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This is my first job, and I have no meaningful previous work experience.

About 2 months ago I started at a company and was given information about my task with very limited material. I tried to create a plan to use when I got the other materials I need, so I could start immediately once I got it. This took less than a week and since then, I haven't been able to work, because the materials and the project plan were not ready.

I alerted the project leader (who is also my manager) multiple times over the ensuing weeks and made clear I can't continue working on this if I don't get the necessary materials, but each time it just got ignored or received the answer "We will look into that", etc. I proposed spending time on self-directed learning, and he agreed to this.

So for the past 7 weeks, I haven't done anything but sit in my chair, browse Stack Exchange (that's how I found this place), and look around in the office.

Now, out of nowhere, management is expecting my part to be finished in 2 weeks. I am waiting for the necessary material and have been told it 'should' be ready next week. In the meantime, a lot of things have changed with the project, so the plan I made at the start is almost useless now.

In addition, the people that would help me with this are all on a break, as is our project leader, and won't be back until after the deadline.

I have no idea how I can finish this before the deadline. Even If the other teams finish their job next week, I won't have enough time to finish mine. (And honestly, I don't plan to rush myself)

What is the best response to this situation? Is there anything I can do now to help solve it?

  • Yes, I did alert my manager multiple times and made clear I can't continue working on this if I don't get the necessary materials but each time it just got ignored or answered with 'we will look after it'. Maybe an important detail: He also left on a holiday (3 weeks ago), so I haven't been able to contact him after that and I don't know who I have to contact with my problems now until he is back – user56178 Aug 12 '16 at 11:26
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    Well, after the first week, I said to him (my manager) I was running low on work so I would do some self tuition untill I could really start (which he was OK with). At week 4-5 I said I still haven't been able to do much and he said he would talk to the project lead and report back. I didn't hear anything after that so I asked it again on which he said he was busy and didn't contact the project lead yet and would do soon. 2 weeks later I still haven't heard anything. – user56178 Aug 12 '16 at 11:37
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    You talk a lot about what you can't do. Once deadline approaches and you bring this up to management they won't be as nice as we would be. My suggestion is to make as loud of a noise as you possibly can, now. Explain why you can't do what you need to do and what they need to do in order for you to complete it. – Dan Aug 12 '16 at 12:33
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    "he said he was busy and didn't contact the project lead yet and would do soon" - be more forceful! "This is really important and I'm completely blocked until I get an answer. Can you talk to him now please?" In general if you're not getting things you need then chase people more and get them to agree deadlines for carrying out their actions. – Rup Aug 12 '16 at 12:34
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    Part of business is learning how to nag people as politely as possible. – Socrates Aug 12 '16 at 17:58
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You're being set up for failure. It's not intentional, it's a by-product of poor project management and a lack of accountability. It's surprisingly common.

Be vocal and visible. It is your responsibility for making sure that the project manager / lead understands what you need, and that you don't have it. When someone tells you they should be ready "maybe next week", email that to your manager and the project lead, cc'ing the person who made the comment. Don't be passive-aggressive, just state facts: "I just spoke with Bob. He expects to have the xxx I need to get started on yyy next week." It's okay to state your realistic timelines. No one can expect you to finish two weeks worth of work in an hour. One week's worth in 4.9 days? Certainly. If you're slipping into an unrealistic timeline, let it be known immediately. "I expect to have yyy completed 2 weeks after receiving xxx". People do expect you to know your timelines and report them accurately.

Get started with incomplete information. Is there really nothing you can do? Many projects change and require iterations where the data is updated. Are there spreadsheet formulas or programs or anything you can do with materials you fake just to get something accomplished? Something that will save you time once the real materials come in?

Make yourself useful. Can you help in another way? On another project? Organizing something?

Make sure your supervisor knows what you're doing and why. You're not running the company yet. Someone is responsible for ensuring that you're contributing to the progress of the company--probably the person who justified your salary by claiming there was too much work to do. Ask your supervisor what needs to be done given the absence of information. If you get the blow-off answer of "we're looking into it", just put that in email. Seeing things in writing often helps people to feel accountable for what they're saying. You'll get a better answer.

  • Thanks Jimm, I have send a message to the other team (with the managers and leads in CC). And another mail to the management asking if there is something for me to do in the meantime. I'll report back once I get an answer. – user56178 Aug 12 '16 at 12:58
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    +1 Excellent answer, and as always document everything – Retired Codger Aug 12 '16 at 13:06
  • @Sairenjii, daily updates on lack of progress due to factors outside of your control are appropriate not once or twice in several months. – HLGEM Aug 12 '16 at 13:20
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    @Sairenjii, surprisingly you sometimes have to really hound people to give you something to do, and if you're not on their back every day about it you'll never hear from them again. I learnt the hard way in one of my first jobs my boss said that he'd get me some paperwork to do. An hour later he sees me still sitting at my desk asking me what I was doing. When I told him I was waiting for him to get back to me, he asked me how long was I going to wait till I checked back with him. Ouch. Never made that mistake again, I can assure you. – fib112358 Aug 12 '16 at 16:19
  • Getting something for you to do is a job. Hiring temporarily increases workload, but is often triggered by an overloaded person. So it's entirely normal to need to demand work a few times before you get overloaded youself. – jimm101 Aug 12 '16 at 16:32
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I proposed spending time on self-directed learning, and he agreed to this.

So for the past 7 weeks, I haven't done anything but sit in my chair, browse Stack Exchange (that's how I found this place), and look around in the office.

Seven weeks? Really?! How is this "self-directed learning"? You should be driving to get your job accomplished or to really educate yourself. After seven weeks you should have a certification from some online class. If I had an employee who was supposed to be learning, and was actually just browsing the internet, I'd fire him the instant I found out, especially after seven weeks.

If you know what your job is, and you know who will provide the required materials, go to them every day to try to obtain the materials.

If the boss is gone, go to his boss, and up and up until someone truly responsible is aware and working with you.

Document everything, communicate via email and back up the messages, and make dated notes about every step.

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