Perhaps the most insidious archfiend in the IT army of darkness is the Shape Shifter: the manager who presents a different face to everyone he meets. He's the devil who makes impossible promises to customers or executives, then expects you to deliver on them.
Not surprisingly, Shape Shifters adopt many demonic forms, says Steven A. Lowe, CEO of Innovator LLC, a consulting and custom software development firm.
"The sales goblin who confidently reveals an internal deadline to the customer, only he gives them your internal code-complete date, not the ship date," says Lowe. "The marketing ghoul who promises features that are nonsensical, impossible, or both ('Of course it runs on Windows ME'). The product manager witch who agrees to a flock of new flying-monkey functionality without changing the delivery schedule. Once you connect what they said to what it actually means, you hear that bone-chilling, breath-stealing sound that says you are destined to fail."
If by some miracle you manage to pull it off, the Shape Shifter always takes the credit. And when none of this happens -- because it was never possible in the first place -- he points the finger at you.
Your best defense: When dealing with any metamorph, avoid the temptation to point fingers back. Seek protection from a higher being, and document everything, says Lowe.
"The moment you realize you've been set up to fail, howl like a lovesick werewolf baying at the moon," he says. "Then pull yourself together, martial your logic demons, and push back. Clearly and succinctly explain the 'inadvertent' issue you 'discovered' to someone with appropriate authority, and ask for advice. Use email, so you'll have a record of the issue."
You may still fail, he adds, and you may still shoulder the bulk of the blame. But at least you suited up and did battle -- and when you're dealing with monsters, that's most important.
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