15

I have a project manager who always thinks we are able to handle more workload.

How to handle this kind of project manager?

He also always ask us what are we doing and despite we telling him the tasks we are working at he still think we are able to take on more workload

Any advise anybody?

14

First, bring the discussion down to facts. It's not that you don't want to deal with another task or you feel you won't handle it but you know it and you can support it with hard data.

Until you start discussing facts you may be facing the issue that PM is just adding things to your backpack and wait until it's clearly seen you have too much. There can be many reasons of such attitude, starting with a lack of trust and finishing with lack of will to make difficult decisions on task priorities. Either way with no data you won't solve this.

Second, visualize that. If you tell me that you're overloaded and you have dozen tasks in backlog it doesn't say as much as your task board would say.

I don't say it has to be task board or Kanban board. It can be whatever visualization tool which works fine and shows data you want to discuss.

Third, use meaningful historical data. Backup your point with experience from the past. Find similar situations and show how overloading team with tasks ended up in late delivery or random choice of tasks or chaos in priorities. Show how effectively you could work at times when the team wasn't overloaded with tasks etc.

One thing I want to stress is data should be meaningful, meaning it should be about this very team, in similar and comparable situation etc. It shouldn't be some made up information which just show what you want it to show. You have to believe in value of the data.

Fourth, show consequences of not changing PM's attitude. If nothing else works I retreat to a discussion like this: if you don't set meaningful priorities or give us enough information how we should choose priorities we would end up choosing tasks mostly randomly, as we aren't equipped well enough to make reasonable choices. Is that what you want? In other words if everything is equally important, everything is equally unimportant as well.

Sometimes, even such argument doesn't change the approach and you basically have to deal with the situation by yourself, trying to make right decisions while facing insufficient information. You can consider good old escalation to someone higher in a pecking order - either your boss or PM's superior. Depending on a person it can help, although basically the discussion would look the same. The only difference would be person taking part in it would hold more power and more authority.

  • I like the idea of visualisation - as long as you stay honest and don't "pad" the board with non-work. But then the PM would see through that right away, I would hope! – Iain9688 Oct 26 '11 at 19:34
  • Visualization base on transparency. I assume that you prepare your visuals not only for the sake of this discussion but they are freely available for anyone who wants to see them. In this case you just can't pack there any fake data etc. and even if you do it will be easy to verify. – Pawel Brodzinski Oct 27 '11 at 7:19
  • 1
    Great all around advice! Would expand on "we would end up choosing tasks mostly randomly" in item #4. A PM who does this is deferring their responsibility into the team which isn't in the best position to make these calls. If the PM isn't either (or doesn't feel they are), then, well... more and bigger problems... I'd suggest the team adopt an alphabetical approach just to point out the ridiculousness of not having a better priority set. – Al Biglan Nov 4 '11 at 16:08
7

Say No.

Politely, and professionally decline all extra work that you can not handle at that moment. If you are a professional, you can only work correctly on a single task. Giving it all of your focus, expertise and care.

Most humans are bad at multi-tasking knowledge work; i.e. you might get away rapidly splicing your attention across two or three jobs, but both will take longer and will be of poorer quality.

So say No and turn the tables around. Finish what you are working on (giving it all of your focus, expertise and care) and then go back to the PM asking for the next job to do.

Hopefully the PM will realise that you are a professional and you complete the tasks assigned to you and you can start to communicate and collaborate better on how to give/get tasks that suit both of your needs. (cfr the other posters, Agile PM)

  • 1
    Actually I don't consider it a constructive approach. Hoping that "PM will realize that you are a professional" is rather poor strategy too. Besides, pretty few of us have comfort to work on only a single task at any given moment and we are expected to make our choices. The point is we should make them in a conscious manner. All in all, just saying "no" usually ends up with a response "I don't care; just do it" anyway. – Pawel Brodzinski Oct 27 '11 at 7:41
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    Correct, you should not 'hope' that the PM will realize that you want to be/are a professional, you need to make it clear and state that that is your reasoning behind saying no. If the PM says "I don't care; just do it" than that is HIS problem, not yours. He is responsible for the proper planning, you (we) are responsible for the proper execution of the task. – Rudi Oct 27 '11 at 16:02
  • I disagree with 'saying no.' The PM is not asking. The PM is directing. – David Espina Oct 27 '11 at 20:09
4

This typically happens if:

  1. The PM is not clear on your current workload. He might know WHAT you are working on but might not understand how much longer it will take. Let's say you tell him you are working on a User Registration page and you are already into the second day, he might assume that you are almost done. Cases like this can be handled pretty easily with better communication.

  2. He might know what you are working on, considers the progress too slow and heaps on another job just to remind you that there IS a lot of work left in the backlog. Cases like this are also easy to solve with better communication. Some PMs don't like to openly question individual productivity levels unless they REALLY have to and resort to doing this instead.

  3. Are you guys understaffed? If you are, he could be doing this because of delivery pressure from management. It doesn't really help the process as much as he would like to believe but he might not know that. Try to bring it up in weekly meetings, ideally getting a more senior colleague to raise the subject and when management is NOT around.

Different PMs have different styles. Unless you have a clear system in place to monitor projects so everyone can know what's doing on, it is VERY hard to say what the problem is. If you can't figure out the WHY part, it's pretty much all speculation when it comes to finding a solution.

Believe it or not, most PMs aren't out to bust your balls (even though it often does feel that way), its ineffective, bad for relationships and lowers morale. So unless you are dealing with a totally incompetent one, there must be some reason.

  • #1 is critical. - team members have an obligation to estimate time for tasks. PM's are responsible and accountable for listening to those estimates and incorporating them into the plan. – Mark C. Wallace Dec 18 '15 at 17:25
2

Provide him with a list daily of what your working on. Provide him with a longer term view of what is lined up over the next couple of weeks. You will need to include your task time estimates. Also refer him to previous work and show how long that took so he can get a better understanding of task duration. Eventually he will understand your capacity.

Agile project management is good in this regard as you can plan out all the hours of your week in full view of the Agile PM. 40 hours in a week, then that is what will be planned for you in your iteration.

Essentially your problem is a combination of communication and possibly the pressure he faces from the business. He may need to push back on the business or get more resources to handle the workload.

2

On a project with baselined scope, plan, and schedule, it should not be a surprise to anyone on the team the work that comes down. If it is a surprise, either the work is completely out of control or the PM is hiding what (s)he should not be hiding.

Let's assume the work is known, baselined, and under control. If the PM is observing unfavorable trends in variances, it can not be considered unexpected that the team might start to feel over burdened. After all, the PM is crashing or fast tracking the schedule in the hopes of correcting the trend.

This is not a yes or no, accept or reject situation. The team needs to make the PM aware of the expected trade-offs with the assignment of additional work. Priorities change, risks develop, other issues are cured, it's a balancing act.

Take the new work and let the PM know your prediction of expected impact and let the PM make that balancing act decision. The new threats might be more acceptable than what (s)he is trying to cure.

0

Work on one thing, complete it, then go for the newest useful item in your list. You'll soon find the older items disappearing from the PM's radar. If you believe it's actually important that those tasks get done, raise it with the PM and ask if they can be given to someone who has a lighter workload or might complete those tasks quicker than you due to differing skillsets.

Get a second opinion. The PM is not always the right person to decide whether a task actually needs doing and maybe has an agenda that doesn't match with the rest of the team or the client. Just checking some details about the work with someone else from the team or the client can be enough to trigger a "we don't actually need that anymore" or "that's already covered by FooBarBaz 2.0".

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