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Overview

We have a project in our office, it isn't going well. There are many causes, but the biggest are:

  1. The project was underbid, so we never really had a chance of making any money (we are a consulting firm)
  2. The original project manager did a miserable job and just sort of assumed we knew how to manage ourselves, so much of the limited budget was wasted.
  3. The lead engineer is about as useful as the desk he sits in, as he can neither make, nor communicate important design decisions.

The project is with one of our biggest clients, so the stakes are high. Needless to say, upper management (outside of our office) is displeased.

The Problem

For the past couple of months, we've been under a new project manager, who has sunk her life into turning the project around by making massive systematic improvements to the project. The project is still in trouble, but the fact that its moving forward at all is entirely because of her immense effort. Despite that, from what I hear at the office, she seems to be at risk for taking the blame for the whole debacle, and may be fired. I know that this will absolutely have a negative impact on the project and office, so I feel obligated, for the sake of my own job, to speak up. What is the best way to accomplish this?

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    You don't know what terms the replacement project manager took the task under. You should not get involved with her dealings with her superiors. If you want to support her, help her motivate your team. – Wesley Long Feb 24 '15 at 19:43
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    If you see her boss in the hall or elevator say hey I know project X is behind but is it not Y's fault and she is moving us forward. – paparazzo Feb 24 '15 at 19:52
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    Bad way of putting it. Tell them "the project X was basically sunk, but with Y's efforts we now have a chance of achieving it". – gnasher729 Feb 25 '15 at 11:13
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Great to have a question on here about an excellent manager!

So, you know you need to speak up. You also have several things to decide.

  • Written, or verbal communication? Verbal's less formal, but it could be useful to have it on record. If your content is purely professional, and you're not talking about rumours, written could be the way to go - if you want to discretely bring up the gossip, don't do it in writing.
  • Just you, or a group effort? If everyone on your team agrees that this person is great, they might all chip in. (Well done for stepping up, by the way.)
  • Do you address the firing rumours, or just do an unsolicited recommendation?

These all have their advantages and disadvantages, and we can't really tell you which is best without knowing your relationships with the other people in your company.

However, you can't go wrong with an email to one of the higher-ups to give a recommendation about your boss. It doesn't have to formal, just something to say that she's bloody good at her job:

"Hello, I just wanted to give you an update from our office! We're still struggling with the project, but we've really appreciated the new team member - she's accomplished X, Y and Z. We're looking at moving on to solving problems J and K, and are all glad she's here to lead us."

This is the "tamest" approach - you're speaking up and saying she's doing a good job. On the flip side, the concern may be that they won't take it seriously and just pass it off - and you can't really get them to take it seriously (i.e. "This person leaving will negatively affect everyone") without telling them about the rumours you've heard. Unfortunately, this then goes into discussing rumours and hearsay in the office, which is usually a no-no (your bosses may think everyone is gossiping, and also that you're telling them how to do their job). This is a call you'll have to make - leave it at telling them how good the team is with her, or step over into saying how bad it will be without her.

Other problems

Also, the potential firing aside, it sounds like the company has some problems, and certainly that decisions have been made that you don't agree with. These have all added up, negatively impacted the project, and put your new manager's role at risk. I would take some time to have a think about whether you can bring these issues up to prevent them from reoccurring or do anything about the current state of affairs. It sounds like she was put on a sinking ship and is managing to keep it afloat, even if it's not coasting along nicely - you may be able to influence whether or not she stays captain, but if the boat's still sinking, that's not much use.

I would, at the very least, put in a good word for her, which it sounds like you're quite willing to do. All the best.

  • How is status reported to upper management? That is one way to inform your boss' boss about how she is solving the problems - give her credit in the status reports (especially in reporting milestones finally achieved). – Voxwoman Feb 24 '15 at 20:45
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    You can subtly hint at the firing side with comments like, "Things have dramatically improved since X joined us. I don't know where we'd be now without her." – Eric Feb 25 '15 at 15:58
  • I would also let her know that when she decides / is forced to get another job, I would be glad to write a letter of recommendation. – Dúthomhas May 10 at 22:49
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I believe that you need to talk to her. Describe you concerns and attempt to help her to plot a constructive strategy, including public relations.

If you know somebody in upper management it would not hurt to comment in passing on her doing a great job.

If you do talk about her then keep it positive: how great she is for the project and not how miserable the company would be without her. If she is not on a cutting board, do not give your management any ideas.

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The best you can reasonably do it write a letter to support to your manager and ask that it be shared. When you write that letter try to include facts and figures about how the new PM has benefited the project.

However do not try to identify what the problems are/were with the project. You may not have all the facts and your PM may not have communicated the same problems. This will actually make her look bad and the act of pointing fingers when you have not been asked will definitely make you look bad. So avoid that.

Your PM realistically needs a champion at the management level. If they decide that someones head is going to roll and that it will be hers all you can realistically do is jump on the sword and even then it is more likely to cost you your job and she is still likely to lose hers. It is painful and demoralizing to sit back and what someone who does not deserve it get blamed for a project that was doomed to failure. But unless you are in a management position where you can shield that PM, there is little you can do that will have a positive effect beyond making the project a success.

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To follow up on my comment elsewhere, one good option would be to offer unsolicited positive feedback up the chain on your new manager. This avoids addressing your concerns directly (project failure, her being fired) while still giving her some points for doing good work.

You can do this by e-mailing her directly and CC'ing her boss or e-mailing her boss and optionally CC'ing her. Your e-mail could be something like this:

Subject: Appreciation for XXX

Hi YYY,

I want to take a minute out of our busy schedule to express my thanks for what XXX has done for the team. I'm taking this unusual step because XXX has been very good for our team and I want to recognize this. I find this to be a very challenging project, and I think that XXX has made significant improvements since coming on board. Some specific examples are AAA and BBB. Her efforts are helping us pull together and move in the right direction. I don't know where we'd be without her now. Thanks again for putting XXX in the role. It's been a pleasure working under her guidance and I look forward working with her to make the project a success.

Regards, wnnmaw

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Work with your supervisor to get some client feedback. Focus on an acknowledgement that shows the level of improvement from the time the new PM took over. You're not there, but you want to make sure you're heading in a positive direction.

Ideally this would be in written form to have some documentation. Make it a part of a written update on the project comparing and contrasting the way things are done now compared to how the project started.

Your boss should have had some input from management on what was expected when she took over this loser. Hopefully minimizing loses and keeping on the client are good enough, but if they just focus on the bottom line, there's not much you can do about it. They already got rid of one PM I don't know what they expect to accomplish losing someone who shows they can do the job.

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