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I currently work as a software developer in a rather large company. I am currently working on multiple projects which each have their own funding pool & own project managers who monitor expenditure (mainly hours spent working).

We had an intern "Steve" who was tasked with working on his own project, Project X. This is a project which has no budget but as Steve was not required log his hours against projects his work was considered "free labour".

Steve is moving on from the company as his internship is almost over. However his project has not been completed as expected so I have been told by my direct manager "Bob" that I am required to familiarise myself with the Steve's work and finish the project.

I asked Bob which project I should book my time against and he told me there is no project so I am to balance this out between the other projects I am working on. Bob has asked me to do this before (however this was the first time in writing) but this is significantly larger than any prior task (previous tasks have been 1 or 2 days, Project X will take much longer as the intern was still learning so his work is very messy).

I know for a fact that the managers for my other projects would not want me to do this and it seems unethical to spend their project budget on a failed intern project.

Some of my coworkers have suggested flat out refusing to do it, though I have been told Bob has bullied people out of the company who crossed him.

Others have suggested to just do the work and if questioned by a project manager show them the email from Bob requesting I spend their money. I don't think this is a good idea either because I will likely be blamed for making Bob look bad.

I am not really sure what to do, what is the best way to handle this situation?

EDIT: The contract for the work is a fixed price contract and the customer does not pay for it. However as mentioned by @Anketam, the non project work hurts the profitability of the contract and makes the PM and myself look incompetent.

closed as off-topic by Jim G., gnat, Lilienthal, Chris E, IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 12 '16 at 20:19

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    "I know for a fact that the managers for my other projects would not want me to do this" - did you mention this problem to Bob? Something like "This is going to take a lot longer than I thought. If I put many hours on projects Y and Z, those PMs are going to start asking questions." – Brandin Jul 7 '16 at 10:01
  • I am reluctant to try because he doesn't like his authority challenged. He also doesn't always believe us when we tell him how long certain tasks will take. – Fooble Jul 7 '16 at 10:04
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    It's not a good situation if you can't even discuss problems with your manager. That may be the real problem. – Brandin Jul 7 '16 at 10:11
  • The only way to handle this is to challenge his authority. That said, you can do that in a non-threatening way. Something like: "How should I bring this up with the PMs of the other projects?" If he says to not bring it up with them, just tell him that you are not comfortable with doing that and ask him if he will talk to them. Then follow up with him. If he says he told them and they were okay with it, then proceed. All along, document these interactions. – mikeazo Jul 7 '16 at 11:54
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Government contracts

If these projects are tied to government contracts then it is flat out illegal to charge the project for work not done against it. This would fall under labor mischarging and it is a big deal. Refuse no matter what, you personally can be held responsible for this.

Private contracts

Depends on the setup of the contract, but the customer at the very least would be displeased to find out that they paid extra for stuff that was out of scope of the contract and could result in a lawsuit. Even when a contract is a fixed price contract and the customer does not pay for it, the extra work still hurts the profitability of the contract and the PM would not appreciate it, since profit margins are a measure of their performance.

Ask your manager if the PMs for those projects has approved you doing this work against their projects. This will cover you in both ways. The first, your manager asks or already has asked for their permission and they gave it the okay and you are covered. The second, the manager does not ask the PMs but tells you that they are okay with it. Either way you have an email saying you were authorized to do it, and if you were lied to then that will come down hard on your manager.

Get everything in writing

Bob is telling you to do something that is either flat out illegal or directly hurts the contracts you would be charging. As such get everything in writing, and be prepared to refuse or try and seek a third option.

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    "Even when a contract is a fixed price contract and the customer does not pay for it, the extra work still hurts the profitability of the contract and the PM would not appreciate it, since profit margins are a measure of their performance." This is the situation, there is a fixed price and it hurts the project as it is seen to be less profitable. This is another way it could come back to bite me as there is only so much funding allocated for my work, if I overspend it could look like I am incompetent. – Fooble Jul 7 '16 at 10:13
  • @Fooble I have gone ahead and added an extra paragraph on it since that part of the answer is relevant to you. – Anketam Jul 7 '16 at 10:32
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The time-tracking category your company seems to be missing is "overhead", that bucket that includes intern projects, mentoring new hires, attending company meetings, finding and fixing that problem on your source-control server, and so on.

If you have an overhead category, ask Bob if that would be a better place to bill the time -- especially if you have government contracts. If you don't have an overhead category, then Bob's "spread it around" approach is probably his way of coping with that, so you're probably stuck -- do it and keep a paper trail. But you might also try to get a conversation about overhead started, so your company can address the problem systemically. In your position I would raise the issue with my own manager (not project managers).

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Forward that email to the top (make sure that person knows why you're sending it), and just stand aside. Watch for falling rocks.

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    Normally I'd be against this solution, but seeing how "Bob has bullied people out of the company who crossed him." he had it coming. – Peter Jul 7 '16 at 16:47
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I can't find any situation where insisting on them creating an official project to track your hours against is not a better or equal option to doing what you were asked to do.

If your company doesn't really care about you doing this behind their back, then they also won't really care about creating a new project which you can track your hours against. You merely need to insist on them creating the project even if it's inconvenient (maybe they are embarrassed that they don't know how?).

If your company doesn't like you doing this behind their back, you're in big trouble if you do this. You will not be able to take any reward if the project succeeds and are guaranteed to take all the blame. In this case you simply need to insist they create the project for you to track the hours and they will eventually let it drop.

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You are in a really tough spot.

What your boss is asking you to do is wrong and he knows it is wrong.

You stated he has bullied people out of the company that have challenged him.

If you challenge him up front the problem is that you have no allies. The hours have not yet hit the other projects and PMs. So he may decide to just bully you out of the company.

I would charge the time to other projects and keep records. If you are asked about it then tell them you were instructed to charge time from another project. Pretend like you figured it was OK. If they ask for proof then produce the email. You won't be blamed for making Bob look bad - he did that to himself. Now things could get ugly and you could be collateral damage. But at least it is an open battle and would be harder for Bob to bully you out without making himself look bad. Ideally you want to make this between Bob and the PMs.

  • And, if possible, get Bob to sign off on the bookings to other projects. – Peter K. Jul 7 '16 at 13:52
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    @PeterK. Agree, the challenge there is to do it in a way the Bob does not perceive as challenging him. If Bob smells he is being set up then he may do a preemptive strike. – paparazzo Jul 7 '16 at 13:54
  • Yes, a bad situation indeed! – Peter K. Jul 7 '16 at 13:58
  • This is bad advice. The employee can potentially be held personally liable for the time sheet fraud. – Andrew Medico Jul 8 '16 at 1:48
  • @AndrewMedico "Time sheet fraud" - is that a federal statute? – paparazzo Jul 8 '16 at 5:07

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