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As an agile project manager, I am currently working with one sub contractor, the problem that I am currently facing is that he is just not pulling his weight with not only doing the work but also answering technical queries, and my boss is expecting me to investigate and on a theoretical level solve the problem for him.

I do not mind at all doing this, but I have expressed the following concerns:

  • I am not an expert in that particular technology, so I am much more prone to making an error than if it is him - who is an expert in that technology. I am happy to support him, providing that he contributes to the investigation too. Which is not what he is doing. He is expecting me to hand hold him.

  • I feel that since I am not hands on coding, the support that I can provide is limited, given that I cannot try different things out with the code. If I am required to start developing, than that is going beyond my job description. I have made it clear to my boss that I have no interest at all writing code again.

  • I feel that at best I can point him in the right direction and give suggestions on how to solve the problem, but in the end, he has to find the solution. My boss doesn't seem to get that and expects me to hand hold him.

  • I am much more interested in project management activities, requirement gathering, optimising my sprints, organising my backlog, reading burn down charts, making sure scrum is followed properly and so on.

How can I convey this to my boss without getting to confrontational? Is he correct, and is the level of support that I am supposed to provide?

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    As a project manager, agile or not, you should not be required to have any technical background. If you do have and your boss wants you to use it, then it's outside of your role. – nvoigt Jun 7 '16 at 6:07
  • Yes to both. He feels that it is in my job description to do this. That is why I posted the question here, to find out if it really is in my job description to hand hold developers hands during the implementation process. – bobo2000 Jun 7 '16 at 8:08
  • It's hard to say what is or isn't in your job description. – nvoigt Jun 7 '16 at 10:45
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As Project Manager, you should be the buffer between the customer and the developers. It's part of your job description.

As such, it makes sense that the questions are handed to you, so that you can quiz the developers for the answers, without interrupting their work.

You can do this formally in meetings, or informally around the water cooler.

The customer, on the other hand, if he should start interfacing directly with the developers, would invariably be interrupting their work. Not to mention the stress it puts on developers who have to deal with customers.

So your boss is right: You are the buffer between the developers and the outside world.

  • That is all fine, but handholding the developers hand effectively solving his problem for him, when he should spend some time investigating and researching the problem too is what is bothering me. I am pretty sure that developers need to support the PM by investigating and putting forward solutions too? Which the PM then relays back to the customer? – bobo2000 Jun 7 '16 at 8:07
  • He's expecting you to find solution w/o talking to the developers? I'm not sure I understand. – Danny Schoemann Jun 7 '16 at 10:50
  • Yes, that is correct Danny. – bobo2000 Jun 7 '16 at 10:57
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OK I think you have a number of different issues here.

1: How to assess the performance of a developer.

A very difficult problem which often comes up on this site. My view is you can only do this by comparing output with your other developers. But if they are a contractor, just fire them and get a new one. On the other hand even a low performing resource is a resource. So its really a value for money thing.

2: Are you asking your developers to do non development tasks.

Obviously you have only given a brief description. But in my experience developers do not like answering 'technical queries' instead try asking them to write 'solution recommendation documents' to written problems. ie "How should we increase the speed of our website?"

3: Should you (as an ex dev?) be expected to evaluate the code and/or train up your dev team?

I think you are on stronger ground here. Even if you are a developer yourself experience in a particular area counts for a lot. An inexperienced dev might think a problem is easy and put in a quick solution; where a more experienced person would take much longer covering problems areas they have come across in the past and building a better solution.

I think this kind of task should be covered by a perm senior/lead developer, architect or tech director.

4: How do you make that argument to your boss?

Well this is a workplace problem question rather than a project management one. My advice?

Don't. At the end of the day you are employed to help your boss with whatever needs to be done. Have a look at the guys work and make a judgement call. Is the problem hard or is the Dev weak? The safest call career wise is probably to say the problem is hard and request more/better specialist developers. If you say the dev is weak and your boss thinks of you as a dev you might end up with the task!

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As Project Manager, your job is to get the project done. This project is one of your boss's goals and you are there to help your boss get his job done. If you have repeatedly explained to this subcontractor what he is supposed to do and how productive he needs to be, and it is not working out, then you need to replace the subcontractor, because he is not helping you get YOUR job done. If you have not yet explained this to the subcontractor, then that's the next step.

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