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I am in IT. I am working on something that needs to be implemented only after something that has to be done by my co-worker. My boss has suggested me not to take up any other work until I finish the work in hand. I have confronted this co-worker that he is blocking me. But to my disappointment, he always has too much to do, so does never get time to do the stuff that is blocking me. How do I handle this, as I have nothing to do until then.

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    Did you try talking to your boss, who told you not to take up anything till you finish this ? Is he aware of the situation ? Are you able to do what your co-worker needs to do, even if it takes you a little longer ? – MelBurslan Aug 16 '16 at 21:01
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    Did you talk with your boss? "As you know, Bob has to do X before I can do Y. Bob estimates that he won't be done with X until <<date>>. What would you like me to do until then?" Can you stub out the co-worker's piece so that you make some progress even if there is a risk that the spec isn't clear enough and you'd have to do a bunch of rework when the coworker finishes? – Justin Cave Aug 16 '16 at 21:02
  • My boss is aware. But he relies on this co-worker to handle everything in my project (which sucks).And that is why he said not to proceed on any other task – nik Aug 16 '16 at 21:16
  • "My boss has suggested me not to take up any other work until I finish the work in hand." - Isn't that your boss telling you to take the initiative of ownership? That is you take over your part as well as your co-workers part? It's unclear what specific skills your co-worker possess that you do not that would make this project impossible without his intervention. – Dan Aug 18 '16 at 13:53
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Inform your manager that you cannot proceed any further until XYX is done and ZZZ coworker needs to do it but can't seem to find the time. Then it's up to them to make sure you stay productive, either by organising XYX to be done, or giving you other tasks in the interim.

Your responsibility is just to inform the manager. Avoid conflict with coworkers, you're not in a position to make them do anything, and this is part of your managers role.

Do it politely without disparaging your coworker and leaving everyone a way forwards without things getting messy. Just because something is a priority to you, doesn't make it a priority to your coworker. Manager can change that easily.

  • Well this is totally true that this is a priority to me, and the co-worker has this at the least priority possible. I just feel so unproductive and inefficient doing nothing. My manager knows this, but i seem to not let this go, because I have nothing to do. – nik Aug 16 '16 at 21:18
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    Get some cleaning supplies and clean up your workspace, organise your emails, make your immediate environment more efficient and pleasant. I've spent a whole afternoon doing that in a similar situation. Partway through, everyone in the office started doing the same thing. – Kilisi Aug 16 '16 at 21:22
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    @nik Then your manager is not utilising resources properly. Have you told your manager that you literally have nothing to do until your coworker's task is done? Have you asked if you can take on the blocking task if it's so low priority for your coworker? – Jane S Aug 16 '16 at 21:46
  • @Kilisi: We're going to bang heads again, in what I hope is a friendly sparring of opinions. Consultants can sit on the sidelines--not billing--while things are resolved. If you're drawing a paycheck, you should help push the rock up the hill! See my answer for the other side of the coin. – jimm101 Aug 17 '16 at 2:20
  • @jimm101 not a resolution I would use, I just stick with the hierarchy and let people do their own jobs. Voluntarily pairing with a lazy or incompetent person would not appeal to me. – Kilisi Aug 17 '16 at 8:56
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What can you do? Something.

Pairing is a very effective way of getting technical work done. You can offer to pair with the bottleneck person to help them catch up, and get to your task sooner. Don't take no for an answer. You'll either sit dumfounded until you can chime in, or pick up a ton about how things work, or get a temporarily annoyed co-worker to get your stuff done so you'll leave. If this person is the bottleneck, that's where the action is. Help alleviate that, pick up on what's going on--you'll soon be invaluable. You want to be invaluable, don't you?

"Tell your boss and sit around until the problem is resolved" is never good advice when there is work to be done. Inform your boss, yes. Then make yourself useful. You're not hired to do a specific task. You were likely hired to reduce the workload on others, and your first task is the current one. And you luckily just found out who is busy. Plow down whatever is in your way, and get to it. That's what your boss wants. They just want that thing done. Saying this isn't "your" part isn't right. It's like saying "your" part of the ship isn't sinking. "Your" part of the ship isn't waiting for to see if the other guy is going to bail--your part is sinking too. Grab a bucket. Help empty the other guy's bucket. Find buckets for people who know how to bail. Fix the hole in the boat. Find land. Call for help. Prep lifeboats.

Do something.

  • Useful. Thanks. However, my situation does not allow me pairing, and the stuff my co-worker has to do, has to be done by him, I or other team members cannot take over - that's one condition( and i am really sad about this). What I have done is informed my boss, and keep on doing so everyday on what the status has been. I can literally do nothing until then (or do other stuff silently to lessen my burden for later). What do you think? – nik Aug 17 '16 at 17:21
  • There are many situations where it is entirely impossible for one person to help that other person. Say a painter + decorator who can't paint the walls until the electrician has handled all the cables. That painter + decorator would kill himself or the occupants if he or she tried to do the electrician's job. – gnasher729 Aug 18 '16 at 9:55
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1. Re-evaluate whether every aspect of your task is indeed blocked.

  • Do any preparatory work that would help speed the task once unblocked.
  • See if there is any way you can do some of the work with a placeholder/test environment/etc.
  • If there are "extra" tasks like documenting what you did, writing tests to make sure it works, etc., do these all ahead of time to the extent possible.

I think it's very rare that a task is truly, 100% blocked with absolutely nothing you can do.

2. If you have nothing to do, offer to help the co-worker in any way possible.

  • If there is any part of the blocking task you could do, offer to help do it.
  • Or, offer to do other work to free up the co-worker.
  • Serve as an extra pair of eyes/tester/etc. to review and/or assist the co-worker.

3. Keep on regularly highlighting to your boss that you are blocked.

Do this even if you are able to do some stuff under 1) and 2) above (but if you are, highlight the steps you are taking to help resolve the situation).

4. Never do nothing.

If you truly can't proceed, you should still never sit at your desk doing nothing. Instead:

  • If you see other things that could be done, propose it to your boss (making clear that you will drop it and go back to the preferred task as soon as you can).
  • If, despite all efforts, you can't succeed in getting your boss to agree other work, spend your time on research/learning/skill development relevant to your job.
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Your job is to inform your manager at least daily that you are stuck because the work that your co-worker needs to supply hasn't even started yet and doesn't look like it's getting started any time soon.

Your job is not to make that co-worker do the work. It's a good idea to suggest other work that you could do to your manager. If your co-workers work is something that you can do as well, it might be a good idea to suggest that you can do that job.

Your managers job is to do things so the co-worker will do this work with high priority, for example by talking to the co-worker's manager. It's also his job to avoid a situation where you are sitting around and doing nothing.

In case that you keep your manager properly informed about what is happening, and you suggest that there are other things to do, and your manager tells you not do start anything else, I suggest that you find useful things to do. There's stuff that needs documenting, there are tests that can be written, there are things that you can learn; don't spend your time on Facebook. At the very, very least look busy.

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You mentioned that the co-worker had so much to do, while you seem to be stuck on a lower priority task that is gated by the same co-worker. Not a good position to be in. The low-priority nature of the task you are on, and the lack of urgency on the part of the boss to place you on another task, may be signs that you are lacking in important skills to contribute effectively on other tasks, limiting your value and usefulness to the boss and your opportunities for taking on important work. This doesn't seem to be the case with the co-worker, as evident by all the work on his plate.

I advise you to focus on developing and broadening your skills. You shouldn't be satisfied with doing the same thing over and over (no real growth). Instead, you should always be looking for opportunities to take on new challenging tasks that help sharpen and expand your skills. And don't be afraid to operate out of your comfort zone, as this is where most of the growth usually takes place.

  • great another perspective. to my defense, it's about assigned work, and not about skills. Definitely the coworker has more knowledge, but being stuck does not mean lesser skills. – nik Aug 17 '16 at 17:24
  • @nik - I understand that you can't avoid getting into a situation where you are unable to move forward with a task until its predecessor is finished. But in a situation like this, you need to be able to shift focus to work on another task that is not constrained. It wasn't clear to me why you owned one task, while your co-worker seemed to have so much to do. On my team, although we ask people to focus on one task at a time, we usually assign people multiple tasks which can have different due dates. When one task is stuck, they can easily shift to another one and keep things moving. – Matisse Aug 18 '16 at 3:16
  • I have worked in that environment too. and that is the best a structure can get. I am disappointed at my current workplace mostly because of this structure they have. One person leads everything, and no one can go beyond without their consent. Many companies face this challenge, but only some take action. – nik Aug 18 '16 at 17:25

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