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Have you ever been assigned to a project that's doomed to fail?

ultimatebob

Lifer
Jul 1, 2001
23,901
1,668
126
Have you ever found yourself assigned to a project at work that's pretty much doomed to failure?

It's for a new software product that nobody on the team seems to know, yet they have the due date for project completion set for 90 days from now. The project also has a 5 person team, where half of the people are clueless about how the product works and the other half are so busy doing other work that they don't really have time to help out. The documentation for the software sucks, as well.

In this particular case, I'm the "new guy" on the project and really don't have the influence to get the "right" things done like get everyone product training or hire an outside consultant who actually knows what they're doing. So, I might need to sit back and watch this one go down in flames. As the "new guy", I'm sure that I'll take the lionshare of the blame for the failure as well.

I'm curious what you did if you ever found yourself in such a situation. How did you stay sane throughout the process?
 

nakedfrog

No Lifer
Apr 3, 2001
51,407
3,941
126
Spent about a year on one. Shrugged, and figured at least I'm getting paid and can learn from the experience.
 

IronWing

No Lifer
Jul 20, 2001
62,075
15,289
136
Yeppers, I eventually talked management into abandoning the project. I discussed it briefly in the first world problems thread.
 

Kaido

Elite Member & Kitchen Overlord
Feb 14, 2004
45,557
2,820
126
lol yes

One of the things I really feel they should teach kids is that work isn't work. Rather, work is not what you think it is. Your job isn't to do your job, your job is to make your boss happy, even if it's the wrong thing or if it's something that is going to fail (obviously, don't do illegal things). But you only have so much authority to make & implement recommendations if you're not the person in charge, and after you are told "no", you can either keep doing your job (because it's your job to do your job & because you need a paycheck) or you can quit & go find something else to do for work. And sometimes that makes for really bad outcomes. One of the craziest stories I ever heard was about the Challenger explosion:

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/01/28/464744781/30-years-after-disaster-challenger-engineer-still-blames-himself
The night before the launch, Ebeling and four other engineers at NASA contractor Morton Thiokol had tried to stop the launch. Their managers and NASA overruled them.

That night, he told his wife, Darlene, "It's going to blow up."

...

The data he and his fellow engineers presented, and their persistent and sometimes angry arguments, weren't enough to sway Thiokol managers and NASA officials. Ebeling concludes he was inadequate. He didn't argue the data well enough.
The engineers told management that the launch was doomed to fail, and they got overridden. Bad things happened. And it's not like they had Twitter or Facebook Live or Youtube to spread the word of warning back then, either. This is an extreme case, but it happens all the time in the business world (and the political world, and the military world, and the academic world, etc.). Just look at the entertainment world...how many movies come out just absolutely stupid, that could have been great, but that were just bad. Or else were otherwise financial failures...the new Blade Runner has already lost $80 million.

Learning to let go & not be a control freak about things is part of being in the adult world of production. You can keep pestering them, but they may fire you. You can shut up & keep your head down & keep your job (for now) and watch it crash & burn, but at least you'll get a paycheck while it happens. Or you can jump ship & go find somewhere else to work, but most places are all the same...there are doomed projects everywhere you go. I'm very fortunate right now in that I've switched back to doing freelance IT, so I can pick & choose my battles (and outside IT people also tend to have more sway than people inside the facilities), so if I see something that is going to be a royal screwup, I can choose not to be a part of it. I have left jobs in the past that were in clear danger of failure, and made sure I had a CYA paper trail detailing the oncoming trainwreck so at least I could say I warned them. It's harder when you're onsite at one job as your full-time job & there's nothing you can do, because then you're just stuck dealing with it. But the world keeps turning & you need a paycheck & you can only do what you can do, so you mostly just have to learn how to shrug it off, unfortunately.
 

purbeast0

No Lifer
Sep 13, 2001
50,945
3,644
126
Yep and it's a big reason I'm no longer with the company anymore.

I was asked how long it would take to implement this huge feature and I said 3 months and they said ok well you have 4 weeks.

I left shortly after that.
 
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Chapbass

Diamond Member
May 31, 2004
3,100
47
91
I've had projects like this. A little tougher since you're the new guy, but for me, I always very clearly line out the risks involved (mainly, the ones you just mentioned in your OP) and made sure management is aware there is a very real risk of failure here. Don't sugar coat it, youll just get burned long term.
 
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Ajay

Diamond Member
Jan 8, 2001
8,896
3,590
136
Yes, I had to let it burn down. This was bad for me, as a senior engineer, management expected me to rescue it. They had left me out of initial discussions and expected me to rally behind their screwup. There was just no technical means to save the project. I got a hard lesson in how someone else can burn my reputation just because I can’t perform magic. Good luck.
 

lxskllr

No Lifer
Nov 30, 2004
54,718
4,708
126
I guess I'm fortunate that the projects I do only fail if I fail, and failure's only temporary, and can be fixed by throwing money at it. The company as whole can fail projects, but that doesn't concern me directly. I'm also fortunate that the company is small, and I can pretty much do what I want, how I want. Any "order" gets translated to "request", and I take it under consideration. If I think that's the best way to do something, I'll do it. Otherwise, I do it my way, and everyone else can adjust. It usually is just a matter of minutia, cause there's limited ways of doing math correctly, but I still do stuff that aggravates the boss. Zero fucks given :^D
 

Carson Dyle

Diamond Member
Jul 2, 2012
8,174
519
126
Yes.

But I've also been involved in projects with someone who is absolutely certain that the project will fail. Everything is going to hell, and they display that attitude, often in passive-aggressive form, in every second of the work day and every task they're asked to complete. And the project turns out just fine. Those people are just as soul-sucking as management that steers a job into the weeds.

.
 

RichUK

Lifer
Feb 14, 2005
10,318
672
126
A 90 day project? With the majority of my projects, we spend that amount of time refining the business case, securing stage / life funding, initialisation & mobilisation and potentially a POC... and then we start execution :tearsofjoy:
 

RichUK

Lifer
Feb 14, 2005
10,318
672
126
In all seriousness, you should raise these concerns ASAP, least of all to cover your arse.

You need to be set up for success.
 
Jun 19, 2004
24,135
1,592
126
You keep trying your best right up to the last second while letting the powers that be know the project is going to fail. Sometimes the only way to convince management IS to fail. Of course, bad management doesn't learn but, if you're lucky, they'll fire you.
 

sdifox

No Lifer
Sep 30, 2005
84,665
9,255
126
More like have you ever been assigned to a project that is not doomed to fail.
 

DietDrThunder

Platinum Member
Apr 6, 2001
2,262
326
126
Same thing happened to me on my last 90 day project. Management came up with the bright idea to start design, requirements definition, coding and testing all on the project start date. No matter what anyone said to management, they just wouldn’t listen. We massively over ran the budget and were 2 years late on the delivery. What made it worse is that during the last year of the project, management implemented 2 daily status meetings, one in the morning, one in the afternoon thinking they could get our project back on track. The meetings would last over an hour and a half each.

Now I’m on a 3 year project that I can probably retire on in 10 years.
 
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Kaido

Elite Member & Kitchen Overlord
Feb 14, 2004
45,557
2,820
126
I've had projects like this. A little tougher since you're the new guy, but for me, I always very clearly line out the risks involved (mainly, the ones you just mentioned in your OP) and made sure management is aware there is a very real risk of failure here. Don't sugar coat it, youll just get burned long term.
Yes, and make sure you send it via email so that you have a "CYA" paper trail. I have used this as an "I told you so" when grilled upon project failures - not to shove it in their faces, but to protect my own hide when they were looking for a scapegoat. That way, I could demonstrate that I did everything in my power to abort this outcome from happening, and anything beyond that was not up to me to make the decision on.

I learned a very valuable lesson from one of my former supervisors, back when I was learning the game of IT politics: "You only have two jobs: first, to make recommendations, and second, to implement the option that management selects". I had a struggle with this for awhile because I could see trainwrecks down the road & it felt like I was crying wolf because nobody was making the right decisions. But I eventually accepted that lesson - my job was to make recommendations, but implement whatever was chosen, assuming it was something out of my control. Hard pill to swallow, but it kept me employed, and yes, sometimes things crashed & burned, and I've left more than one company where I wasn't comfortable with how bad things were going to be, so you have to take it situation by situation & company by company.
 

sdifox

No Lifer
Sep 30, 2005
84,665
9,255
126
Same thing happened to me on my last 90 day project. Management came up with the bright idea to start design, requirements definition, coding and testing all on the project start date. No matter what anyone said to management, they just wouldn’t listen. We massively over ran the budget and were 2 years late on the delivery. What made it worse is that during the last year of the project, management implemented 2 daily status meetings, one in the morning, one in the afternoon thinking they could get our project back on track. The meetings would last over an hour and a half each.

Now I’m on a 3 year project that I can probably retire on in 10 years.

The whipping will continue until the morale improves.
 
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Darwin333

Lifer
Dec 11, 2006
19,946
2,325
126
Yes and I absolutely paperwork the shit out of people so that when it all comes crashing down I have proof that I not only told them it was going to fail but offered options to mitigate the damages repeatedly. I had one project that was going to hell in a handbasket quick, I threw so much bullshit paperwork at the architect that all contractually required a response that he either couldn't keep up or no longer had the desire to and finally let me do it my way. My way was the right way for not only myself but the owner and the architect as well. He was one of those assholes that went to a two hour seminar and thought he knew everything about roofing but barely knew that the roof went on top.
 
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ImpulsE69

Lifer
Jan 8, 2010
14,793
825
126
5 years ago I was given lead on a massive project that as soon as I got the technical details I told them it would fail. Fail it did, spectacularly. Not that I didn't try my hardest to prevent it, but it was well out of my hands by the 'smarter' management that thought cheaper is better and thought our team were biased and kept the marching orders moving forward no matter what issues we hit. About 3 years in the final straw happened (losing way more money than they saved). Now I am in a new massive project to undo the last project. Fortunately I have a good boss, so I didn't take any heat for the failure. It's the only reason I'm still there.
 

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