Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Managing Up

My manager comes from a programming background and is now at a VP / Project Manager level in charge of hadling customer relationships and managing our project.

Lately, the management of the project seems to be getting away from him, and the result is that I look like I'm missing deadlines.  I understand how arbitrary deadlines can be, but my manager seems to set them without any perspective on what he has already assigned.

For example, this week I have 3 tasks.  Each task could be done within a work week, but there is no way that all three can be done.  He asked me separately for estimates on each task, and I told him one week each time.  Now he wants all three done this week.  What can I do to prevent him from doing this.  I'd like to just pad my estimates based on what I've got on my plate, but since he comes from a programming background, he doesn't believe my padded estimates.  Help!!!  I'm going to cry.

Brian
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

> Lately, the management of the project seems to be
> getting away from him,

What exactly does this mean? Getting away? You mean he can't handle it? He is busy doing other things?

> and the result is that I look like I'm missing deadlines. 

Well, are you or are you not?

> I understand how arbitrary deadlines can be,

It kinda depends. You might have to talk to him to see which deadlines he is serious about, and which other ones are flexible.

> For example, this week I have 3 tasks.  Each task could
> be done within a work week, but there is no way that all
> three can be done. 

With all due respect, without knowing what the tasks are and how competent you are, I can't tell if it is *you* who can't do the tasks in a week or the tasks are *truely* impossible to finish within the time frame you are given.

> He asked me separately for estimates on each task, and
> I told him one week each time.  Now he wants all three
> done this week.  What can I do to prevent him from
> doing this.

Was he joking? Did he set flexible deadlines or was he serious?

> I'd like to just pad my estimates based on what I've got
> on my plate, but since he comes from a programming
> background, he doesn't believe my padded estimates.

Well... Maybe they need all 3 done in one week which means they either need more people on the same tasks or they need someone who can do it faster than you. So you'll either be getting buddies or you will soon find yourself looking for a job.

Sometimes managers will feel pressure from upper management for getting things done. Either customers will be putting pressure on the upper management or the upper management will have read something in the paper which triggered them to act a certain way. You don't know what is going when you look at things from your level.

> Help!!!  I'm going to cry.

Nah.. Crying won't help. Why don't you try talking to your boss again although sounds like you already did that... Try digging deeper.

The bottom line is if you can't get done the job you are given, they'll either hire more help to assist you, or they'll get rid of you...

grunt
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Grunt,

I couldn't agree more.  Everything you said is dead on, I guess my concern really comes down to this:

How can I explain to my manager that if a project is going to take me 1 week (at my skill level) and he gives me 3 projects that all take 1 week, it won't magically take me 2.3 days to do each one?

Yes, I could probably just say that, but I can't seem to get the point across to him. Can anyone suggest a better way of making this point?

Brian
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Just explain your problem with the guy's expectations to him (without suggesting that he isn't cut out for his job or whatever other irrelevant feelings you have).  If he's not willing to talk about the issue, start looking for a new job (a refusal to communicate and negotiate means a dysfunctional work relationship, IMHO).

Kalani
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

> Can anyone suggest a better way of making this point?

"I agree that doing Y is important, but I'm going to do X *first* because X is ..."

At this point, he can agree that you won't start Y until after finishing X, or discuss whether X or Y is done first, or consider getting someone else to do one while you do the other.

Christopher Wells
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

No matter what, don't pad the hours and don't lie.  Simply lay out the scenario and dependencies to him in a way that he can understand.  If you're worried about your job, I would do it in email form so you leave a paper trail.  That way, if push comes to shove, you've got something to CYA...

Also, if you're really desperate or if you think that he's not doing his job properly, you can always speak with his superiors.  I'm sure they'd be more than willing to discuss this matter with you...

Good luck!

NPW, NYC
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

to "NPW, NYC"

<<<
Also, if you're really desperate or if you think that he's not doing his job properly, you can always speak with his superiors.  I'm sure they'd be more than willing to discuss this matter with you...
>>>

Does it help ? Have opposite experience. It worked  4-5 years ago, when the managers were really desperate to find a replacements.  Or you lucky to have a very good manager.

LI
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Brian,

This is your manager here. YOU'RE FIRED!

.
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

"Help!!!  I'm going to cry."

Suck it up, and get the work done, you wimp.

J.S.S.C.
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Whenever asked to give an estimate with respect to time -- whether internal or for a client, I give two numbers:

(a) Task Time
(b) Calendar Time

Where (a) is how long it will take, in terms of work, and (b) is when it can be expected to be delivered, in terms of what's queued up ahead of the task.

In your situation, the three projects, we have:

Project 1
  (a) Task Time: One Week
  (b)  Calendar Time: One Week

Project 2
  (a) Task Time: One Week
  (b)  Calendar Time: Two Weeks -- Project 1 is already in
                                  the queue.

Project 3
  (a) Task Time: One Week
  (b)  Calendar Time: Three Weeks -- Project 1 and Project
                                  2 are already in the queue.

Under no circumstances should you give (a) without (b) to *anyone* -- especially someone managing the deliverables deadlines for project.

Come on, folks, is this really that hard? We're all adults here aren't we?

Sgt. Sausage
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Sgt.
  One of the issues tha makes it more difficult (at least when talking with people requesting tasks) is that after Project 2 in your examples, you're dealing with probabilities. 

Project 1 - in work
Estimate given on Project 2 - 1 week duration, delivery in 2 weeks. 
Project 3 Estimate - 1 week duration, delivery either in 2 weeks if Project 2 is still only pending at time of go forward with Project 3, or delivery in 3 weeks if Project 2 has been approved before Project 3 gets the go forward.

Expand as needed for additional Projects.

Unfocused Focused
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Don't use "weeks" as the units of measurement. People immediately map weeks in their heads as calendar time.

Use hours instead. (Don't use days.)

Say, (for every week), 40 hours (people have to do the math to convert it to weeks).

njkayaker
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

If your boss comes from a programmer's background, then he should be well aware of how long your tasks should take (task and calender time). 

He probably thinks you got 'padded' time in your estimates and is trying  to wear more of a 'managerial' hat and trying to squeeze more work from you for the buck.  Or he's trying to flush you out of the job.

You really should consider talking directly to your boss and show him a break down of the task-time for each of the tasks in your projects. 
If you can prove your case that there is not enough time in the week to do all 3 projects, then maybe you will be able to get a more normalized, prioritized schedule.

Steve-O
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

> Yes, I could probably just say that, but I can't seem to
> get the point across to him. Can anyone suggest a better
> way of making this point?

What is his viewpoint? What does he say? As in, I'm sure you must've told him about 10 times that these 3 tasks cannot be completed within 1 week as each of them takes 1 week in themselves. So what is his reply?

E.g. suppose his reply is "You just have to do it. Thats it. No further arguments." In this case you need to find out whats going on behind the scenes. Has he made an external commitment that he simply has to fullfill. Does he think that you always pad your estimates and this time you've given so much padding that he needs to cut it down by 1/3. Maybe he does not have confidence in your estimation skills based on past experiences. Or someone else might have fed to him that these tasks can actually be completed in 1 week.

What I'm trying to say is that unless you get to know the real reason behind his behavior, its very difficult to help him understand your viewpoint.

So, what is his response to your arguments?

T-90
Wednesday, April 28, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home