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I am getting ready for an interview for the role of project manager and came across an interesting case. How would you approach this case in an interview?

Your team supports Google's internal service responsible for UGC moderation. The team consists of 3 Devs: one is on vacation, one works from 9:00 to 19:00, the third works from 11:00 to 20:00. On Friday from 18:30 to 19:00 managers of five other services who use your moderation and markup service reach out to you. They complain that nothing is working and needs to be fixed urgently:

  • Google chat moderation
  • Moderation of ads in Google Ads
  • Moderation of user reviews of movies in Video
  • Moderation of custom organization reviews on Maps
  • Classification of user trip complaints

Let's assume it takes a developer at least 30 min to solve each problem. What would you do in this situation?

I guess we need to prioritize tasks first (tasks related to chatting on the roads have a higher priority at this time of day) and ask the second dev to stay late. But I have no idea why we are given information about the 3rd employee being on leave.

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David's Answer is pretty good; I just wanted to offer another perspective, especially focusing on your comment:

But I have no idea why we are given information about the 3rd employee being on leave.

One thing that may come up is how well-aligned your values are with the company's. For example, depending on the interviewee's values, s/he may include 'contact the on-vacation dev to work remotely'. And depending on the company's values, they may like or not like that response. There's (arguably) no 'correct' answer - the interview is simply intended to test for fit.

Other values can also be tested here:

  • do you ignore existing slower processes to get a quick fix out (and if so, how/when do you repair those processes)
  • how closely do you work/communicate with the client during the fixing process (do you ask them for priorities, how often do you let them know progress, how much detail do you dig into about what's not working)
  • how closely do you work/communicate with the devs during the fixing process (how much input do you give them to the approach)

Et cetera.

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With only three on your team, losing one constitutes 33% of your capability from a human perspective. If your team had 100 people, the likelihood of losing 33 of them to a vacation on the same week is near zero if not zero. So this is a huge risk that a good PM would have a coverage plan in place because vacations are normal. Notwithstanding four unique events that failed that you have to fix, and your "recovery" response to handle that, you should be able to talk to a vacation coverage plan that is already in place to handle the normal work load plus unique occurrences such as those four events. So the schedule of the other two developers should already be a modified schedule so that any other coverage interventions you need to deploy would not be that extreme...or at least less extreme.

To address the questions in the comment:

You are likely right that the safe presumption of the working schedule is to cover vacations; however, I would still address it. The other contingency item I would bring up is that there should already be a firm, non-negotiable expectation to surge in work op tempo secondary to product performance issues. This would include weeks where no one is on vacation and weeks when one of the three are on vacation...or absent for whatever reason.

So my intervention would be:

  1. Vacation Coverage Schedule (proactive, ie, contingency)
  2. Expectations of Surges From Time to Time (proactive, ie, contingency)
  3. Prioritization of Issues (reactive, issue recovery)

I do not think I would offer a unique "reward" other than over-time if they are eligible for it. Surges are a normal work expectation for any role in any industry.

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  • Thanks for the reply! I absolutely agree with you, we should have a coverage plan however, as Sarov pointed out, this is more of a behavioral case. Imagine that schedule of 2 developers is already adjusted (considering that according to the case 1st developer works 9 hours and the other 10 hours, most likely it is so). What would you do in such a situation? What reward would you offer? Would you address the employee on vacation, etc.? Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version) – Nadezhda Voytovich Mar 15 at 20:20

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