3

Situation

My boss asked me for an estimated timeline for a project I'm working on. I told them in a detailed list it would take me five weeks to complete all the features they asked for. They deliberately followed by making a deadline only three weeks away for me to finish the project. I voiced my concerns and pointed out the timeline I had projected which they pushed aside. When I've been asked if I will have it complete by the deadline, I've been responding with a firm "no, it will be done in five weeks."

Dilemma

My spouse and I have been planning a big vacation for a while, and most of the people I work with know about it. Yesterday my bosses said if I make the three week deadline, they will pay for the vacation. I'm uncertain of the ethics behind the situation: 1) the specificity of the bonus (if it was just a cash bonus I would feel less uneasy), and 2) even if I do complete the work in 3 weeks, the quality will suffer, which will ultimately be detrimental to the project.

Question

Does anyone see any problem with this offer? Or is it just comparable to a cash bonus for completing a project? Should I continue to stand my ground with the realistic deadline? Has anyone faced a situation like this before and what happened?

closed as off-topic by Jim G., Reinstate Monica, Kate Gregory, gnat, Jane S Aug 31 '15 at 4:21

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  • 6
    I think 'bribe' is not the right word here. – Brandin Aug 29 '15 at 22:00
  • 2
    I agree with @Brandin. "Incentive" is a more accurate term. – Jane S Aug 30 '15 at 11:01
  • Presumably the issue for the OP is that "paying for the vacation" could mean anything from a 500$ raw bonus to just paying the flight, the flight and hotel, or the whole thing. Ethics shouldn't matter unless the company tries to to dodge taxes by passing the bonus off as a work trip. – Lilienthal Aug 30 '15 at 14:57
10

Does anyone see any problem with this offer?

Yes - I see lots of potential problems.

I assume you gave an honest answer when asked how long it would take. Now you are being asked to complete it in 60% of your estimate.

So were you lying earlier? Or are you planning to cut corners now?

Either way, you might inadvertently be setting yourself up for future conditions where management doesn't trust your estimation ability ("He said 5 weeks last time, and got it done in 3. Why should we believe his estimate of 5 weeks for this new project? We know he could do it in less if he really wanted to!") or believe you deliver shoddy work ("We gave him vacation money, but his project is full of bugs!"). Your actions in this case might set a precedent.

Or is it just comparable to a cash bonus for completing a project?

It's more like a "cash bonus with major strings attached" to me.

Should I continue to stand my ground with the realistic deadline?

Clearly that's a decision you need to make on your own, based on your own beliefs on how to do your work well.

Has anyone faced a situation like this before and what happened?

I have.

I've been involved in situations where I was told that my estimate was unacceptable, and that I had to find a way to get it done in less.

In every case, I've discussed the ramifications ahead of time. I've explained what I saw as the tradeoffs between time, money, and quality. And in each case, I've tried to make it explicit what the chosen path would involve - both positive and negative.

Sometimes it worked out well. In those cases, management was will to consciously make the tradeoffs I was offering.

In a few cases it didn't work out so well. Management apparently believed they could get "faster" without trading off anything, even though I told them ahead of time that it wouldn't work that way, and they were unhappy with the results. Perhaps I wasn't convincing enough, or perhaps they only really heard what they wanted to hear - I couldn't really tell.

I'm in QA. These days, my motto has been "We can test anything, in any amount of time. But we can't do it as well. Let's talk about what that means...".

I always try to understand the scheduling dynamics before committing to a deadline, and I'm always as open and transparent about that as I can be. Schedules and deadlines are a business decision. Management can decide whatever they like and I'll do my best to make it happen. But I insist on being honest about my assessments and estimates.

The fact that you used the word "bribe" in the title, and that you expressed specific concerns about quality, tell me that you are conflicted here - and rightly so. If I were you, I'd talk with your bosses more. Try to explain how you think quality will suffer in as specific a sense as you can. Then see if they consider that acceptable or not. Let their reactions be your guide.

Sometimes deadlines are truly important, "either we make this deadline or we close up shop" kinds of deals. Sometimes important events (shows, customer meetings, holidays) help drive deadlines. But often, deadlines are just made-up dates that have little real meaning. Try to understand if and why 3 weeks is so important in this context. Sometimes that can help make your decision easier.

  • 1
    He could complete the task in less than the scheduled time by working long hours. – Loren Pechtel Aug 30 '15 at 0:45
  • 1
    If he sat down and figured out how many overtime hours he would have to work in order to get the job done, multiply that by his equivalent hourly rate (I'm assuming he's salaried) and compare that against the value of the bonus, he would know if it was worth it. Then if he presented his revised schedule to his boss, with special overtime hours clearly displayed, there would be little chance of misunderstanding that this is a special case. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Aug 31 '15 at 17:03
  • @JoeStrazzere that depends on contract. I'm salaried and always have been, my contracts typically state I get overtime pay (past the first X hours maybe) at a specific rate, and what my regular hours are (Y hours a week). So for example it may state my week is 40 hours and I get paid 150% for every hour over 45, 200% on weekends. – jwenting Sep 1 '15 at 5:44
9

This is business in a fairly pure sense. They need you to deliver above the norm and are willing the sweeten the deal for you to get you onside.

It's certainly unusual, but I don't see how it's immoral or unethical. If you can't deliver then that's fair enough and you should make that clear, but if you can, and feel it's worth it, then go for it and take the rewards.

Not only is it directly comparible with any bonus, but it's really not that different than paying double time for weekend work or similar.

3

I would like to make a suggestion that might give you an alternative solution to your situation. Without knowing specifics of your project it's impossible for me to ascertain its feasibility.

While I think it's not likely that your company accepts lesser quality, they could possibly agree to a more limited scope delivered in 3 weeks with the full functionality released two weeks later.

If the project can be reasonably split into must to have and nice to have parts, then you definitely have a chance for a win-win solution. Business gets what they need (may be not they want), you have less pressure without compromising the quality of your work and still could look like a hero. Not sure if they still be willing to pay for your vacation, but in the long run it's less important then maintaining a good rapport without burning yourself out.

2

Much better than the usual practice of asking for your estimate, then selling it for half that or less, and THEN punishing you for not completing it in the time they sold it for despite that being far below your own estimate that they were well aware of.
Which practice is extremely common and the reason most people tend to give off estimates that calculate in such things. So if I get asked for an estimate and I have reason to suspect sales or management are going to pull such a stunt on me, I make an estimate for myself, double that, and then present that number to management.
Which is no doubt what management in many companies expect to get from their teams, estimates that are roughly double the time really needed to implement the project.
Luckily I now work in a team where I can set my own estimates and the planners accept them. SCRUM to the rescue :)

So should you accept that compressed deadline? That would depend on whether you think you can complete the work required within that compressed deadline or not. If you can, by all means accept it. If you're in doubt, don't or at least voice your concerns and ask if they can select a list of capabilities and features that the current plan calls to be implemented that will become optional (iow, aren't required to be implemented in the time you'll have available, but will be done if you've time to spare at the end).

-2

Let's say your estimate wasn't really five weeks, your estimate was 200 hours. And let's say your estimate was correct. Your estimate was not just "delivering", your estimate was "delivering in the quality that I feel is appropriate". So how many hours do you think does it take to deliver in a quality that is barely acceptable (maybe 180 hours? maybe 160? ), and are you willing to do that number of hours in three weeks?

If your boss doesn't agree with "barely acceptable" quality, then you need to ask your self if you are willing to do 200 hours of work in three weeks for that bonus.

  • 1
    Projects are not about hours. Productivity for creative work drops dramatically after 45-50 hours per week. – Wesley Long Aug 29 '15 at 22:34
  • 2
    @WesleyLong Which is why he's saying quality would suffer. – Loren Pechtel Aug 30 '15 at 0:45

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