How to ask "why wasn't I assigned this project?"
January 12, 2017 9:16 AM   Subscribe

I started a new (web/software development) job in October. Recently a small-ish project was assigned to another employee (with admittedly less experience than I in the chosen framework), on which I would have enjoyed working. Is it possible to constructively ask for an explanation about why I wasn't chosen for this project?

I can come up with a few reasons on my own about the decision here, and I'm sure it is one of them, but can I ask for clarification without like I'm protesting/being defensive/etc? And if so, how?

My position was created to tackle (among other smaller goals) one large project, but there are some hurdles (for others) to overcome before I can dig into that project, so I've been working on some necessary and important (but dull and far from challenging) documentation/organization, and the specific project I'm questioning would be interesting and very very similar (but smaller in scope) to the project I finished immediately prior to accepting this job.

Reasons I can think of:
  • Other employee (who is our only remote employee) doesn't have much work to do
  • I'm not communicating well enough my perceived lack of work (or eventual lack of work)
What is the best way to approach this situation? Should I not question the decision but instead ask if I can continue to be involved?

I'm also worried this person may just be creating more headaches down the road due to inexperience. Their immediate reaction was "Let me know if I should use X (outdated) framework, Y (obscure) framework, or Z (popular/current/not going anywhere) framework and I can get started on a mock up" and my suggestion was "well definitely Z but I think we should talk to the stake holders and see if we can improve the current process before any of this."

Apologies, this turned into a lot more verbose of a question than I had anticipated.

Really I just haven't been doing any development since I got here (besides bug fixing). I've been cleaning up a lot of messes, which I've been grinding through because there is a light at the end of the tunnel (when I will work on the larger project, and follow up with smaller projects), but its not exactly clear how long the tunnel is.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total)
"What's the best thing I can do to make sure I'm in a good position for projects like that in the future?"
posted by amtho at 9:26 AM on January 12, 2017 [21 favorites]

Another point to consider is that just because you have more experience with the framework doesn't mean they want you to be the only person with experience.

You can certainly ask to help and I doubt it would be received poorly. However, in the future, if you care about the work coming down the pipeline, ask your boss(es) in your periodic check-ins (you have those, right?) what's coming up, tell them what your workload is and what you would like to work on. If they're receptive, you may even ask to sit in on planning meetings or meetings with product managers/stakeholders.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 9:28 AM on January 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

When a manager chooses someone for a task, he has lots of things to consider other than experience. He may have something else in mind for you, he may think you're busy enough, he might feel more comfortable with an employee with a longer track record than with a fairly new employee. Maybe you are the only employee who will grind through bug fixes without whining. Maybe the other guy sucks at fixing bugs.

In theory, one should always be able to ask one's manager about anything relevant to the work. You have to judge for yourself how true that is in this particular circumstance.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:39 AM on January 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Lots of good advice and points here. I'd suggest raising it with your manager as a question along the lines of "Hey, such-and-such project is the kind of thing I'd be interested in working on, and I have [relevant experience]. Is there any room for me to help with this project now, and what do I need to do to get involved in similar things in the future?"
posted by rpfields at 9:44 AM on January 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Absolutely, you should ask. I'm speaking as someone who has managed a lot of dev teams.

It signals 'hey, I'm interested in this, and I'd like to do this kind of thing.'

Your manager especially if you're new, may have no idea at all where your interests lie. He or she may be 'keeping you in reserve' for a secret project that's in the pipeline six weeks from now. He or she may be protecting someone else's ego. He or she may be balancing a budget against yet another project that's coming down the pipeline from another department in a totally different framework, and they want to leverage doodad Y against...

Point being, you don't ask, you have no idea. Be tactful, signal interest, get the scoop.

It could have been as simple as a cut-and-paste error in an Excel sheet. I have seen that happen.
posted by mrdaneri at 10:17 AM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

This has happened to me occasionally. A nice project I would have liked has been given to someone else, and I felt it would have suited me much more. But like SemiSalt said, the manager has their reasons, and it's none of my business at the end of the day, so you've just got to suck it up and forget about it. And by questioning it your manager may think you are calling their decision making skills into question.

If I were going to say something however, I wouldn't frame it like "Why did you give X the [interesting project]? I was better suited". I'd say something like "I've been here a little while now, and I'd appreciate being able to get stuck into a project alongside [your current project]. Something like [interesting project] looked fun".
posted by derbs at 10:23 AM on January 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Other employee (who is our only remote employee) doesn't have much work to do

I'm not communicating well enough my perceived lack of work (or eventual lack of work)

As far as I can tell, this seems to be... more than enough? You don't have a lack of work. You have work to do that needs doing. It's not the fun stuff, but it's the necessary stuff. If this other employee needs work and you don't, then why would they take you off of stuff that needs doing to have you do this? They'd still have to come up with something for this other person to do. Unless this is for some reason higher-priority than the project you initially got hired for, I don't see anything inconsistent about the idea that they'd be willing to pull you off of your current work for the big project, but not for this one.

I mean, I'm pretty junior, but I started my current job around the same time and the only real code I've written for new features was basically one if statement--everything else has been bug fixes, unit tests, and refactoring. But the maintenance side of things is important; the messes only get worse if they're left any longer.
posted by Sequence at 10:26 AM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you want to know, you should ask. One reason I might make an assignment like this is that, as a manager, I might prefer that remote employees have self contained tasks that can be worked in relative isolation while leaving more collaborative work on site.
posted by advicepig at 10:39 AM on January 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

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