Handling conflicting priorities between manager and skip manager?

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Mid-Level Software Engineer [L4] at Google2 months ago

I'm currently working on one of my KR tasks, and have pockets of time available as the project involves cross-time zone communication at this stage. My manager wants me to focus on another KR that I have been planned for in Q4. This project is an important part of my manager's project that he started when he was a TL.

My skip manager wants me to focus on a non-KR task of increasing the scope of our team in a different project. If I manage to increase the scope of this project, I can change my KR to this new task in Q4 and lead the whole project is his rationale. I'm confused in this situation as to what to do?

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    Tech Lead, Manager at Google
    2 months ago

    It sounds like your manager and your skip aren't aligned on the team's goals as it's rare for skip managers to assign work to their direct's directs. I wonder how your skip talked to you about it - was it more like, "Oh, this XYZ project would be good to do?" If so, I wouldn't be too worried.

    It's entirely possible your manager isn't even aware of this non-KR task and haven't considered it. Depending on how urgent your current assigned work from your manager is, you could easily switch over to doing the other work (either way, it doesn't sound this is your main deliverable, so the stakes here are fairly low).

    If you feel comfortable, I would take the initiative here and just start a chat group with your manager and skip about this. Say something along the line of "Oh XYZ [skip] mentioned that project A is can be really good and be my second project, but I'm currently working on project B. Is A more important than B for me to work on?" Feel free to turn this into a meeting as well if that works better for your managers.

    Once the relative importance is agreed upon, you can work w/ your manager to adjust team OKR and your own GRAD expectations if needed.

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    Tech Lead/Manager at Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    2 months ago

    I love Kuan's advice. The only thing I'd add is that it's also worth formulating your own opinion and then advocating for that. A lot of these conversations go well (and it reflects well on your path to Senior Eng) when you can say, "I think this project makes the most sense for X and Y reason."

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    CTO at Taro
    2 months ago

    Kuan is more or less spot-on. The best cure for a lack of alignment is almost always quick and honest communication - Don't be afraid to have those "awkward" conversations. And when it comes to this conversation, you can make it less awkward by assuming good intent (skips often won't have great visibility on what L4s are working on, so that project might have just been a suggestion they thought as cool).

    Another way to think about this situation is how to avoid failure modes. The failure mode is that you burn yourself out trying to juggle these 2 big tasks, and after the fact, you get told that 1 task was way higher impact than the other and you should have just prioritized 1 all along. So try to avoid that 😁

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