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I am a project manager in a start up and I'm running multiple projects at one time. I have been here for 9 months.

Every other project is going extremely well, work is being delivered in a timely manner and at high quality. I have also stabilised the company by reducing turnover from helping it assemble a permanent team.

There is one project (e commerce web site) that I am managing, which my boss decided to take on at a time he was short on cash with limited resources (one developer). The problem that we have now, is that the developer who originally built the web site is extremely unreliable. Some examples of this:

  • He spends no time investigating how to solve bugs, and expects me to do it. Happy to help him out, providing that he is willing to work with me to find the solution.

  • He has already stated that he does not have much time on several occasions, and I can see that he is no longer motivated to continue working on this project. I totally understand this, and told my boss that we need to look for an alternative. Together with my boss, we found an agency who is willing to take on the work.

My boss however has not bitten the bullet, and I am stuck with the original developer.

  • When he does set timelines, he never meets them. Resulting in Micromanagement on weekends even. Since he is moonlighting.

  • Original subcontractor has extremely slow response time, I would send him an email or Skype message but he takes a very long time to respond, or does not respond at all until I have to constantly badger him. This is becoming extremely problematic, since I am unable to get basic information from him such as giving me a quote for how long it will take to do x task, or answering any technical queries I may have which I can then relay back to the client.

The end result from this is my credibility with the end client decreasing, since they are seeing me as unreliable.

I have told my boss the following:

  • We are under resourced, we cannot maintain this project anymore.
  • My concerns about the developer in question.
  • How frustrated I am managing him, and how I do not enjoy micromanaging him since it does not work.

He told me the following:

  • That I should support the developer more by investigating his bugs more thoroughly
  • That I am to blame for being frustrated
  • That the developer is a nice guy and is doing favours for us.

Effectively I feel like my boss is making me liable for everything that is going wrong despite my warnings. Furthermore, he is ignoring them.

Note : The developer is a friend of a friend of the boss.

Has anybody else been in this situation, if you have, how did you solve it? Do I also have anything to worry about in terms of my job security?

Thank you.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jun 7 '16 at 9:44
  • In a comment you state the contractor had been paid for the initial build and is no longer under contract. That is some important information that is missing. As project manager if the requirement was a bug free then why did you approved payment. He was to deliver the "initial build". What was the plan for post "initial build"?. – paparazzo Jun 7 '16 at 13:09
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    @bobo2000 Having been on the other side of this, when a contractor who is working on a fixed price tells you you need to test it before the contract is done, that's what you need to do. After the project is over, they may not have time to give or sell you and it's not their problem that you didn't bother acceptance testing. – Amy Blankenship Jun 7 '16 at 15:16
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    I's also add that the developer's slow responses probably indicate he's not at all interested in continuing the project, and is being to "nice" to say so. He probably is doing a favor by working on the project at all, and you shouldn't expect him to work like someone who is not being dragged kicking and screaming into doing work he doesn't care about. – Amy Blankenship Jun 7 '16 at 15:18
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    @AmyBlankenship I totally agree, and know that the correct thing to do is to replace the developer. My boss has now finally given in! Agency coming on board. Customer has sent another email regarding a bug, and I think he has realised that we cannot do it with this sub contractor. Thank god!...FYI, we did acceptance test, and I don't think that is the problem since he was aware of a few of the bugs but told us that he would do it later. – bobo2000 Jun 7 '16 at 16:17
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You are in a tough position, especially since your boss seems to take the developer's side due to personal connections.

The best you can do is:

  • Report on project progress and highlight the risk of failure to complete. By this I mean reporting in a concrete manner: a description of the tasks to be completed, an estimate of the required effort, and an estimate of when they will be completed, showing that the project is at risk.
  • Gather evidence of the developer's failure to deliver, such as response times to emails, refusal to fix bugs. If you aren't using an issue tracker, set one up so you can measure the bugs that are found and the time it takes to fix them.
  • Gather evidence that you are contributing as much as you can. The boss's suggestion that you do more bug finding is not illegitimate on its face. You need to provide evidence that you doing more of the work is not the solution. If you aren't able to take on more of the work, you have to show why: such as it is preventing you from delivering other projects. Or, you need to show that you are thoroughly investigating bugs and it is still not leading to results.
  • Propose a concrete alternative. Such as "If we continue with the current developer, we risk going 6 months past deadline, but if we switch to this proposed contractor, we can salvage the project for $X". Or, if money is limited, you could make a case that delaying another project is worth it to deliver this one (as suggested by Joe Strazzere).

Overall, tread lightly and make it evidence-based, not personal. You don't need to convince your boss that the developer is a bad guy or incompetent--just that a change is needed to deliver the project. His lack of time to commit to the project, which he admits, is one aspect of this.

One option is ask the developer to agree to a timeline for completion, once you have clearly described the remaining work (as suggested above). If he refuses, you have something clear to bring to your boss. If he agrees, then you have something to hold him to (and track him against), if you don't expect him to deliver.

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Your boss is somewhat right. You are to blame for being frustrated. If you're too emotionally involved in a project and become frustrated, you make mistakes. So while you have very good reason to be frustrated, you must try hard to get some emotional distance from the project.

Your problem is twofold:

  • You have to deal with unreliable resources.
  • Your boss seems to ignore your advice and prevents you from fixing the problem in the way you want to.

What you need to do first is to reduce the micromanagement as much as possible. A micromanaged developer is not a happy developer, is not a productive developer. Trying to micromanage the developer on weekends is far too pushy and extremely unprofessional. Also, you said yourself micromanaging doesn't work. Just agree on what is going to be done by when, and use short deadlines - look into Kanban to see how this could be done.

From there, document the progress of the project professionally. While you can use the information to prove how unreliable the developer is, this should not be your primary objective. Your primary objective should be to make progress of the project visible, so others can see the facts of what's going on, and also so you yourself can look at the facts from a more neutral perspective.

Either this will allow you to improve the project, or it will document the ongoing issues, which you can then escalate to the boss to solve.


Edit: From bobo's comment, the above is pretty much exactly what was done, and now the boss refuses to solve the documented issue.

Under the circumstances, we can assume there was a serious effort to convince the boss that the setup doesn't work out. Since the boss does not give you the authority to solve the problem (doesn't let you give the development work to someone else), the next step is to escalate: Make it clear to the boss that in your eyes the current approach does not work, and that since your proposals for a solution are not acceptable it's his job to solve this problem. Don't let him sweep it under the rug, be adamant and repeat your concern every few days if there is no sign of change.

If this project continues to harm your reputation, you are better off if you manage to offload the project to someone else, e.g. your boss.

  • He knew the arrangement when he signed up, I warned him before the project started that weekends/evenings will be tough. But he wanted the money, clearly. I was using Kanban, it didn't help much. If I left him to do the work independently (my preferred style), after looking at my Cumulative flow diagrams, there would be no activity until I started to micromange. Which yes, was a short term fix, that eventually failed. I had no say at the time who the developer to the job is. – bobo2000 Jun 7 '16 at 16:19

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