Why Was I Taken Off A Writing Project?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about Project Manager’s criticism:

I’m interested in hearing what people think about this situation. I feel I am being bullied. About a week ago I got on a project working with a new Project Manager. We started off doing some small tasks and it was pretty good and he gave me good comments about my work. He noted that the client we are working for is a pain in the ass.Then we started working with this other guy on the main project. It involved clean up of a regulatory submission for a new drug. When we got the draft, it had comments from clients internally. All parts were there, with graphics and defined sections.The file was about 40 pages with three sections.

I emailed my Project Manager with my writing plan and my perspective of the task. I confirmed that “I am not tasked to re-write this document.” My Project Manager wrote back and just said to “be careful” and, “it is not about just adding to the doc but also trimming things down”. I also found out that the guy that I was replacing had different background than I do. (He was a doctor). I was supposed to work with another guy and were tasked to do Part I(me), and Part III( him). It sounded like he has been on the project for awhile. However, I have never worked with him before or met him( we all work remotely).

My Project Manager wanted me to give him daily updates of my progress. The first two days he was happy and said he wouldn’t need to check on it further. He hinted that he wanted me to work with the other guy while he (the Project Manager) will be hands-off. He wanted to see the draft before sending it to the client though. We had exactly one week( Monday-Friday). On the third day I started writing. I delivered my rough draft on Thursday morning and asked for input. I asked to see his part and for comments about my section (What do you think?) He came back without giving me his part of the work, but he started commenting on my work.

He said that my writing lacked logical flow, etc. etc. and said that I need to build a “story tree”. Note: He is a Dutch guy and his English is not great. I also have ESL background so we are about the same in terms of competence. We both have graduate degrees. He spent about one hour building this tree and with constant changes and edits. It seems that is how his mind works–changing this and that and can never make up his mind. At the end, the tree was somewhat built but incomplete. We also had few questions for the client. I made certain edits based on the tree and gave my Project Manager an update. I said we needed one more day to get the draft to him. He said OK and approved the questions we were going to send to the client. It was late during the day and I was feeling stressed. I emailed the client directly. It was expressed nicely, but I had one spelling error due to my Outlook’s Spell Check not being on (And, I was in a hurry and tired.)

My Project Manager emailed me back and rebuked me saying I lacked attention to detail.I made the edits and sent it to the other guy. He came back with comments all over and said things aren’t ready, etc. etc. He said that we need to revamp the document and that I need to re-write the document. He said that we need to deliver an “excellent job” not just better. I argued that I understood, but we do not have time to revamp this thing. Based on the timeline and history of this document( internally reviewed already), we only need to make it nice and clean. Anyhow, as far as re-writing it, I only have few hours to do it. I was very upset at the point. I wondered, where is his part? (I never got to even get a glimpse of it). I wondered why he was spending so much time on my part. In addition to his comments, he forwarded me a writing guide “how to compose an expository paragraph, Narrative writing, etc.)” Something you get from your undergrad English course. He said it would help me write the paper.

I found it extremely insulting. Later I commented to my Project Manager that this is very unprofessional in terms of maintaining basic respect among team members. I am Asian. Maybe these Europeans have biases towards Asians? I worked another five hours on the paper, until midnight. I accepted most of his comments but some I didn’t think were correct (his ESL problem). I also had a friend of mine who is American-born, a professional journalist, to take a look for any mistakes.Thinking everything is good, on the due day I gave that guy the draft and he said that he will take over from then on. Soon after that, I got a call from Project Manager that he doesn’t think I should be on the project anymore. He welcomed my side of the story. I told him that people have different ways of looking at the writing and I had a journalist friend to look it over so it had no grammar or spelling mistakes. He was speechless, and simply said “I guess it just didn’t work out”. But he did comment that I had little attention to detail because of that one email I sent to the client. I am interested in feedback from people out there to tell me what was behind all this. I emailed the Project Manager with my side of story later, but have not heard back from him.

Signed, Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:

First let me reflect on what the background for this situation seems to be, looking at it from the viewpoint of an outsider. Doing that may give you a view of it that would be helpful. It sounds as though your new Project Manager didn’t check to see if the style or skill level of your writing was what he wanted and needed before he started you on the project. The result was frustration for him, for the other writer and for you—and perhaps for a client.That’s a reminder that a manager who is not sure of someone’s style or skills should check a sample of their work first. That’s the only way to know for sure if they are the right fit for a project. You didn’t realize there would be a problem either–and it may be that your writing has never been critiqued in a similar project before now. (If you have done work that is almost exactly the same and had no problems at all, it would be doubly frustrating.)In this case, your manager could have given you a sample page or two from the real work and asked you to edit it, after which he could have checked it and either directed you to approach it differently or made the decision to not use you on the project (if he had any choice in the matter.)

You say that he said, after you talked to him, “I guess it just didn’t work out.” That makes me wonder if there had been some question about your participation on the project to begin with. Or, perhaps that was just his assessment of the fact that you made an effort to do the work but it simply wasn’t to the standards he wanted, needed or expected.You also said the other writer has been on the project for awhile. Probably his writing style is well known and has been acceptable in the past. Perhaps your Project Manager was so accustomed to giving work out to the doctor you replaced and to the other writer, and getting it back quickly and without problems, that it never occurred to him he would get something back that wasn’t to the standards of grammar, sentence structure, format and style he wanted.

Although I don’t know this for sure, I would assume your colleague on the other writing was keeping in contact with your manager all along. I doubt that he sent you the writing guides without talking to your manager about it. When he said he would take over the writing, he certainly was in contact and sent it all to your manager. That was when your manager called you and said you were off the project. The other writer may have resented having to work with anyone else. He may have not wanted to be responsible for critiquing your work. Most likely he felt under stress too, because of the time factor. When he saw that your work was not going to be acceptable, based on what he knew had been the work done in the past, he may have felt that he was being put in a bad situation to have to talk to you about it.

Whatever the reality of that part of the situation was, I can imagine that the final result was hurtful and very, very frustrating for you! However, I would be negligent in my comments to you if I didn’t tell you that I had to edit your writing a great deal to make it easily understandable for our site. There were many writing errors and incomplete sentences that were difficult to follow. It wouldn’t matter in some work settings, but in most office settings that would be a serious problem. In a technical writing task, I can see it could be much more of a concern. That is especially true if your writing and editing has to match what is already there as well as match the work on another part that is being done by someone else.I don’t know what your writing on the project was like, as to grammar, sentence structure, organization, style and formatting, but it could be there were some of the same errors in it as in your writing to us.

Keep in mind that you have accomplished a great deal with your language and writing skills if you are being asked to do high level writing and editing. But, apparently there is room for improvement for the kind of writing you are being asked to do. All of that explanation is just a possibility. I don’t know for sure what happened and you might not know completely either. The bottom line is that your manager doesn’t think the way you edited the material was satisfactory for his needs. He has examples of problems in the writing to provide to his own manager if anyone asks about it. There appears to be no bullying or inappropriate behavior.You mentioned the possibility of a conflict based primarily on different ethnicities. I don’t see any evidence of that. In a case like this, your manager just wanted a good product. I doubt that he would have purposely rejected something effective that he needed done quickly, just to be negative about you or your background. Given that you likely did have some writing difficulties I think it is more likely that he just was fulfilling his role as the Project Manager by evaluating the work you did and saying it wasn’t what he needed.So, what do you do next? I don’t know if you are in a situation where you will continue working there on other projects or if you will return to another work area now that this project is over.

You have written to your manager and he is probably deciding how to reply. He may not want to make you feel badly. Or, he may not want to admit he should have done a better job of testing your skills before you got started. He might check with HR to make sure his response is correct for the situation. He may even be in the process of explaining to his own manager why there was a delay on this project, if there was one.It sounds to me as though he probably WILL write to you or talk to you about it again. But, really, there isn’t much more to say than he has already said. If you talk to him about it, consider asking him if you can see the final product after it was corrected to fit his idea of what he wanted. That way you could compare it to your own work to see what is different. and how you might make changes next time.

You may want to ask him if you could work on a project for which there is no time pressure like this last one had. Or, you may want to ask if you could work on smaller projects until he feels confident about your work again. I’m sorry this has been a source of unhappiness and stress for you. I would imagine your manager has had some stress also! I hope you will be able to work with him to start again with something else. Clearly you have a sincere desire to do a good job. If he is sure of that, he will be more likely to want to give it another try; and you may be more likely to trust that the two of you CAN work together well. .Best wishes to you with this!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.