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January 25, 2010 6:22 AM   Subscribe

Working-in-environments-where-the-cheerleader-is-the-sinkhole-filter: Project manager isn't taking her job seriously, making it hard for me to do mine.

I was only about four months into my new position when our PM decided to leave. They had a hard time finding someone for the position, and once they did, the new PM and old PM spent about two or three weeks alongside each other to ease the transition.

Unfortunately, even after a year, the new PM still hasn't caught up to speed. Not because she can't, but because she really doesn't seem to want to. She spends most of her work days talking on her company-paid phone to friends and family. She also says this is the easiest job she's ever had about once a week.

It literally feels as if I've gone over software, my capabilities, general development processes, lingo and web services a hundred times over. The headline of this post? True story.

More and more I find myself giving up or caring less and less about my job because this woman doesn't seem to care about hers and she very likely makes twice as much as I do. I feel even more in a bind because my co-workers not only seem unaffected by her lack of effectiveness, but seem to really enjoy her general enthusiasm.

Worst of all is the fact that no one is proofreading the emails she sends out to clients. Her spelling is atrocious and she has started guesstimating unreasonable deadlines, resulting in even more headaches for everyone. I feel like talking to the clients myself is a huge no-no (and the primary reason for a PM to begin with), but it would generally be far more advantageous than the current predicament.

I work best when things are highly structured and find myself lost when this isn't the case. We've implemented SVN and use a popular web-based project tool, neither of which she understands, so she resorts to email. Needless to say she's not very good at double-checking the recipients and has done some embarrassing things that I'm sure haven't yet reached their pinnacle.

When I asked for the admin privileges to create my own to-do lists and projects, she still doesn't use the software. I am at wit's end trying to figure out what to do, because this is honestly pushing me to look for other job opportunities despite the fact that I love everyone there and really care about what I do.

Only one of my co-workers is vocal about his issues with her, although he's told me that a few others aren't blind to it. We've both taken to writing down any sort of situations we encounter with her that we feel slow us down in order to talk about it during our reviews. He's been shot down regarding her behavior before, and I'm worried it will continue happening. Long story short, she's eerily buddy-buddy with one of the owners and I think this is either helping her job security or doing a good job of hiding the reality of it from her.

The Short Story: Project manager can't project manage, OP doesn't see this changing in the foreseeable future and even if she's let go, there will be a grace period before the next one. What are some ways I can try to alleviate feeling overwhelmed and under-impressed while still making sure I get my tasks done on reasonable timelines without feeling like I'm stepping on toes?

What's a good way to deal with people like this and to, without going off on a rant like I have above, convey my absolute disdain for her work ethic to my superiors? I have a terrible tendency of not being able to find the middle ground between treading lightly and all-out raging.

My own productivity has dropped because of her, and I don't want to make it look like I'm pointing fingers, but my already-terrible anxiety is boiling over because of this.

Thank you all so much for your time.
posted by june made him a gemini to Work & Money (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
schedule a meeting with her boss or your HR manager, whichever is more appropriate. You can
1) provide feedback about her performance on the project
2)ask her to be moved off your project
3) ask her to be better trained/managed by her performance manager
4) suggest she be fired.

While you probably want to do #3, i think that #2 is probably the one only one you can make as a legitimate request, if you have a very hierarchical/compartmentalized office.
posted by Kololo at 6:51 AM on January 25, 2010

i meant "you probably want to do #4", not 3.
posted by Kololo at 6:52 AM on January 25, 2010

Talk to YOUR manager as well. This is usually their job, to try and make your job easier to do, and best for the company, fighting your battles so you can work.

Ask your manager how you should deal with it, and if they suggest going to their manager, do it. Writing down stuff is good ammo, but you need to tell someone else for it to be actionable.
posted by CharlesV42 at 6:58 AM on January 25, 2010

Start scheduling regular meetings with her, where you ask her to outline her expectations of you for the week/ 2 weeks. Explain that you are most productive when you have a solid structure. cc: your manager. Stop worrying about what she makes, or how she spends her time. Either she'll clue up, or become so obviously bad that she'll be moved/fired. After making every attempt to work with her, if you are still miserable, talk to your manager about getting off her project.
posted by theora55 at 7:07 AM on January 25, 2010

What about just detaching yourself from outcomes that are her responsibility and generally not thinking about what she does? Your job: writing code that does X by when you said you'd write it. Her job: looking at your schedule and accurately reporting it to the client. If you've done your best to communicate with her (maybe print out your Gantt chart and circle the Completed date with silver sparkle pen?), it's not your fault if she tells the client something insane, and you can politely decline to work overtime to make that insane deadline.

Envy-producing issues like her salary and her easy street work level are going to be maddening if you let them get to you. All I can suggest there is if you want her salary and responsibilities, try to get a PM job yourself. Otherwise, get some headphones or ask her not to tell you that her job is easy.

Finally, if you don't like working for a team run so sloppily, maybe you could try to get transferred?

Sorry if all of these sound "defeatist" or something, but I think it's easier to control your own actions than to get her to magically become competent (or fired).
posted by salvia at 7:08 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bad-mouthing someone never helps.

Long story short, she's eerily buddy-buddy with one of the owners

Find a new job.
posted by anniecat at 8:23 AM on January 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Why do people suggest talking to HR? If you talk to them, you forever get the reputation of being a troublemaker and may be used against you in the future, as in an excuse to fire you.


Try to tolerate it until you can get a new job or transfer to another department where you don't have to deal with flake woman.
However, don't wait until it affects mental health.
This comes from someone who had a mini-breakdown and got in legal trouble after being stuck at a job that was getting worse for too long. After that, they unceremoniously fired me before I even pleaded to charge.
posted by greatalleycat at 8:37 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Agreed. I am not sure where people get the idea that HR will protect them. I've worked closely with a number of large corporations and they all function pretty much the same - they protect their jobs, the company, upper-management, lower-management, and more popular employees before anyone at the implementation level (ie: software coders). They usually can't be expected to maintain proper confidentiality either - expect things like problems with your PM being passed off by HR to your PM to solve, which will add another layer of issues. Yes, and it gets you branded as a troublemaker. Consider that HR usually makes the list when layoffs etc start.

Ride this out if you can - it sounds like a long term project but by definition a project is temporary. There is some good advice in this thread -- do your job as instructed by the PM, keep your emails which advise the PM of potential problems (remember your role is to advise - the PM makes decisions - so you can prove you escalated problems, in case this blows up and it somehow points back to you) and I would try to avoid any appearance of being disgruntled especially if this person is popular with your boss. If you really love your job and co-workers, just take the good with bad.

One thing to consider - I've noticed on IT projects that there are certain functional team members that tend to think they know how to do everyone's jobs keep your sense of proportion here a PM is privy to documents, and decision makers that you aren't. There could be something here you don't know about.

If you have to move on, give your reasons for moving on as "just thought it was time to change" or something to that effect. There tends to be a myth in business that they want "movers and shakers" and they "don't want yes men". In reality they need people to be flexible, provide useful feedback, and carry out the day-to-day business with competence..
posted by Deep Dish at 9:26 AM on January 25, 2010


Wow, greatalleycat must have worked in some rough companies. Not only have I always found HR to be helpful in my work experiences, but I also worked several years as a (friendly) director of HR. I thought most of the suggestions above can be helpful, including greatalleycat's - make sure your HR is the type to be assistive rather than punitive if you are thinking of going that route.
posted by _paegan_ at 9:27 AM on January 25, 2010

Best answer: she's eerily buddy-buddy with one of the owners

That there is all you really need to know. There is little you can do to make a bad manager into a better one if you are in a position where that manager is your superior. However, the manager will usually be accountable to their own superiors, and any lack in PM expertise will be readily apparent, if the manager's superiors care to look.

In this situation the owners are enabling the PM to screw up the projects as much as she likes, and still be comfortable in the knowledge that she'll still be employed at the end of it all. It's an untenable situation, since you'll be expected to meet and conform to deadlines and requirements which were never discussed with the appropriate resources, may not be realistic or even at all possible.

As such, find another job, or the option is available to you, move to another section or team within your current company where the pretend-PM will not affect your work.
posted by splice at 9:50 AM on January 25, 2010

The degree to which HR is your friend can vary greatly. If you are at a small company and HR is less than professional then sometimes they _can_ be the snitch crew as described, but I wouldn't just assume it.
posted by Artw at 10:23 AM on January 25, 2010

Best answer: I have had this PM. Repeatedly.

she's eerily buddy-buddy with one of the owners

...uh-huh. This is why. Managers who hire by friendship rather than competence do not learn from the error. Trust me. Eventually (and it'll be a while) she will screw up big enough that even the owner can no longer avoid the need to let her go. She will exit with a golden parachute to make the blow soften, and she will be replaced by someone exactly like her. Start interviewing for a new job now. HR is irrelevant. You will sabotage your career advancement by staying where poor management undermines your morale and productivity. Your (deteriorating) performance is treated as exclusively your own. It isn't.

Future You
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:03 AM on January 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

Are you a member of a trade union? If so, I suggest you talk to your rep/steward about the situation before you do anything about it - they've got the resources of the union at their disposal and they know what things are like at your company, so they'd be able to give you much better advice than we can.
posted by teraspawn at 11:56 AM on January 25, 2010

Best answer: Manage her upwards by doing her job for her. If she is that bad at her job and the ship hasn't sunk, then she isn't providing much value. That would lead me to believe that it wouldn't take much effort to run some interference and get on with the project.

Sure, it is more work, but you will get experience and become more valuable. In the meantime look for another job and sell the fact that you 'managed' this difficult situation professionally and proactively with the companies best interest at heart.
posted by jasondigitized at 12:03 PM on January 25, 2010

Response by poster: Hi guys, thank you all so much for all of your responses thus far. I guess I need to clarify some things:

Unfortunately my company only consists of 10 people, so no HR/union/really anyone to go to outside of our little nest: just the three owners (and fellow co-workers).

She is the main point of contact, and really the only point of contact, for each and every single one of our clients and projects. If I could be re-assigned, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

I know my rant came off as incredibly cynical, but it just boggles my mind as to how clueless she is and how anything is getting done around here at all. Everyone else has been here long enough to have developed relationships with their clients so that she can be bypassed and projects can be completed without her really being involved. Another thing that factors into this is her unfortunate interest in my personal life and publicly talking about it in front of my co-workers. I mention one guy friend of mine and he's suddenly my "boyfriend" and "what does he do for a living? Ooh he must make bank - go for it! Guess what everybody, June is dating a rich guy!" Ugh.

Unfortunately because of the timing of my hiring, I never really got a chance to get some good time in with clients during meetings as we rarely have such meetings anymore. When she came in, it was such a trainwreck between large projects, and her arrival and my co-workers were able to be so self-reliant that she hasn't had to do much of anything in that regard.

Like I noted in my post, another co-worker has tried to talk to management (the owners) about her and they've been wary to do anything about it. I honestly believe they are somewhat intimidated by the third owner who she is 'buddy-buddy' with.

I'd generally chalk this up to another environment in which I have a hard time working in and find another job, but this firm is the best in the area and while I'm scheduling a move in the next two years to greener pastures, I'd just like some ways in which I can better approach this situation not only for my sanity, but for future jobs (and possibly freelance) as well.

salvia: While I agree it isn't my fault if she's lying to the clients, it does make it harder for me to do my job. For example, one of the last sites I worked on I did the mock-ups, client comes back and chooses one, and she says go ahead and code it up. Once I code everything, the client comes back and has all of these changes to the way the actual layout looks and functions. Now I'm not saying this is 100% her fault by any means, but in situations like this where I say "Hey.. for future reference, can you please let them know that it would have saved us a lot of time if they could have given us those changes BEFORE? I also outlined when I sent the mock-ups over why I chose to merge some pages and move stuff around." Her response is, "This project is already late, just do what they say to make them happy," when the project is late because she gave an incredibly unreasonable deadline to them without my prior acknowledgment. Every time I then try to bring this up to the higher-ups, I get a "just grin and bear it, she'll learn." This has happened almost every single project.

The more and more I write and read-over what I'm saying, the more it sounds like I need to leave.. I just wish it wasn't one bad egg the spoiled the whole bunch and was hoping to find a way to get past that until I can move on.
posted by june made him a gemini at 12:26 PM on January 25, 2010

Response by poster: Jason, it's funny you mention that, I've considered asking my higher-ups if I could do such a thing. Unfortunately I don't want to look like an ass. Any good ways of bringing such a topic up?
posted by june made him a gemini at 12:27 PM on January 25, 2010

Reading between the lines of the above, I suspect that you just don't like this woman.
Even if her major performance problems could somehow be fixed overnight, this personality clash probably isn't going to change. You either need to find a new job or else bury the hatchet and accept this is how things will be from now on.
posted by Lanark at 1:42 PM on January 25, 2010

Response by poster: See that's the thing -- I don't mind her as a person at all. I think she's a tad airheaded sometimes but when she first came on I was happy to have someone so cheerful and upbeat. She doesn't talk down to me and asks me how I'm doing and seems to genuinely care about everyone here on a personal level. She just has zero work ethic whatsoever and seems to think she can get by on a smile and an "Oopsies!"
posted by june made him a gemini at 2:24 PM on January 25, 2010

Best answer: "If you don't like your job, you don't strike. You just go in every day and do it really half-assed. That's the American way."
-- Homer J. Simpson
posted by Talez at 4:02 PM on January 25, 2010

Best answer: Yeah, see, in your example -- as annoying and frustrating as it sounds -- I think you could say to yourself, "ah well, it's the clients who pay the hourly bills," or "ah well, if my company doesn't want to make any profit on this job, that's their concern."

Don't get me wrong; I don't like working with incompetent people and would try to teach her her job through frequent, simple reminders, until I started looking for a new job. But the most important thing in my opinion is to set boundaries so it doesn't impact YOUR life more broadly, (eg, no overtime ever) and then to remind yourself of those whenever you start to fume (just a job, I get paid either way), so that it doesn't even impact your non-work life through bad emotions.
posted by salvia at 8:22 PM on January 25, 2010

Or look at it this way: it's the owners' money (or lack thereof), and they enjoy working with her, so they choose to spend it on someone incompetent. It's your life and moods and career, and you should do whatever is in your best interests, be that leaving or trying to ignore what bothers you, etc.
[typed this right after the other one but forgot to hit post]
posted by salvia at 11:26 PM on January 25, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you guys again for your responses. I admit that I'm a little bit on edge about all of it, more so than I should be. I'm going to make an effort to be more demanding of her time than I have been, and noting specific instances in which she has tried to place blame on me when it was not my burden to begin with.

If in the off-chance someone catches this thread and still has something to add, it would be much appreciated!
posted by june made him a gemini at 7:04 PM on January 28, 2010

Did anyone speak with the owner who's her friend? It might work if you present things constructively. Maybe "All our past project estimates have been unreasonable. I realize those lowball estimates might be necessary for landing some clients, but I'm not even being consulted. For example, [technology] obviously requires longer than [allocation]. Also, surely lowballing [specific client] was unnecessary given their long history with us. I would appreciate some input on these estimates."
posted by jeffburdges at 1:38 AM on February 20, 2010

Response by poster: Hi Jeff, thank you for your response. As far as talking to this particular owner, it's really quite pointless. His entire process (which I'm sure is nothing new in the world of sales) is having an in with someone where we're bidding and knowing what the other bids are and what those other agencies are promising. That way he can go in at the last minute and write up some fancy proposal and the bid is coincidentally in the sweet zone. I don't think frustrating production is something that bothers him, because it's something he does frequently. But he at least makes sure he's not too over-his-head and devotes himself to the larger projects to make sure that things get done.

That said, up until the last few months when the company started gasping for air, he would hardly show up to work either.

Any time I've seen fallout between the owners it's been because of him exaggerating our capabilities. He'll say we can do something we've never done before (again, standard fare), but he at least knows enough about the technology that it's generally something we can learn fast.

With her, she promises a client something in an email and then forgets about it, only to be reminded later when the client highlights the text of an email anywhere from two days to two weeks prior. She'd often take the blame when face-to-face with me if the project was mine (while telling me about other huge mistakes she'd made with other people's clients that she was trying to sweep under the table), but then try to backpedal or say that I'd verbally acknowledged the change during a meeting.

Of course, she'd only try to place the blame on me when someone else was in the room, especially my direct superior, and I'm not the sort of person to stoop to that level, so I'd just take the reprimanding from my superior knowing she's a joke and get it over with. I'd admittedly and erroneously assumed that everyone around me was aware of her bullshit, and like me, just dealt with it until the company as a whole had enough downtime to figure out where the kinks were and go from there.

I've since been relieved of this position (which I'm grateful for, all unemployment issues aside), and you can read more about what's going on with that in a post that I made anonymously.
posted by june made him a gemini at 12:35 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

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