How to ask for more time for a particular project?

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Mid-Level Software Engineer [SDE 2] at Amazona year ago

I am working in 3 XFN projects (Say Projects A, B ,C) at the same time. Manager wants success in Project A for sure . But he doesn't allow me to be fully dedicated to Project A. He also wants me to come with suggestions to make project A successful. The thing is Projects B & C are huge time consumers and I am left with very little time for Project A. How should I approach my manager to assign me fully to Project A. I have successfully deliver projects in past when I was assigned to a single project only . I am bad at multi-tasking. Project A's success will definitely increase chances of my promo.

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    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    a year ago

    From my understanding (and please correct me if I'm wrong):

    1. Project A is the most impactful for your SDE 3 promotion - I don't see the same "promo boosting" note about projects B and C. So at the very least, it's your perception that A has meaningful SDE 3 scope.
    2. Conversely, project A gets the least time from you - The important thing is that it's disproportional. Let's say projects A, B, C add X "promotion points" to your packet. A adds 20, B adds 15, and C adds 5. You would expect A, being 20 points out of 40, to take 50% of your time, but in reality, it's taking something like 15%.

    How to ask for more time for a particular project?

    The above being said, I'm going to interpret this as "How can I carve out more of my day for project A?" as opposed to "How can I extend the deadline for project A since I have so little time to work on it?". The latter is generally hard to do, especially at a FAANG company like Amazon, and wouldn't really solve your problem as the project will drag on and be harder to complete in time for the next performance review cycle.

    My main piece of advice here is to come to an ultra-clear alignment on prioritization and team impact with your manager. There are some things that don't seem right to me given this information - I believe there has to be at least some misalignment here. In terms of tactics, this means:

    1. Understand where project A lies - SDE 3 is the level where I would expect every project they work on to be roadmap critical. This means that if Project A truly is meaningful for your promotion, it should also be very impactful from the team's perspective. If both those intersect (team goals and your promo case), I see 0 reason why you shouldn't work on project A with the majority of your time (and a good manager should agree).
    2. Figure out the reward for projects B and C - It's possible that they're very meaningful for your SDE 3 promotion as well, and your manager just hasn't made this clear to you (maybe they're even more impressive than project A due to XFN complexity). Back when I was E4 at Meta (SDE 2 equivalent), I got dragged into random XFN projects all the time. Something I wished I had done was align with my manager on how important those things are and push back accordingly if they weren't that important. You might need to do this with your manager.
    3. Agree on time spent breakdown - After you and your manager see eye-to-eye on all these projects, calculate the "time spent" pie chart you should follow. From there, it's up to you to follow the pie chart as much as possible: This will likely mean that projects B and C are sucking up your time some weeks, and you have to break out of that black hole, de-pri them, and make sure you put in the hefty time into project A.

    On top of all that, another tactical thing I recommend is to come up with ideas on how you can lessen your investment in projects B and C (e.g. reduce scope, pull in another teammate, skip some project meetings). Don't just go to your manager and say "I need more time to work on A" - That is just bringing them a problem (which is annoying). If you're going to bring a problem, strive to bring a solution alongside it as well - This shows that you're discussing in good faith and aren't just complaining.

    These aren't entirely related to your situation, I recommend going through them as well since they cover healthy, empathetic communication with your manager around performance:

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    Mid-Level Software Engineer [SDE 2] [OP]
    Amazon
    a year ago

    @Alex . Thanks for you reply .

    My challenge is my manager always keeps on changing their suggestion about priorities/promo. The only way my teammates survive are by being super clear and strongly push for one's interests as alignment is extremely difficult with the personality traits which my manager has. Hence I am thinking of going all-in with Project A.

    At the moment I am not keen on changing the teams as manager has given positive indicators of him being fully supportive of my promo.

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    Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    a year ago

    My challenge is my manager keeps changing their suggestion about priorities/promo.

    Is your manager aware of this?

    • If so, do they have a good explanation for why? And then they should explain why the priority change will not hurt your promo ability.
    • If not, your job is to (tactfully) make them aware of the priority churn. Write down your priorities for the next month or more, and make sure your manager agrees. When something comes up (whether ad-hoc or a permanent priority shift), make a note of it in the doc. Then in your next 1:1, bring up your concern about the impact of shifting priorities.
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    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    a year ago

    Hence I am thinking of going all-in with Project A.

    Makes sense - Focus is always good and I've historically seen promotion packets (especially to senior) have a "lion's share" project. I would still align on this with your manager though. If they think it makes sense (at least at 1 point in time, haha), that seems good enough to me given the circumstances.

    I am bad at multi-tasking.

    I resonate with this a lot, but I feel like some amount of multi-tasking skill is required to be a senior engineer, especially at a FAANG company where XFN cost is high. I would be surprised if you could drop projects B and C entirely, so I recommend coming up with a plan to make sure they're okay as mentioned in my previous comments.

    In terms of tactics to increase focus time, I would try these if you haven't already:

    1. Concentrate similar meetings on the same day - So all project A meetings are on one day, all project B on another, etc.
    2. Move coordination to async - So instead of meetings, use design docs and Slack more. These are things where you can choose when to tune in to a workstream.
    3. Time-box each day - Let's say you have to work on multiple projects in a single day: You can do a more local version of compartmentalizing. This means strictly carving out certain times for certain projects like allocating the morning to work on project B (pretend project A doesn't exist during this time and ignore its pings) and the entire afternoon to work on project A.

    Lastly, I also recommend this discussion around optimizing focus time at work.

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