Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bad Boss Finalist #4 - Special Project

This is the story from the last of the four Bad Boss Contest finalists. Voting starts tomorrow.

Special Project

I’ll call my bad boss “Special” because that’s how he described himself. Back when I started with the company, Special was a rank-and-file project manager. I was a combination engineer/project manager. I didn’t work with him much back then, but I heard that none of the field personnel liked him. One time he called his field crew and made them so mad that they walked off the job. He wasn’t allowed to directly talk to his own crews after that. But, Special was good at office politics and got on the good side of the powers-that-be. After we had a management catastrophe that resulted in most of middle management getting fired, Special was selected as our new Director of Engineering and Project Management. Other than his politics, his only qualification for the job was that he was willing to give the company $40,000 (as “skin in the game” – upper management sold all of the open positions because the company was having cash flow problems).

After assuming his new position, Special called lots of unproductive meetings where he expounded at length about how he was going to “right our ship”. He created lots of new forms for us to fill out and decreed formats for how to document projects. It would have been a good idea, but he went too far and began micromanaging us. He also required all project managers to attend a weekly meeting where we were supposed to discuss project status and get help with problems. The company was short on resources, so except for some commiseration the meetings were a waste of time. At these meetings I kept pointing out that one project I had inherited (after the management catastrophe) was falling behind because only 10% of its resources had been allocated. Every week it got further behind and I got more vocal – so Special banished me from the meetings. Of course, later during my performance review he pinged me for not attending those meetings. He never did get me any resources, but I managed to keep the customer happy because the customer was having his own scheduling problems and we were managing to keep up.

Then Accounting did their yearly project audits and found that my project was not bringing in the expected revenue. I couldn’t bill for hours and efforts that weren’t being applied! By unhappy coincidence, the Director of Operations was balking at honoring the manpower commitments he made during the project proposal so to get me off his back he complained to Special. Special called a big meeting about my project, where not only did he claim that he never knew that my project was behind but he also had to play “big man” in front of upper management by chewing me out nonstop for an hour. I was removed from the project. Special wanted to fire me, but my track record was good and my other projects were doing fine so upper management wouldn’t let him.

Special vowed during the big meeting that he would take the project over and fix it. However, after a week of finding out how bad it was, he re-assigned it to a buddy who had never managed a project before. She was in over her head, so after a month she asked me for help and I ended up taking the project back. Special pretended not to notice, and I was still banned from his meetings. I heard that, in his meetings, somehow every project problem was now my fault – even on projects that I was never involved! Finally I got the project done and thought things would get better.

Not! Special had been poisoning my reputation with upper management. The company was reeling from bad management choices (those folks who bought their positions) and decided to have a big layoff. Of course I was on the list to go. During my exit interview, Special admitted that he had sabotaged my projects (to use those resources to bolster his own failing projects) and that he had been blaming me for all kinds of things – and he admitted all this in front of HR! He claimed that I was expendable because another buddy (Willy) was the “future of the company” – I spent at least fifteen hours a week fixing Willy’s mistakes. Special was going to call me later to “buy me a beer to make up for it”! (By the way, I never did get that call.)

The company continued to flounder. They laid off half of the technical staff, and lost 75% of their experience and credentials. Willy quit two weeks later when he found that there was nobody left to fix his mistakes. Special ended up getting demoted before the company eventually went bankrupt. Instead of feeling vindicated, I’m sad because at one time that company held a lot of promise and several good people lost their jobs.

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