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My boss permanently changes what he wants done

I am a web programmer in a country in which, right now, there are very bad economic conditions, so unfortunately I can't quit or change my job easily.

I have some problems with my boss. The problems really drive me crazy. Here is what I mean:

He tells me to do something in a certain way. For example, he tells me what kind of an user interface he wants, and how he wants the data processed.

Then I do that. I show him some partial results along the way, etc.

After I finish what he told me to do, I show the final result to him.

He then tells me that it's not what he wanted, it's not what he told me, etc. So we have a fight, after which I have to do again more than half of the work.

This problem repeats itself almost every month.

Also, there is another problem - he doesn't let me take notes or draw while he explains what he wants.

This started when, at one time, I took some notes of our discussion, and, when we had the usual "it's not what he wanted" fight, I showed him the notes. So he doesn't let me take notes and drawings anymore.

Unfortunately, because of the very bad economic situation in my country, it's hard to change jobs.

So - how can I handle the situation I described?

Thank you!

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Prepare a detailed specification and have him sign off?

Matt Foley
Wednesday, January 7, 2004

>he doesn't let me take notes or draw while he
>explains what he wants.

Clarification:  Prepare the spec AFTER the meeting and ask "Is that what you meant?"

If this document upsets him then he's setting you up to fail.  Stop caring and just play the game until economic conditions improve so that you can move on.

Matt Foley
Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Pull out the AK-47 double barrel triple scoped heat seaking missile launching shotgun.  The same one used on da 30 point buck.  This should solve the problem in a matter of minutes.

A upa
Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Aggreed, after the meeting create a spec.  Take it to him and say, "In an effort to reduce rework, I'd like to come to some agreement on what's expected.  Can you review this, make any necessary changes, and sign off on it?"

That way you know what you're aiming for.  I do wonder how you showed your notes to him though, he'd have to be one strange person to disallow notes because they showed he had changed his mind. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Get a taperecorder.

How large is the company? Does your boss have boss?

Eric DeBois
Wednesday, January 7, 2004


You could try playing "stupid". During the meeting when you and your boss discuss his requirements, keep insisting that you don't understand exactly what he's asking for, and request that he draws one or more diagrams that illustrate his exact requirements.

This will work unless he resolutely refuses to put pen to paper and insists on explaining the requirements verbally.

If this happens, you must insist in return that you're not quite grasping what he's saying. Don't be obstructive, just repeat every requirement back to him several times but with a deliberately different variation every time. Don't agree to any of the requirements, even if you do actually understand them. 

If you can, pull a colleague into the meeting to help you "clarify" the requirements, and use diagrams to discuss the requirements with your colleague while your boss carries on with his verbal outpourings.



Mark Pearce
Wednesday, January 7, 2004

While your boss sounds like a bit of a jerk, it's not unknown for real world users to change their mind or to not know what they really wanted in the first place.

I would strongly urge you to move to an iterative, agile process like XP or Scrum. Basically, stop talking about everything your boss wants up front since he's likely to change his mind anyway. Instead, say "what do you want me to implement this week?", then do it, and review it with him. If he does change his mind, you've lost less time and effort.

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

JR, if your boss doesn't let you to take notes during the meetings, it's because he knows that if he changes his mind, you have no way of proving what he said, therefore you'll have no reason to complain. So, I don't believe he allows you to write a spec and then sine it either.

That's got a be one of the worst "boss stories" I've heard. To call him a boss seems inappropriate, he's more like a ruler.

Possible solutions:
- Does your boss has a boss? Try to talk to your bosses boss. (Be careful, in some companies you can be fired if you don't follow the strict hierarchy path.)
- Keep doing what he tells you, until you can move to another job, and then write a "nice" resign letter. (If you are truly malicious, share the letter with your co-workers.)
- Try to be transferred inside your company (get another boss!)

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Thank you for all your replies until now.

My boss doesn't have a boss. :(

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

I have a good friend who was in a very similar situation as yourself. No matter what he did it was never good enough for his manager. He even started documenting and saving his manager's comments and showed me how conflicting his boss's statements were from month to month.

Eventually, the company fired him. But he went on to better things, though it was certainly a blow to his ego.

You can do nothing and still get blamed for everything. It might all come down to conflicts of personality.

I hope you have better luck.

Chi Lambda
Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Stop fighting with him.  Stop contradicting him.  Show him things as frequently as he will allow.  Change things whenever he says.  Never argue that he is at fault. 

If it is in his nature to enjoy this relationship he will keep you on.  If it is not, he will fire you eventually no matter what you do.

In the meantime I find it helps to view work as experimental theater.  Try to enjoy the show!

Name withheld out of cowardice
Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Sounds like Saudi!

Pllaying stupid would have been a good idea if you had started off doing it. One job I had after leaving university I had an immediatel supervisor for a couple of weeks that was so pettily stupid I started playing dumb. My work colleage one day nearly had a hernia when the boss told him "Pity about Steve; he really tries but he's just mentally deficient an dcan't manage it". doubt if you can pull it off now.

The main thing to realize is that your boss is playing a game with you, and even if you can prove you've done exactly what he wanted it's irrelevent.

I am used to inconsistent bosses. Their weakness is they can never remember what they last said to you so choose the order you like best and do that. If they are changing their mind all the time, then you can go one up and do something they never even mentioned. Just tell them that's what they told you and they will never be able to remember it wasn't.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, January 7, 2004

I was going to suggest the same as NWOOC.

They pay you for eight hours, give them eight hours. They aren't paying you for results, only effort.

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

"In the meantime I find it helps to view work as experimental theater.  Try to enjoy the show! "

wow, that is just what I needed to get through quarter 1, 2004. thanks!

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

I've been in a similiar situation.

My first bit of advice is to read something I wrote on my web site (sorry about the personal plug guys.)

Web Development SDLC - From Failure to FLiP

There are several links in that article that will lead you to more detailed explainations of Wireframing, Prototyping, and the rest of FLiP.

Hope it helps

Michael Sica
Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Nice thread!  I enjoy it.  Thank you all!

One thing is forgotten.  JR,  do not stop looking for a new job.  If they suggest more money,  you could easily change!

It is much more difficult to me now when I have sufficient payment and a good manager (compared to the previous)!

And I also should not stop!  Why do I?

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

JR, if its true that it doesn't matter what you do, do as little as possible on the first try have your boss change it, and do the rest

The Artist Formerly Known as Prince
Wednesday, January 7, 2004

I do not think tricking your boss into thinking you are stupid is a good career move.

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

I agree with  runtime. Working with him to create an organized work flow would be a much better idea.

Michael Sica (
Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Dear Michaek,
                      Hope springs eternal from the human breast, but getting ones nutrients there is generallh considered somewhat infantile.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, January 7, 2004

"Thank you for all your replies until now.

My boss doesn't have a boss. :("

So is he paying you out of his own pocket? 


If he does not like what you build you could use the Job as an oportunity to try different technologies.  Try using new tools to get the job done. Write it in c,c++, java, python, VBasic, etc...

Hey.. is not going to see the light of day anyway!!  Might as well learn as much as you can while you are there.  You can use it in the future..

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

"Diplomacy: the art of letting someone else get your way."


1.  As stated by other posters:  your boss may just be changing his mind.

He may be a poor planner. YOU may have to HELP him plan. A good subordinate helps to train his boss.  (It's worked for me).
I highly recommend reading "Getting things done"

He talks, among other things, about the importance of asking:
1. What is my goal?
2. Why is that goal important?
3. What would I envision as success.

2.  Whenever you try something to improve this relationship (specs, signoff, etc.) give him a reason that this will BENEFIT HIM.

Instead of "in order to reduce rework..." (this is a benefit to YOU) state this as:

"I want to make sure you're going to LOVE this program.  I'm not sure if I understood you, so I've listed MY understanding (specs). Is this correct".

Everyone is selfish, especially a bad boss. You've got to appeal to HIS BENEFITS. Find his "currency" (the things he cares about: profits, schedule, ego, whatever).

The real Entrepreneur
Wednesday, January 7, 2004

With a web site, "specs" may only take you so far.

Prototyping is the only way for you accurately communicate a web project. Don't get upset if you have to change the Prototype 100 times, that what that phase of the lifecycle is for!

I've been in meetings when the end user says, "Ok, this is the last time we're meeting for the prototype. We've got to move on." But then we walk away with 3 pages of changes for the prototype. So guess what... We change the prototype, which is very easy because there isn't any code/DB behind it, it's just HTML, and we meet again. And again. And again. Until the prototype is what the person wants the site to be! Just keep prototyping it until he finally says, "that's it!". Then go and build it.

If he approves the prototype and you start coding, and then he comes to you and says, "I want to change it." Just say "Sure". Stop coding. Start prototying. Once you figure out what he wants to do, you can say, "This is will take an extra 3 days to our implement into what I'm doing now. Is it worth it?"

Then the ball will be in his court. And you let him make the descision. Don't sweet the changes. You are still getting a paycheck!

Michael Sica (
Wednesday, January 7, 2004

  I've played the tape recorder game before at a previous job that sounded about like this.  Nothing will make a boss like this go through the roof like showing that you want to hold him accountable to what he said.  It's a great way to call him up short on making changes, but if he's resisted all other hints to stop it, this probably won't help.  And worse than that, it causes a showdown - which if he's the boss you won't win.  At best you start a race to see which of you can survive without the other first.

Unfocused Focused
Thursday, January 8, 2004

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