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I am currently working on a few high profile projects which are highly interesting for the company. I am observing lots of interest from my colleagues, and as projects start getting steam and first results come in there is more and more people who want to be in the loop, participate in meetings and contribute.

I can see at least two types of self-invited contributors:

  1. peers: other developers or commercial staff, who have a minimum technical background and want to contribute a little to put their name on the project. In the most extreme case, these people expect me to develop software which will let them get some fancy tables to present as their own contribution;

  2. managers: in the best case they recognise the benefit and they want to be involved, in the worst case they add themselves to the project to create more "discussions" contributing nothing but delaying things.

In both cases my work is delayed in exchange for almost no contribution, and my own boss is already aligning this project with the company's interests.

My question is: how can I defend myself from all these self-invited contributors, in a professional way which will protect my best interests without damaging my career?

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    Is there a formal charter for this project, or other clear hierarchy? Is there a project sponsor? What is your role? – Burhan Khalid Nov 2 '15 at 11:47
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    I am a specialist and the only hands-on expert on my projects. I provide a general function to multiple teams, and other team members try get involved, while managers who are not even in these teams hear the news and want to get involved. – Monoandale Nov 2 '15 at 12:25
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    "Career protectionism" will only get you so far. At some point, you're going to need to get good at (and comfortable with) making other people successful with you. You don't lose when somebody else wins. – Kent A. Nov 2 '15 at 13:00
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    If you're the sole hands on on your portion of the project then doesn't that mean no one else can take credit for your portion? I would think that credit for the projects as a whole would not really affect your standing as a crucial linchpin. In which case you may be worrying unduly, although the demands on your time are obviously an issue. – Kilisi Nov 2 '15 at 13:02
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    I am really glad to hear your boss is "already aligning this project with the company's interests"... If it wasn't then it would surely be doomed in the long run. It sounds to me like there is considerable "buzz" with this project, with you at the centre of it. Personally I don't see any downside- I wish I could work in such a project! – Marv Mills Nov 2 '15 at 13:13
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these people expect me to develop software which will let them get some fancy tables to present as their own contribution;

Isn't this your job as a programmer? Do you think every time someone runs a report or exports the results into a presentation they give the programmer credit? That only happens in movies at the very end.

I suggest you start to establish the size and makeup of the team to manage this project. It will change over time, but it continues to be used as the criteria for membership. Also, are you the only person in charge of this project? Find out who is and suggest to them, you will write this up. If they're in management, they'll be happy you're doing the work and are less inclined to get involved with the details. You may want to point out that a small team is easier to manage, so you only want top people who can contribute the most.

Just remember, you can try and make everyone happy and let them get involved in this project, but if it fails, it will be reflected on you. The ones that get left-out can bad mouth you all they want, but the project will speak for itself and you.

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My question is: how can I defend myself from all these self-invited contributors, in a professional way which will protect my best interests without damaging my career?

You use your boss as the filter for your work activities.

Peers and other managers who request your time should be directed to your boss. "Sorry, my boss has told me that he/she will have to decide if I should spend time on your request." is a simple way to use such a filter.

Discuss this ahead of time with your boss. Express your concerns that these requests are slowing you down and ask if you can use your boss as such a filter or not.

Since your boss is already aligning this project with the company's interests, it's likely that he/she will help you out.

This assumes that your "best interests" are the same as the company's "best interests". If that isn't the case, you have a different problem.

  • Thanks Joe. In terms of company interests, something I am observing is "this guy is good at X but he wants to have a say for A, let her/him do something with the guys doing A so that she/he will be happy and will keep doing X". – Monoandale Nov 2 '15 at 16:10
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I completely understand your frustration, as I've lived through some similar experiences. I don't know exactly how your company works, but remember that you don't exist in a vacuum. If this was your own private project outside of work, you would have the power to choose who to involve or not.

In a company setting however, whatever you develop typically belongs to the company. Your boss, or your boss's bosses get to decide who does what, for how long, etc. If they want to get involved, you get no say in the matter. If they wished they could put some other dev in charge of your work and make you report to him.

The sad reality is that if someone sees political gain in hijacking your project, they might just be able to. The only thing you can do is appeal to your boss to try and insulate you to the best of his ability - which he may or may not be able to do, or even desire to do, based on the political implications.

Good luck, and let us know how it all works out!

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It seems what these people do is hassle and distract you. It's the job of a manager to cut down the number of distractions and time wasters that bother their team.

Let your manager know that it bothers you. The manager can reduce some of the overhead by reminding people that some task assignments need to go through him, and he can have some of the time wasting discussions with other managers behind closed doors without your participation. As a competent manager they'll know what to do, but they don't know if the situation is currently bothering you unless you tell them and ask them to do something about it. The manager won't be able to get rid of all interference, but they can reduce it quite a bit.

Also, the situation you're in is also a good thing. If people go directly to you that increases your visibility in the company, which is correlated to job security and salary, sometimes more so than raw performance. You also have the opportunity to build political capital and good will. Try to make use of some of the opportunities.

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