Your boss wants what? How to deal with difficult demands

iStock_000001804423Small business manPicture the scenario: you’re at a critical stage in your project with a number of key tasks on the critical path all lined up with your best resource earmarked to deliver them when you get an e-mail.

It’s from your boss and he wants you best resource for another urgent assignment. What do you do? Stamp your feet and say ‘No!’, or meekly cave in and resign yourself to delays on your project? 

There is another approach and some very good reasons for adopting it. Firstly, you need to assess the impact of losing your resource. What will it really do to your project? Will there be delays, increased costs as you hire and train a backfill or need to deploy less effective resources. Will it add risk to the project? All these factors must be assessed objectively and dispassionately otherwise your arguments will lack credibility.

If your analysis shows inconvenience but no real impact, it might be right to accede to your boss’s request. And he’ll ‘owe you one’. If on the other hand, it does show an impact, you need to present this to your boss. Effectively you need to present your business case for keeping your resource.

Your boss then has to make the decision, because it is theirs to make. If the new assignment is more important than the implications to your project, then the boss should take the resource. If not, they shouldn’t. That assumes they are being rational and fair, and we’ve all had bosses that don’t fit that description. If you have a good relationship with your boss you could challenge his assessment. If not and you have good reason to believe he isn’t making the right decision you could go to his boss. But that can be a dangerous game. You may not have all the facts.

So let’s assume the boss has decided to take your resource. You now need to do two things. Firstly you must explain to the resource and the rest of your team what has happened. That you had made a case to keep them but the decision was taken out of your hands for the wider good of the organisation. This demonstrates your loyalty to the team and that you will fight for them. Good leaders do this for their teams.

The second thing to be done is raise a risk or issue against the project. There is now a potential or actual threat to the delivery of the project and your project board must be made aware of it. If the boss is playing games, the project board now be aware and can take appropriate steps. IThe quality trianglen either case, the project board can help you to minimise the impact and provide you with the resources you need to deliver.

It’s not just the boss that can make unreasonable demands. I have often run projects or programmes where the sponsor has pushed hard for an earlier delivery –‘more from less’ is often the refrain. The same approach can be applied. Understand the end objective clearly before considering the new demand. Then assess the impact of the demand on that end delivery. It might be possible to deliver earlier by applying more resources or running activities in parallel. But be aware of the risks. Will the extra resources just get in each other’s way? Can you control the parallel tasks with the same level of surety? Do the extra costs make the early delivery worthwhile? Always consider the time, cost, scope triangle and remember that the quality of the end delivery depends on keeping them in balance.

Again, present your findings as a mini business case, weighing up the pros and cons of the situation. If your advice is not heeded make sure you raise the appropriate risks or issues and include the details in your status report.

In extreme cases you might need to re-consider your position on the project. From your professional perspective can you agree to the course of action requested? I have been faced with several situations where I believed the project was being compromised. In one case, the boss asked me to step aside and take another role. In another, I turned down the job and took another role. It may not always be practical or financially viable to take such a stand but at the end of the day you will be judged on your delivery, so beware.

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Posted in Change, Leadership, People skills, Risk management, Sponsor
One comment on “Your boss wants what? How to deal with difficult demands
  1. Phil Monckton says:

    wow, you’ve just written about the last 8 months of my life…..

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