I was hired as a Product Mgr. (PM) in a start up with a sound value proposition. I have responsibility to enhance it.

Part of my expectation is that I want to focus on PM, and I was told that they were hiring a VP of Eng. Although the title seemed too lofty, it satisfied my condition that there is a design execution counterpart to my role, so I can focus on the role I want to fulfill.

The Eng. Mgr. did not work out.  After three months of my happy period where I was delivering good work products (not results yet) for the team, I was thrusted into having to add engineering mgmt. to my role. I have the experience to do it, and I am doing it well. But it was not my intent.

Upon two reviews, my CEO advises that he does not want me to ‘help’ with engineering, be engineering or be PM, but don’t confuse the two. There has been a Programme Manager, who played some Eng. Mgr. role, but it was never clear to me what he did before my (and the eng mgr.) time. He is some sort of stakeholder, so I am unsure if he wants to lay back a bit, or has no interest to handle the engineering role, for which I became absorbed, but I was told I need to clarify my boundaries.

I can do the engineering mgr. role but it is not what I want to do – it was clear in my application process. They made a bad hire, and I stepped in to help. The CEO says I should ‘step in’, just do or not do. I don’t want to do the engineering job, but as a Product Manager, if engineering is weak, there is no product for me to manage and evangelize. So I am stuck.

The engineering challenges are large, with an aggressive agenda. 3+ products, each product having 3 modes of sensing, each sensing mode have to be developed. Each of these dimensions has their challenges. The company has resisted division of labour, and wants to remain in a ‘lab’ engineer environment. Each product x modes x sensing development has multiple deliveries within periods measured by months. All staff are multitasking to an extreme, while that is not appreciated, as there are often calls for people to focus.

Ultimately, many of these decisions are CEO/Founder driven. The company is mining technology, and the hiring process has not had many domain experts except for the CEO himself. I came from a FT50 company, whose domain is not mining, not relevant to be specific here. I am an operations guy with a career in Product Management (marketing) as well.

Where operations require suggestions for changes, I have found out from other senior managers that the CEO trumps decisions. You can’t say no to him, this is true for CTO, Programme Manager, and other senior managers. 

I can fight to change the culture, while facing looming deadlines, which will likely face further erosion of my confidence.

There has been resistance for me to directly interface with customers on key projects. While the resistance has relented, the initial reaction is to hold me back. I deal with customers and field projects well. When I do interact with them, it reminds me of the confidence I have in what I do.

After the background – there is founder-itis, and I am now doing more that I wanted to apply for 9 months ago rolling in Eng Mgr. and Prod Mgr. roles, with no increase in pay (they get a 2 for 1 deal), while I watch the senior managers not help even though they must have been doing this before my hiring. At the same time, the forward-looking promises are accelerating all in the name of preserving the runway. The CEO wants to do many things, not focus (“everything is critical”), so there are more hiring’s. More hiring requires more management, for which I have ‘stepped in’ but I am told not to. Someone must do the engineering management, or I do not have products to evangelize.

In the end, I am doing more that I applied for, not recognized for it, told that I shouldn’t do it (secretly, he just wants both done, and accountability, so there are no excuses), the risk of failure is high, and the promises are piling up. 

~Worker Living in CANADA

Step Back

We can step into roles, tasks and duties that aren’t ours to do.

We can be used and used and used up. This is what happens to ‘good’ employees who want to ‘help’.

Before you ‘step in’ you should ‘step back’ and ask yourself WIIFM? What exactly is In It For You?