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Dealing with an indecisive boss

By Mirror Mirror On the Wall ·
My boss has poor-decision making skills and it's stalling his pet project. He wanted to overhaul our dept's information system and the work was assigned to our in-house IT staff. Because I'm interested in project management (I'm an admin/desktop support), I was responsible for obtaining user requirements from various staff.

The problem is that there are some requirements that only he can decide on, but he gives me the runaround. He says "X would know that", but they refer me back to him. He denies any familiarity with the area, then a month later says he's the best person to consult with. Or he approves some requirements, then changes his mind without telling anyone until we're at a meeting with the project manager.

We're not getting anywhere because the IT staff are asking: "What do you want out of this system?" and his response is: "What can you do?" The project manager has drawn up a few alternatives based on the feedback we got, but my boss won't choose one. He says we need to get more user feedback but won't specify exactly who needs to be consulted, or sends me to the wrong people who refer me back to him. We've wasted a few months doing this and the project manager has warned him that the project isn't going anywhere until he makes up his mind. Whenever the project manager advises my boss that X needs to happen for the project to proceed, he gives the task to me then sits on the results. He says this project is important, but it seems he's hoping that if he stalls for long enough, something will happen to save him from making a decision. Now he's also begun to blame me for the lack of progress, saying that the user requirements could've been collected a lot sooner.

What should I do? I'm too involved to back out of this, but I don't want to a scapegoat for my boss's indecisiveness. Should I tell the project manager about my boss? And what are some ways to handle changing business requirements while minimising scope creep?

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by dryflies In reply to Dealing with an indecisiv ...

First of all, most managers want their subordinates to make the right decision obvious to them. for example if we do A, the impact to the project timel;ine is A1 the benefits are A2 and the risks are A3. we could instead Do B with an impact of B1... (you get the picture)... Then provide the incremental costs and benefits of each solution. It sounds difficult but it is not. do the homework, give him obvious answers and when he gets off track reel him in. as to the user feedback issue, identify the target audience/market/user and get feedback from them. form a requirements document that clearly states the cost and benefit of each option/feature and also rate each as required, should have, nice to have, and fluff. I'm telling you you are going to have to spoon feed this guy his decisions and make him feel like he made them. Probably not the answer you want to hear but it is the right answer. also, telling the PM about your boss will just dig you in deeper. If the situation is that untenable for you, find a new boss - and fast.

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by jgchristophere In reply to Dealing with an indecisiv ...

Take the necessary steps:
1. Gather all the bright alternatives form your peers regarding the requirements and best system for your re-engineering.
2. Choose five best altenatives and present it through cost and benefits.
3. Schedule a consultative meeting with your immediate boss and the manager for the presentation of such alternatives.
4. During the meeting emphasize the urgency to come up with a decision by your boss with the approval with the manager.
5. if your immediate boss gives an idea that will improve the alternatives take it.
6. be sure that the meeting will be properly documented for future refernces

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by Wayne M. In reply to Dealing with an indecisiv ...

Let me suggest two steps that may help. One, look at gathering more general user requirements, and two, define a prototype/beta test to evaluate and lock down the requirements.

I am a little confused by the statement "there are some requirements that only he (the boss) can decide on". When requirements are being gathered, there is no "deciding" to be done. Gather the information from multiple sources and then evaluate the collected opinions. When gathering requirements, ask general questions and let the other party guide the discussions. If you are asking general questions, it would be hard for someone to refer you back to your boss. For items where you may want hard and fast numbers, try to get measurements from your existing system(s).

Once a sufficient amount of information is gathered, propose a protype, beta test, or demo system. For anything large enough to qualify as an overhaul, you will want to show a phased approach to implementing the solution with contingency plans to back out. This reduces the overall risk and can help overcome indecisiveness.

Talk to people in general terms to determine what they need out of the system and for details, measure what you currently have. Next, put together a plan for a prototype system to get a hands-on evaluation.

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by bea94457 In reply to Dealing with an indecisiv ...

One thing is a set down with the project manager and tell him exactly going on and then give hime a list of things that will make the project move ahead if things have not change is time to go to the owner of the comapny with the project manager so that you can get the blessing to proceed ahead sometimes bosses are not IT trained engough and are afraid to make the wrong choice that they could lose there jobs if they do.

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by Pharus In reply to Dealing with an indecisiv ...

There is some critical information not in your question:
- Is this project high- or low profile? It would seem it is rather low profile and your boss is not getting (making) time to sit with you on this.

- Although this project is his pet project, is he trying to give a gap to prove yourself? If so, take charge of the user requirements. If you go this route, even your boss becomes your resource.

In addition to this, document all user requirements and have the user that provided the requirements (including your boss) sign off the requirements.

I know this creates a lot of extra paper work, but project management requires a lot of paper work to ensure people involved in the project doesn't have selective memory. If the people involved isn't continually reminded of the goal posts, it tends to be easily forgotten.

Hope this is of some help.

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