• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
programming forums Java Mobile Certification Databases Caching Books Engineering Micro Controllers OS Languages Paradigms IDEs Build Tools Frameworks Application Servers Open Source This Site Careers Other all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
Marshals:
  • Campbell Ritchie
  • Bear Bibeault
  • Paul Clapham
  • Jeanne Boyarsky
  • Knute Snortum
Sheriffs:
  • Liutauras Vilda
  • Tim Cooke
  • Junilu Lacar
Saloon Keepers:
  • Ron McLeod
  • Stephan van Hulst
  • Tim Moores
  • Tim Holloway
  • Carey Brown
Bartenders:
  • Joe Ess
  • salvin francis
  • fred rosenberger

What to do when you receive an impossible task to work with?

 
Ranch Hand
Posts: 75
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Have you ever received an impossible task to work with? Something that you know it is impossible to do, maybe by the deadline or by the activity itself?
What have you done on situations like that?
 
Bartender
Posts: 543
4
Netbeans IDE Redhat Java
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Nothing is impossible. If I have concerns about feasibility, I clearly state the dangers ASAP and if possible define alternative approaches to solve the problem. If it's a question of deadline, clearly state that there will have to be considerable upstaffing, which will usually be far more costly than just pushing back the deadline. If you have a project manager, this is exactly what this guy needs to be able to calculate risks in budgeting.

For example, I was once working on a CMS backing the legacy website for a large telephony company. We were using the scrum approach. The product owner came with what he considered a very low impact story, the "Splash Page", which, in their requirements, was actually far more complex than they thought. As an afterthought, he mentioned that this splash page would offer a choice for the user whether to allow the website to store cookies or not. This was a requirement from legal as a consequence of European legislation that would come into place a month after that date.

I listened attentively and as it came the time to vote on storypoints for this story, (the business had estimated it at 1 manday), generally the developers on my team indicated that they thought it was worth 3-5 storypoints. I indicated it was worth infinite storypoints.

The Product owner staggered and wanted to know why I would take so long to implement a splash page. I could be very brief about it; I told him to call some guy I knew in Operations and request a list of all the cookies the site was using. When he got back the list, I gave him a run down of the cookies and what their purpose was.

In short, if we implemented the splash page and allowed the user to turn off cookies, the user would get nothing but a blank screen. Analyzing the purpose of all the cookies would take months, let alone developing a workaround for them.

As upstaffing at that point would've done more bad than good, and moving the deadline was not an option, after meeting with legal the product owner decided that a warning popup would be displayed once for a new user visiting the web site. As the new user saw the warning popup.... A cookie would be saved to indicate the user had already seen the popup! Ha!

Anyhow, nobody had realized the functionality they were targeting was not possible within the allotted time frame. If I hadn't noticed that, the deadline had surely not been met, resulting in a breach of international law.
 
Rancher
Posts: 43011
76
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
This question (or similar ones) pops up with some frequency in these forums, and it always amazes me. As Dieter says, as soon as you suspect this may be the case, you bring it to the attention of the project lead/team lead. It's his job to take it from there, and to let you know ASAP about any changes resulting from that.
 
lowercase baba
Posts: 12792
51
Chrome Java Linux
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Dieter Quickfend wrote:Nothing is impossible.


Really? I'm not sure I agree that is true.
 
Dieter Quickfend
Bartender
Posts: 543
4
Netbeans IDE Redhat Java
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

fred rosenberger wrote:
Really? I'm not sure I agree that is true.


I'll bite. Name it.
 
Sheriff
Posts: 4714
309
IntelliJ IDE Python Java Linux
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
 
Ranch Hand
Posts: 355
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Tim,
The short video you posted is really a funny one. Thanks. Some managers lack the know-hows of things and that can really lead to mission impossible situations.
 
fred rosenberger
lowercase baba
Posts: 12792
51
Chrome Java Linux
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
My job is writing and supporting interfaces between various applications. I get specs that ask me to populate outbound message with data that I do not get in the inbound message. For example, "populate THIS field with the date the medication was administered". We check with the sending application, and they do not store that date, so they can't send it to me.

How am I supposed to provide data that isn't there?
 
Marshal
Posts: 67339
173
Mac Mac OS X IntelliJ IDE jQuery Java
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Impossible? Easy?

Real world example: "We need a complete rewrite of the front-end code for this huge web application that has 13 copies* in different languages. We need it by Friday".

This, on Tuesday morning. Available staff: one hands-on manager (me), one mid-level developer who was mostly Java and light on HTML/CSS, and one QA guy.

I ended up leaving the job because of this -- the last of many completely impossible and unreasonable tasks.


* Yes, copies. No code sharing among 13 implementations of a web app where 99% of the functionality was common. (Not my doing -- I walked into this mess.)
 
Bear Bibeault
Marshal
Posts: 67339
173
Mac Mac OS X IntelliJ IDE jQuery Java
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
By the way: that response was not meant to answer the question with "leave the job". It was to answer the "nothing is impossible" question.

Elevating the problem to leadership as stated earlier is the correct approach.
 
Bartender
Posts: 1223
38
IBM DB2 Netbeans IDE Spring Java
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Not always the leadership is really interested in technical matters - just in respecting deadlines, often decided by presales or postsales staff. Sad, but true.
 
Ranch Hand
Posts: 55
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'm about to lose my job. The company assigned me a project that was (and still is) beyond my expertise. I have written about it in three other threads here. Basically I was sent to a 4-day seminar where I listened to a guy talk about servelets and JSP via a slide show. There was a workbook to follow and some in-class exercises but not much else. In addition, the subjects covered in the seminar were intended for intermediate developers and were not anything I would be using on the project even if I did understand it all. As an added source of learning, the company provided me with an account on Lynda.com to watch the 2 or 3 videos they have related to working with Java.

I have a good number of years experience working with PowerBuilder. The company management assumes I can just walk from PowerBuilder right into Java (Weblogic/Eclipse) without blinking an eye. So they gave me an advanced level project to develop (alone) immediately after finishing the 4-day seminar. It is now months overdue and I'm in the middle of a "performance improvement plan" that if I fail will be cause for termination. The funny part is that the project they assigned to me was originally given to another developer with 4 years of Java experience. She told them she couldn't do it in the time they allotted (5 months). They gave me 3 months initially and I'm a beginner to Java! Personally I think I'm being set up to fail. Either that or they are morons.

Go figure.

 
author & internet detective
Posts: 39789
797
Eclipse IDE VI Editor Java
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Ferdinand Victorinus wrote:Have you ever received an impossible task to work with? Something that you know it is impossible to do, maybe by the deadline or by the activity itself?
What have you done on situations like that?


I wrote a blog post last week about being matrix managed. One of the sections is "You are responsible for bringing up conflicting objectives/too much work/etc". That applies here too even with just one manager. In that section I wrote:

Ask what the priority is within the amount of time you are assigned to that manager. And I know what you are thinking – the manager will just say everything is a priority. Push back when this happens. Insist on an answer. Give an example “since everything is the same priority; I can just pick randomly what doesn’t get done, right”. Of course not! It’s a great way to start a conversation. Then insist more on an answer. Seriously – as long as you are insisting nicely, it should be ok. Even if your manager gets a little annoyed about the discussion, it is worth it. Because the alternative is your manager being a lot annoyed that the decision your made on your own wasn’t the one he/she wanted.



Notice how I'm willing to bring the same thing up repeatedly and push for it. If you don't say something, you guess at what parts of the impossible task get done. And it is likely you will guess wrong.
 
Dieter Quickfend
Bartender
Posts: 543
4
Netbeans IDE Redhat Java
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

fred rosenberger wrote:My job is writing and supporting interfaces between various applications. I get specs that ask me to populate outbound message with data that I do not get in the inbound message. For example, "populate THIS field with the date the medication was administered". We check with the sending application, and they do not store that date, so they can't send it to me.

How am I supposed to provide data that isn't there?


Well, first of all, you never say "That's impossible." Our job is to find solutions for the impossible. The job of people who make the requirements is to assess whether everything you need is available. So it's not that what they gave you is impossible, it's that they did not research their requirement adequately and they came to the wrong person with it. This functionality in the sending application is not present at this time and it will need to implemented before you can interface with it. If they insist it is your problem, they are authorizing you to go speak with the people of the sending application and figure out a way that this can happen. But it will take time and it will cost more than expected. This is information a project manager can work with.

Bear Bibeault wrote:Impossible? Easy?

Real world example: "We need a complete rewrite of the front-end code for this huge web application that has 13 copies* in different languages. We need it by Friday".

This, on Tuesday morning. Available staff: one hands-on manager (me), one mid-level developer who was mostly Java and light on HTML/CSS, and one QA guy.

I ended up leaving the job because of this -- the last of many completely impossible and unreasonable tasks.


* Yes, copies. No code sharing among 13 implementations of a web app where 99% of the functionality was common. (Not my doing -- I walked into this mess.)


I have to tell you, I've been in projects like that. But there's nothing constructive in saying it's impossible, usually the guy asking you to do this was asked to say it by someone else. So you basically have to ask questions to find out what it is they need. "A complete rewrite" usually means they need one or two little changes.

Generally, with business, they tend to assume the easy stuff is impossible to do and the hard stuff will take you five minutes. It's the basis for a negotiation, anything else makes everything a failure. "It's possible to do this, but it will take longer than you estimate. However, if you have any blocking issues that need to be resolved ASAP, let me know and I'll see what I can do for you." If this doesn't work, it means that their requirements are dogma, and there's nothing dogmatic about requirements. I wouldn't call it impossible, it's just a sign that someone higher up the chain didn't do their jobs.

Often times, especially in my current job, I work with deadlines that are mandated by legislation, and requirements that pass our way far too late. If I would consider anything as impossible, I probably would reject most of my tasks.
 
Bartender
Posts: 2407
36
Scala Python Oracle Postgres Database Linux
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Bear Bibeault wrote:I ended up leaving the job because of this -- the last of many completely impossible and unreasonable tasks.


Nah...it's always possible to leave a job (even if it's not always wise).
 
chris webster
Bartender
Posts: 2407
36
Scala Python Oracle Postgres Database Linux
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Dieter Quickfend wrote:Well, first of all, you never say "That's impossible." Our job is to find solutions for the impossible...


Well, I guess your powers of persuasion must exceed my own and those of my colleagues!

I've been working on various government projects in recent years, and time and again the business users will come up with "impossible" requirements. So we go through the long-drawn-out process of explaining carefully why X is a bad idea/not feasible under current constraints/simply impossible e.g. because of mutually contradictory requirements, perhaps even producing a quick spike to illustrate the problems etc. Then they say, "Yes, yes, but we want you to do it anyway". So we waste weeks (sometimes months) trying to prototype something that might fit their requirements, or find a way to adjust other constraints to allow this, but in the end we fail, because it wasn't "possible" in the first place. Then they complain about all the time/money that's been wasted and start bitching about why the rest of their project is late and how they cannot rely on the development team to deliver what they want.

Maybe its different where you work, but in my workplace the business is never wrong, so they remain convinced they can demand the "impossible", despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Tim's video is painfully close to my working life.
 
Rancher
Posts: 2759
32
Eclipse IDE Spring Tomcat Server
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
In one job, the business guy got a great idea: let's draw Venn diagrams, and make them proportional. The user could pick categories, and records belong to one or more categories. So, in the Venn diagram, he wanted to show how many records in each category, and in the intersections he wanted to show how many records that belong to both categories. The data was easy enough to extract but the question was drawing the Venn diagram

So, in the scrum, the UI girl is going "yeah I'll figure it out" I know for a fact that she is not a math girl. No one else is saying nothing. So, finally I say "the math behind Venn diagrams is tricky. I remember doing this Asa. Fun project and there was something tricky" she's all "oh don't worry I will figure it out" I look over to the project lead and he is dicking with his laptop. So we leave the scrum, and I start trying to figure the math behind the Venn diagrams out. I know I had done it before, and I remember there was something tricky, but I couldn't remember what was tricky.. And I had to find out. I'm doing the math and I figure out what is tricky about it. It's impossible.

A 3 circle Venn diagram with representative areas is a mathematical impossibility. Sure you can just draw a Venn diagram and put labels on intersections. But if you want the areas of the intersections to be proportional to the data, then you cannot use circles. You need ellipses, and I was nowhere good enough at math myself to do the math with ellipses. And this girl had promised him a N circle Venn diagram. You need N dimensions to have a an circle Venn diagram. You can't put that on the screen.

So, I tell her. She doesn't want to listen to any of the math. I go to the project lead. His eyes go cross eyed halfway through the math, and he blows me off. I go back to my desk wondering why no one is listening to me. I go tell anther senior guy, and he is like "haha guess she is trouble now! "

I went eff this ess, and left the job in couple of months. She hadn't started on the Venn diagrams when I left. It's frustrating when the business guy waves his hand and everyone agrees with him, and you do the thinking and no one listens to you
 
Claude Moore
Bartender
Posts: 1223
38
IBM DB2 Netbeans IDE Spring Java
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Most of the time, business guys hear only what they want to hear, and listen to those co-workers that don't raise any doubt about feasibility of a task or project. The mantra is often "Just can't tell the customer this could not be done", and this often means that the technical guy is doomed to find a solution or to go into troubles. Venn diagrams case is just another case when math unawareness plays a big role. Often in my work i have to deal with quite complex algorithms,and it's always a pain to demonstrate why things may require a big time to be developed.
 
Greenhorn
Posts: 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Claude Moore wrote:Most of the time, business guys hear only what they want to hear



And this is where the ambiguity begins...often leading to impossible tasks which simply tower on proportionately with respect to time. Its like when the base of the building itself is not proper, unstructured and misunderstood whereas the plan is to build some huge multi-storeyed "earthquake-proof" complex.


image001.gif
[Thumbnail for image001.gif]
 
fred rosenberger
lowercase baba
Posts: 12792
51
Chrome Java Linux
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Dieter Quickfend wrote:Well, first of all, you never say "That's impossible."

Perhaps "That is impossible with the given parameters" is a better way of putting it. There is a lot of truth to that old adage:

"You can have it quick, you can have it cheap, and you can have it work....but you can only pick two."
 
permaculture is a more symbiotic relationship with nature so I can be even lazier. Read tiny ad:
Java file APIs (DOC, XLS, PDF, and many more)
https://products.aspose.com/total/java
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!