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Distracted manager

I worked for my manager for 2 years, in the (very small) R&D group. Recently he was promoted and made responsible for everything in the organization related to computers, including a big project that has dragged on for years and has to be finished within 6 months.
I think he was overly confident in thinking he would be capable of over-seeing the whole IT department, taking over as project manager for the big project, and still continuing to be my manager.
This is an example of why I think so: I had to write a new improved version of an application I wrote last year for a non-local user. My manager told me not to do extensive testing, but to let Greta (one of the help-desk ladies) test it, because he wanted me to get back to working on another project.
Of course Greta didn't test it, and the user became impatient for the new version, so my manager told me to go ahead and make the new version live.
The next day, the application had to be used and of course something went wrong. I had 15 minutes to find and fix the problem. Then something else went wrong which I had 2 minutes to fix, and so on.
I felt that my manager's questionable decisions made me look bad to the user.

I expect he will continue to be distracted for quite a while with the big project, along with system administration, and everything else. When he makes what I think is a bad decision I could probably ignore it and do whatever I want, since he isn't paying attention. But on the other hand he can suddenly start to pay attention to what I'm doing.
Maybe I should have argued with him about making the new version live without adequate testing.

The Real PC
Saturday, June 21, 2003

Boss says "let Greta test it"
PC says "okay"
Two days later, Boss says "make it live"
PC says "Greta hasn't tested it"
Boss says "just go live with it anyway"

Your next step should be:

From: Real PC
To: Boss
I just want to confirm your direction to go live with MyApp 2.0 despite the lack of testing on it.

Real PC

Saturday, June 21, 2003

In other words, my response to him should have been in email? Of course I did say "are you sure about that?" but I didn't write it.

The Real PC
Saturday, June 21, 2003

He's saying to make a "paper trail" of all your boss' decisions against your recommendations.

It's a tough call, because I don't know the "politics" of the place you're at, but I'd be tempted to go to my boss' boss (on the promise of confidence) and tell him that you're concerned about the directions you've been getting.

Brad Wilson (
Saturday, June 21, 2003

Brad - I wouldn't go over my boss' head. I'd talk to him about it directly, and ask for some more autonomy. Try to spin it so that you're praising him and not criticizing him.
Saturday, June 21, 2003

I assumed he'd already talked to his manager about it. You're right, if he hasn't, he should start there.

Brad Wilson (
Saturday, June 21, 2003

No, I have not talked to my manager about this; I don't want to make a big deal about one bad decision. If it starts happening more often, that would indicate he has taken on more responsibility than he can handle.

You know how a person can look like he's doing a fabulous job, so they pile on more and more responsibility until he's overwhelmed (but of course would never admit it). Well I thought that might happen with my boss.

I think I will definitely have to consider trying to be more autonomous and more assertive. Instead of asking his opinion, I should figure out my own opinion and suggest it to him. He'll be so overwhelmed with other things, he might say ok go ahead. He won't be insulted by this, because it would make his job easier.

If he forgets to tell me what to do, I might have to figure that out myself. I'm hoping to turn this potential disaster into something positive.

The Real PC
Saturday, June 21, 2003

Its the Peter Principle, people are promoted to the level of their incompetence.

Simon Lucy
Sunday, June 22, 2003

[[ Its the Peter Principle, people are promoted to the level of their incompetence ]]

Excellent !

Evgeny Goldin
Sunday, June 22, 2003

I prefer the dilbert principle - when you have a bunch of people doing a job, the one getting the least work done is made the manager.

HEY, do you think scott adams reads the JOS forums? Look at today's comic:

If they changed it on you, here's the actual image:
Sunday, June 22, 2003


Another common working situation turned into a tirade against managers. I mean, because Lord knows developers never make any mistakes, right? And we're not really involved with the process of actually SELLING software, we just make it, right?

Ok, rant over, but the point is valid. The kneejerk reaction that managers are defacto incompetent is just plain silly.

The reality in my office is that everyone is trying to do 1.5 jobs. Some even more. We (I mean developers, testers, managers, everyone) try hard every day to make the correct decisions, set the proper priorities, etc. Sometimes we screw it up.

Some of us are fortunate to work in offices where others might notice that we're temporarily flailing or possibly making a bonehead move and these people might actually try to help us. They might try to point out the oncoming issue with some grace and civility and maybe make some helpfull suggestions. You may actually run into someone who is not so much concerned with his/her image but the image of the team/group/organization as a whole.

There've been times when I've succumbed to extreme tunnel vision. Sometimes there's been someone there to knock some sense into my head. I've always appreciated it. I don't know about your boss, but you might take a chance. If he's/she's relatively normal they might appreciate the help as well.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

I understand why we need managers, and I probably would not like to have their job. I understand why programmers must respect the fact that the manager is the boss -- otherwise it would be chaos.
On the other hand, managers should be aware that they are not managers because they represent a higher order of human evolution than the lowly programmer, who needs and deserves to be led, guided and prodded into doing something useful. The programmer is capable of understanding the goals of the organization and of thinking of ways to achieve the goals. We need managers because they have the big picture and communicate with the higher up leaders. It would be impossible for all of us to talk to the big bosses and to know all about everything.
Progammers/developers should be given their general goals and the reasons for these goals, and should be trusted to work towards them.
I am a 50-year-old adult with a PhD and years of work and life experience. Why do I need my boss tell to me when my application is ready to be live?
When people get promoted they may interpret it the wrong way. It doesn't mean they are godlike and the folks under them are mentally deficient.

The Real PC
Sunday, June 22, 2003

Your manager obviously is distracted, but if I were him, I would expect someone to step up to the plate.

I'm guessing that you knew he was distracted before it became a problem and you knew that Greta was not testing. Who's responsibility was it to ask Greta to test?

Your manager has been forced into a decision - tell the customer it's not ready or go live now. If I were him, I would have expected you to be more proactive (cliche alert!). If he's got a lot to think about, then a gentle reminder wouldn't go amiss "Have you asked Greta about testing", "Oh, I'll do that now".

I may not have the full story here, so apologies if I have got this wrong, but you could have helped your boss. Personally I would be annoyed that I didn't find out about any problems until it was too late and even more annoyed if you waited until the next time somethign went wrong to bring it up.

Pete J
Monday, June 23, 2003

I'm sure he'll be annoyed, I'm sure I'll be blamed for not arguing with him or disobeying him. Blame the person for being respectful and doing what they're told -- that's always enjoyable.
He told me to ask Greta to test even though he knows very well she has never done anything I've asked her to do in the past. I ask her very nicely and respectfully, she says oh yes of course no problem, and then never does it. It is bizarre for my boss to think Greta would ever be helpful. He has no authority over her and her manager doesn't like him. Basically, he knew he was asking me to do something ridiculous (get Greta to actually work).
I'm a good person to use as a scapegoat because I don't get angry and I'm always nice to everyone. Big mistake I guess.

The Real PC
Monday, June 23, 2003

[I'm a good person to use as a scapegoat because I don't get angry and I'm always nice to everyone. Big mistake I guess. ]

Respectfully, this is still in the mode of worrying about blame.

I'd hope to work in an environment where "looking bad", scapegoating, and such were not the first concern of team members.

I know that, around here, I've never seen someone praised when their team, as a whole, failed. I doubt "Greta" is going to benefit from the current situation.

Have you ever held a post-mortem or retrospective (retrospective is supposed to be a less threatening term)? I find they are great tools, even for successful projects. You may want to see if you can arrange one for this project. Facing volatile situations like the one you describe is a delicate matter, but if you don't want it to happen again, then it's something you have to do.

Monday, June 23, 2003

I wouldn't compromise being a nice person, even if you do have to take a bit extra grief for it. It sounds like you feel better for taking the grief than changing your principles.

I've been where I am for 7 years, and I'm known for sticking my neck out for what I believe is right. It is a small company so people are encouraged to raise issues.

What I would have done (and this is just what works for me) is to have spoken to Greta's manager first, since they are responsible for her workload. Your manager may not be liked, but you could use your 'niceness' to persuade, e.g. "I know you guys have loads to do..." "I would be really grateful..." "You would be doing me a huge favour", etc.

I also find that asking if there is anything you can do to help them works as well. Again, this is just what works for me, but I am a fairly shy person.

As to what you do now, I would come up with the solution, then raise the problem with your manager, diplomatically of course -  "I know you have loads to do, so I thought I'd do xyz to help out" (xyz being as much to your advantage as his).

Go and build bridges with your co-workers - I've had a couple of managers that thought they were really persuasive, but didn't realise that I was sweat talking people behind the scenes. People tend to do things for people that are nice to them (tech support always fix my PC straight away and ask me my opinion about the latest movies!).

Hope that's more helpful!

Pete J
Monday, June 23, 2003

I'd like to stand back from this for a second and say that I see this problem as very minor, compare to other things I have experienced in various areas of life. If anyone says he never trouble getting along with other humans I suspect he's lying or in denial.
But I have seen a tendency in myself over the years to not be appreciated to the extent that I would like. I don't think it's simply a lack of assertiveness. Rather than get psychotherapy, I guess, I'm writing about some of these problems here.
I believe all humans are a crazy mixture of good and evil. Some people are born with the instinct to understand this but others like myself are not. I am learning the very, very hard way how shockingly complex and convoluted human nature really is. I am not referring right now to my original post, just things in general.

The Real PC
Monday, June 23, 2003

Oh, several stupid typos in the above. Supposed to be working, typing too fast.

The Real PC
Monday, June 23, 2003

Nothing much to disagree with there. Add to the complexity the fact that people who are 'good' in their private lives can be 'evil' at work.

Bottom line, at work people are scared of being sacked, so their primary instinct is to make sure that they cannot recieve blame. At home, the primary instinct is to protect the family (sweeping generalisation).

Personally, I find that those people I don't get on with are usually those whose motivation is questionable - i.e. I don't trust them. They disappear after a year or two (when they get fed up or get found out) and seven years later I'm still here!

I still think of myself as a kid, so I don't know why I'm acting all worldly wise!

Pete J
Monday, June 23, 2003

Different lessons are learned by different individuals at different ages. So you could be 20 and still have learned things I don't know yet. The number of lessons to be learned ed can't be counted or imagined.
An old person can hide from reality and fail to learn important things. All things being equal, though, the # of years you spend on earth increases the # of crummy things you learn (and of course good things as well).
I just found out yesterday, as an example of a crummy thing to learn, that my best friend who I have known most of my life is a pathological liar. Who would ever have guessed that?
Life can be astoundingly tragic. I am not in the best possible mood today.

The Real PC
Monday, June 23, 2003

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