I just want some answers!
December 20, 2009 8:47 AM   Subscribe

How do I actually get the documentation that I have been asking for at work?

I am already looking for a new job, so no need to give me that advice.

At work, there have been many new projects lately with lots of misunderstandings or just unclear directions from our supervisors. In a recent meeting, my first question was how often they wanted the data and they could not tell me weekly or monthly. We went forward assuming weekly, but there has still not been any specific answer.

I've been in this role for nine years, and two years ago our direct supervisor changed from one who required (and wrote) documentation for new projects to one who is much more laid back. This is when the smaller problems became much bigger. Most of these projects do not come from him, but from his boss or other people at that level in our department. I feel as if they know he won't stand up to them so they walk all over him, and by extension us.

In order to solve this problem, I have suggested that we use Sharepoint to document the details of projects. Other groups in our department use it, but my supervisor has ignored my suggestions. He has not said why, but I suspect he is afraid of learning new software. In the meantime, we still have these problems. When I have time, I can document some of my work and try to keep up with the new projects. But I have no training in documentation, plus we have a group who does the documentation for most of the other groups, but they don't support us.

I am not out to prove that we are always right. I know we make mistakes, but I am tired of seeing us blamed for anything that goes wrong. We feel scapegoated, like we are pawns in the sick game of office politics.

So, I'd like suggestions on how to get the documentation and clear answers that we need.
posted by soelo to Work & Money (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I had a manager sort of similar to this guy, and part of the problem was that he didn't really know what he was doing and didn't know what questions to ask when someone had a project for our team. We sort of had to go around him to get any work done. Do you have to ask him these questions, or can you go more directly to the source of the request and ask them?

Another idea (and which may or may not help) would be for you to send an email to the supervisor (and CC anyone else on the team who's relevant) that states the dilemma (e.g., weekly or monthly data), the team's conclusion given the scant direction (e.g., weekly), and then something that indicates that you will be interpreting a non-reply from the supervisor as an indication that you're on the right track. ("Hey Supervisor, it wasn't clear from our meeting earlier whether the data should be delivered weekly or monthly. We're going to assume that it should be weekly, since that gives the recipient more flexibility and doesn't really require any more work to build. If this is an issue, please let us know, but otherwise, we're going to start work with this assumption. Thanks!") It won't solve the bigger problem, but it'll at least give you something written you can pull out to defend your work when things go to hell next.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:14 AM on December 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is a difficult situation to be in. Either your boss is self-aware enough to understand that he doesn't really know what he's talking about, or he is unaware and doesn't understand the problem.

Either way, the best way for you to handle this type of situation is to insist upon extensive communication with your boss. But you have to figure out a way to do it that doesn't put him on the defensive. You can't say something like "Boss: you're incoherent and imprecise. Tell me what the fuck you want, not what you think you want." You should posit whatever you say in terms of you not understanding how you can fulfill his needs: "So, let me ask you a couple of questions about Project X, since I know this is important to you and to your boss."

The point is you need to convey your requirements for more information in terms that are immediate for your boss. How do your needs address his own needs? Your boss is primarily concerned with doing the work that his boss requires of him; therefore, you need to present your problem to your boss as a way of helping him get his work done for his boss.
posted by dfriedman at 9:33 AM on December 20, 2009

I had a manager who liked to manage by veto. He often would not want to give an answer when asked something directly, and he would not read or respond to long emails describing a problem or question. After some time, I realized this meant he just wanted me to decide things, but he wanted me to let him know so he could veto if he felt strongly enough.

So the solution was to send emails of the form "Hi, unless I hear otherwise, I'm going to [give the results weekly]." This actually worked really well and was liberating for both of us: I never had to wait on him to decide something, and he didn't have to make decisions he didn't care about. This was a very good way for us to work.

I feel like you are in the same situation. I'm not really clear on what kind of documentation you're talking about (and I sort of get lost halfway through your question). But I know that if you are holding out for your new boss to be just like your old boss, you won't get that. Find a way to work with the new boss. Don't expect him to change. If he won't give you answers you want, don't get angry, just go without. Decide what you think is best and move on. The emails like I suggest above will keep him informed and if he has strong feelings about something he'll let you know.
posted by fritley at 10:21 AM on December 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can you get the document from one of the older projects which worked well, then just copy the format and replace the relevant paragraphs with what you think should be the specs of your new project?

Or how about you type up a "this is what we are planning to do" document and present it to your boss or to the customer for signoff agreement. It could contain thing like: general overview statement, functional specs of the project, limitations, assumptions, approach, things that are out of scope, questions to be resolved.
posted by CathyG at 11:15 AM on December 20, 2009

Part of the problem with just forging ahead making assumptions is when those assumptions are "wrong". This is what I mean when I say we have misunderstandings. We get a lot of "that is not what I meant" from other people. My boss will rarely speak up and say they were not clear, but most often it is just "okay we'll do it this way from now on".

If these were small issues, we could handle them. However, in the example I gave a weekly update would be a very different approach than a monthly update. What I'd like is some techniques for communicating these questions and the urgency/importance of them.
posted by soelo at 10:04 AM on December 21, 2009

Follow up every oral interaction with a verbal confirmation via email. For example,

"As per our conversation today, the plan is to do X, and I will do Y.

Please reply and clarify if that is not your understanding."

Save all these emails to refer to later if people change their minds or otherwise disagree about what the plan was.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:32 PM on December 22, 2009

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