I am in a team that has very experienced members and I am the youngest in terms of knowledge and newbie in terms of domain knowledge. I have seen a pattern of us as a team overcommitting to work that we ended up not being able to do.

This time I made it a point to bring the obvious thing to their notice, they agreed too. But when we planned work for the coming few weeks, we ended up overcommitting again!
I tried to tell them this with facts and figures from our past (which they had just agreed to!). But they still have overcommitted.

I do not know why the team does not count my opinion and why do they not let me talk or make my point.

Eventually it all ends up having us all to work more hours and snuff up to the deadline. Please advise.

  • Have you discussed with any of your co-workers why over-committing is acceptable?
    – JB King
    Jun 18 '14 at 5:45
  • We have deadlines that cannot be moved. But the point is when people keep bragging and talking about work-life balance, same bunch of people rather would not have the deadlines moved even if it means doing 10 things at a time for more than 9 hours a day! Quality of work seems to be hazed out behind the cloud of completing and pushing it out. i am seriously concerned about this. It can raise 2 issues: 1. setting expectations that the team can perform no matter how tight the deadline 2. we can keep the team going as they dont mind such high pressure. SAdly.
    – nysa
    Jun 18 '14 at 5:50
  • probably my comment came out to be immature and frustrated. But i feel ive been under such situation for almost months now, and things could improve
    – nysa
    Jun 18 '14 at 5:51
  • 3
    Your team is measured by the degree to which it delivers what it promises. Nobody will praise them for doing overtime and destroying their lives. In addition, it's proven that doing overtime doesn't actually achieve anything in the long term. By pushing very strongly back on what they promise, and then delivering to those reduced promises, your team looks like a winner and people get a life.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 18 '14 at 8:02

You did well in warning them, and it turned out you were right. Now you need to back your future suggestions with data. Start collecting figures, e.g. the amount of work your team committed to vs. the deadlines, and see how much gets done every time.

Next time you have a team meeting, bring up the statistics. Do it kindly: what you want to do is improve morale, and make everyone's life better. You don't want to pass for a bossy person that tells other what to do. Bring up the data, let everyone understand what's going on, and then let others talk first. Let people study the data, propose strategies, and see what comes out next. Keep your suggestions for yourself until the end. Listen to others - they have been doing it for longer and they might know better the reasons behind some commits.

The next step is to introduce some tool to plan for commitment. I highly recommend planning poker. This has the double advantage of

  • Forcing you to break up your work into chunks of concrete work, and to agree on a definition of done.
  • Using abstract values rather than actual time for planning work. This will be beneficial for reasons explained shortly.
  • Being a group activity, which forces everyone to explain the reasons for their estimate and paves the way for rational decisions when committing.

Once this get going, you can improve your metrics by tracking the velocity of each team member: for example, in a given amount of time (say, 2 weeks) person A cranks through 3 activities for a total of 10 "planning poker units"; this means that every time you play planning poker you need to keep track of each activity and their assigned score. Next time you plan your work, if person A gets assigned 20 units you know it's unlikely they'll finish on time.

Welcome to Agile software development :) You might want to read more.

  • Yes, we do have the planning poker. we know our velocity. but still commit to double story points in the name of immoveable deadlines. Agile teams, agile processes, but hard and fixed deadlines....
    – nysa
    Jun 18 '14 at 8:57
  • 1
    if the deadlines are fixed then you need to halve the amount of work. And you don't have to make this decision: let your PM do it. Let them pick the deadline OR the scope. Or even best: between deadline, amount of work and quality, let them pick two.
    – lorenzog
    Jun 18 '14 at 11:05
  • @lorenzog, that is not possible in many environments
    – HLGEM
    Jun 19 '14 at 13:23
  • @HLGEM I know, but it's always worth trying. If deadlines and amount of work are fixed, then there's a bigger problem (management) that doesn't depend on how much the team commits.
    – lorenzog
    Jun 19 '14 at 13:40
  • If deadlines, amount of work and number of resources are fixed. Then the only thing left is. drumroll quality. But deadlines aren't as fixed as they appear. Most customers start to appreciate flexible deadlines once they had a bad release.
    – bvdb
    Jun 3 '15 at 19:22

Immoveable deadlines are a fact of life in this business. You cannot always control what must be delivered when due to client needs. You need to learn to live with that. Yes, you can point out that it will result in long hours and overcommitment but when there is a business reason why the deadline cannot be moved (as it appears there is) then no one is going to listen not matter how many facts and figures you give because the deadline is immoveable and the client will not reduce the features that must be delivred by that deadline. To listen to you would be to lose the business in many cases and frankly no company is willing to that. Your co-workers apparently understand that.

Yes you can try to get things reduced to something that is more easily delivered, but unless you can hire more people, the deadline is going to dictate the work in many cases.

You wanted to understand why they didn't listen to you. They want to know why you won't shut up about something that it is not possible to do. They don't want to work like that any more than you do, but they have long since realized that there are situations where that is the only viable possibility. What you need to do is to choose your battles more carefully. If you get known as the guy who is always trying to change what can't be changed, then each passing month they will listen you less and less. You have to show judgement about what you bring up particularly when you are new and have no track record. Find something that can be fixed and show them how that will help. Then find another, etc. Don't tackle the bigger issues until you have a reputaion for being able to solve problems.

You need to learn more about the details of the business too. Why is the deadline immoveable? When we have immoveable deadlines it is usually because there is a legal reason why something must be delivered by a certain date (not possible to change, no point in even discussing), the client is moving from another business to ours and needs to be live on a certain date because that is when their old provider is turning off their old site (occasionally possible to reduce to minimum funtionality and may be worth discussing but be prepared to lose), if we don't get this done we are going to lose the client(not worth discussing, the business will never agree to moving this deadline), we promised it to the client before we checked with you (sometimes worth discussing depending on how bad the mismatch is, I can't deliver 3 months of work in 3 days not matter how many hours I work, but if they promised in three weeks and I say it will take 17 days, I am probably going to lose) and so forth. The reason why the deadline is immoveable makes a huge difference in whether this is something even worth bringing up. Until you start showing that you have judgement about when it is appropriate to bring things up and when it is not, then people will continue to ignore your input.

  • While I do agree immovable deadlines happen in cases like the above. The issue is, are overcommitted sprints the norm or the exception? If most sprints are overcommitted with immovable deadlines this is a staffing problem and your team shouldn't be required to burn themselves out where 2 - 3 three more devs are needed. If it's once every few sprints or so... then yes... sadly that's just the way of the world in many markets. Jun 18 '14 at 21:26
  • @RualStorge - True. It is indeed a couple of things working to make this kind of trend. Dev to QA ratio, planning etc. And as HGLEM mentioned above, i understand its more sensible to know where you can make a change and where you cant. Just that more than 4-5 sprints have been like this and it just keeps getting worst.... luckily our team sticks through it together. i love the team.
    – nysa
    Jun 20 '14 at 1:19
  • According to "Code complete", no deadline is immovable. If the deadline is reached and the code isn't working, what are you going to do - ship it or move the deadline? If you move the deadline then it wasn't immovable. If you ship code that isn't working, fire the managers.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 20 '14 at 15:08
  • That is nice in theory, I live in the real world, some deadlines are immoveable. If the client has to report the data to the federal government on 1 April, the deadline to create the export to give them the data they need will, in fact, have an immoveable deadline with requirements that cannot be scaled down.
    – HLGEM
    Jun 20 '14 at 15:38
  • So how long before the 1st of April would that client have known that the data has to be delivered on 1st of April? They didn't get an unexpected call from the government "we changed the date, you have to deliver the data on April 1st, not November 1st".
    – gnasher729
    Jun 20 '14 at 20:18

The outcome is what it is. Thanks to you, they came in with their eyes wide opened and they owe you for that. The only thing that's left at this point is to plan well enough to avoid doing as much overtime as possible. If it's any consolation to you, you gained some credibility.

I do not know why the team does not count my opinion and why do they not let me talk or make my point.

Indeed, you are the youngest member of the team :) Fact is, they did let you talk. They did let you make your point. They simply chose to decide what they decided. You need to take the time to find out why they decided the way they did. There may be a method to their madness :) You need to be more mature in your expectations - The fact that they let you have your say does not obligate them to do what you recommend, and none of your recommendations are binding.

Compared to me and some of the people I worked with, you got off cheap for being right. As a midlevel manager of my first employer, I warned my top management that the economy was going down the toilet and this was bound to affect our customers. I suggested that we hunker down and that we put the freeze on our hiring. I was really concerned because some of the partners were on a departmental empire building spree. I was mocked as an MBA even though they trusted my judgement in every other way.

If you think that being at the wrong end of a consensus on an important issue is bad, this is nothing compared to being at the wrong end of a consensus over an important issue and being publicly and spectacularly proven right. I easily and seamlessly made the transition from being mocked to being reviled and hated :)

Over the years, I have worked with colleagues who got FIRED from their previous job because they had gone up against a management consensus and proved right e.g. "This is my tenth memo to you that if the Feds actually start checking our claim that our networks are secure, we are toast" In that context, I rate your ego being wounded because you were ignored, proven right and ignored again as a mosquito bite :) You need to put in a few more years, and you'll probably end up seeing the world of work the way I see it :)

Follow-up comment from @lorenzog "I'm sorry but this comment is offensive at best, and does not offer any solution. Age is not a problem in many companies, especially in cultures where merit and skills are valued more than age. Asking somebody to be more mature in their expectations does not mean anything"

Follow-up comment from @HLGEM " the expectation was immature. He is letting the OP know that it is expectation that is the problem. No one wins them all and he needs to learn to deal with that himself. No one else can fix that. He is trying to give the OP perspective that what he thinks is horrible is really not so bad"

  • Vietnhi, thanks for helping out with edits to address comments, and I apologize if we've been unclear. There's no need to record comments wholesale in posts; rather, if a comment brings up an issue or asks a question, we'd like people to edit the post to address that issue. (If a comment is noise in your view, no need to do anything.) Please see this meta post -- please let me know there if you see things differently. Thanks for the help; much appreciated! Jun 20 '14 at 15:22

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