements, boundaries between people and departments, project plans, everything you are missing out on now. Make sure you don't step into another pile of dog poo just to get out of this one. Take your time, there is no rush, you can take the time to make good choices. But there is no way they are going to change, you have to change something.

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    Wow, I really liked the term "fire your manager." I'll use that in my next resignation, thanks. @nvoigt Commented Mar 12 at 12:59

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