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I'm on a project that I would have loved. Before I started at the company, somebody estimated the budget and timeline for the project, and they made the estimates absurdly low. The project is hugely over budget and behind schedule. I do not believe anyone on the project is doing anything wrong, just that the original estimates were unreasonable.

Everyone is scared to get blamed for the project taking so long, so there is an atmosphere of everyone trying to push that blame onto each other. The workplace language is not my first language, and I feel that many are trying to blame the problem on me not understanding things.

Since we're working with a very complex system, it happens all the time that a special case turns up that nobody predicted, so I was never warned that it needs to be prepared for. The others will insist that I was told and just didn't understand, when I am certain that I was never told because it simply hadn't occurred to anyone that it could happen. They often say that the person who worked on the project before me (who has now left the company) understood just fine, but I have spoken to her and she knew nothing about any of these special cases either.

This is so stressful! Is there anything I can do?

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    What is your role on this project? It sounds strange to me that everyone's blaming you (a single person) if you're just one of many participants on the project. – xxbbcc Feb 1 '16 at 19:25
  • What is the nature of the project? And also, as xxbbcc stated, what is your role? In most large projects, people who authorize new requirements are not typically the people implementing them, so the people who do the work are not actually suppose to deal with "managing" the project, but the (project) manager. – Nelson Feb 2 '16 at 6:50
  • If you're just another employee without any power then there is little you can do. All you can do is really minimize the finger pointing yourself. Be careful with taking the blame yourself as the finger pointing might just be turned to you. – Dan Feb 2 '16 at 15:48
  • What does your boss think? Have a one to one meeting and find out. This is what really counts. – user8365 Feb 2 '16 at 16:34
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Cultural change is hard, because it requires multiple people not just to acquiesce but to willingly participate, not only to establish a new norm, but also to work through those situations where we don't live up to the culture we want to see in our workplace.

As such, you can't do this on your own. But you can do your part in promoting a better working environment and try to avoid reinforcing bad habits.

Thinking specifically about a culture of recrimination, there are three areas where you can help change the tone:

Before anything has gone wrong:

  • When you're given work, ask questions. Write down the answers. Explore. Ask if there are exceptions. When you're assigning work, make time for this sort of conversation. Think through requirements before you give them to others.
  • Think about how you will do the work and anticipate problems. Think about contingencies. Agree how you will work together to mitigate risks.
  • If you think something is a bad idea, be honest and polite, and don't promise what you can't deliver. If you are factoring in 'unknowns' into your estimates or requirements, be open.
  • Prioritise. If not everything is possible, identify the things that are of the most value and agree the things that will be done first (they may or may not be the same things).

If something does go wrong:

  • Communicate. If you hit an unforseen problem that's going to change your requirements or your deliverables, work out who most urgently needs to know and tell them, preferably in person or by telephone unless that would be slower, and discuss how you can adapt the plan.
  • Focus on limiting the impact of the problem in the short term with questions like "What can you do to get X to Y on time?" and "How can I help get X to Y on time?". You may need to work hard to steer the conversation back to this.
  • Again, write down the details if you agree to make a change, and communicate to whoever needs to know.
  • Sometimes the appearance of one problem suggests others. Be prepared to revisit assumptions. Problems may need to be investigated to find the root cause - but keep it focussed on the fix, not on the blame.
  • If you feel criticised or blamed, acknowledge the difficult situation, and suggest discussing it in more detail at a time when you can properly reflect. If you are asked to or feel a need to explain your actions, keep it brief, and avoid laying blame.

Once the dust has settled:

  • It is healthy to reflect on mistakes - ask what could have happened differently to make a problem less likely. There should be time set aside in your project and/or line-management time just to reflect on process improvements.
  • Reflect on things that went right, too.
  • Recognise that mistakes do happen. Can you avoid situations where all it takes is one mistake for a major problem to occur?
  • If you are challenged or feel under attack, don't rush to explain yourself or blame someone else - listen. Ask questions to understand what the impact of your actions might have been and look for ideas to improve your own practice. Consider that you might have made mistakes. If you have, own up.
  • If you would like others to do something differently, make suggestions without trying to 'pin' problems on others.
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    Shouldn't there be a contract or specification? There shouldn't be ANY need for the OP to write things down if it is suppose to be in a contract. If it IS a new requirement, then GET THE CONTRACT/REQUIREMENT UPDATED! These details MUST be set in stone so that the OP's situation doesn't happen. If it is out of scope, it stays out of scope. If it is in scope, then there should be a paper trail of authorization and THEY are responsible, not the people doing the work. – Nelson Feb 2 '16 at 6:47
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You seem to be an outsider of sorts. You need to buckle down, concentrate, and prove yourself. Don't be the scapegoat. When issues arise, fix them, don't waste time on recriminations or listening to excuses.

Eventually this will establish your place and competence. I know it's hard to ignore finger pointing, but that is the best thing to do unless you have solid proof. Don't admit culpability but move forwards with soluitions as quickly as possible.

"I didn't know about this problem until just now. Moving forwards, we need to do X and Y to resolve it. Unless anyone has another suggestion, I'll get started now."

As a person who has spent most of his life working in a second or even third language, one thing I have found is that it's NOT good enough to be the same as everyone else. You need to be better than them to earn respect. In many ways.

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    Good advice. I would also add that the OP should bring up issues when they arise but they should be in the tone of command rather than trying to blame others. "I discovered a edge case where it would fail under specific conditions. I am working on the fix it and it will take X number of weeks." – Dan Feb 2 '16 at 16:02
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The situation: You are told what to do by someone. You may or may not understand exactly what they are asking you to do. They may or may not have been telling you to do what actually needs to be done. When your work results don't do what needed to be done, they blame it on you not understanding, which is an easy claim to make.

The solution: After you are told what to do, before you start implementing it, you make a plan detailing exactly what you are going to do. That's something you should be doing anyway. Then you take that plan back to the person who told you what to do, and let them review the plan. They either sign off on the plan, or they tell you what you misunderstood (or what they missed and blame on you misunderstanding), and you update the plan. Until the plan is signed off, and is agreed on by everyone, and then you do what the plan says.

If they refuse to review your plan, you write under the plan "Shown to xxx for review on ", and under it you write "XXX refused to review on ".

And "atmosphere of finger pointing" has a different meaning depending on the culture. In some places it is absolutely unthinkable to blame an individual for something going wrong. In other places it is common to blame the person who was responsible if something goes wrong. In some places it is common to put the blame on anyone but yourself.

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