I'm the technical lead on a software development project. We are wrapping up what should be the last release for this project. When I joined the team 14 months ago the project was already 14 months old but had missed all of its deadlines and there had been no releases. Since then we have turned things around and are expected to deliver the fifth and final release ahead of schedule. The team size was reduced from 7 to 4 during my time. My team has never gotten documented requirements before a release was substantially completed. Instead we, I primarily, speak to business people directly.

That said in a meeting on Monday I discovered that the product owner had approved the requirements document for the current release approximately 10 weeks ago, yet I had not received a copy of it (draft or otherwise).

When I reviewed the requirements document it asked for a number of features which would be very difficult to implement within the current release. I responded to say as much. My product owner wrote to the project manager asserting that I knew about these requirements. I wrote an email denying this. My product owner then forwarded an email of notes from a meeting approximately 11 weeks ago with diametrically opposite discussions (this one said that user applications which need attachments would be refused by a person reviewing the application, while the documented requirements state that staff should be able to email attachments to the web site which should then attach them to the user's application). Naturally, I responded saying that these two things were opposites and knowledge of the first in no way implies knowledge of the second. My product owner has written to essentially chastise me for not keeping my response respectful, while saying nothing about the reputational damage she inflicted by essentially claiming twice that I knew about the requirements and ignored them.

Given the success of this project the organization wants to embark on another with an expanded scope. I feel that I cannot start a new project with a product owner who appears to not know what is in the requirements document which she signed, is unavailable for discussion with me, and who thinks that mealy mouthed mutterings about respect are an appropriate response when she casts false aspersions on my work and character.

So my question is how do I convince the CEO to change the product owner for the next project?

For what it's worth, my boss says that there is nothing he can do, as he has been met with similar respect based deflection techniques.

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    why be a failure in your role just because someone else is failing in theirs? – Kilisi Oct 7 '18 at 13:34
  • @Kilisi I have tried my best to deliver what is needed without documentation so as to avoid that. But I can't see how I can continue if people can decide that things which did not happen did. – InTheTropics Oct 7 '18 at 13:52
  • You're looking at it in the wrong way, plenty of people like the product owner, everyone knows they bite when caught out and discounts their rubbish. You're letting yourself get upset – Kilisi Oct 7 '18 at 13:58
  • @Joe She did not reference any particular comment, but I suspect that it is either my statement that her email "bears no relevance to the requirements which I saw yesterday." or my characterization of the email as "simply obfuscation". – InTheTropics Oct 7 '18 at 13:58
  • @Joe Speaking in person is not an option. I have been waiting over 14 weeks for the opportunity. Several dates which she agreed to were unsuitable when the time came. Reasons included: "not in the right state of mind", or "the date agreed was simply so we could agree on a date for the meeting and not the actual meeting". – InTheTropics Oct 7 '18 at 14:19

So my question is how do I convince the CEO to change the product owner for the next project?

You probably cannot.

As the technical lead, you may be in a position to work only from documented requirements going forward. When you are in a situation where you don't have the documentation you need, conduct your interviews with the appropriate parties, memorialize it in a document, then send the document around for reading and corrections. If no corrections come back, then you have your working document.

All documents should be kept in a shared location with access by all the relevant parties. If a document isn't there, it isn't part of the project.

If anyone wants something done at any point which isn't already in the requirements, you can agree to do it provided it is factored into the schedule. Sometimes the schedule can be extended, sometimes something else can be removed. Stop saying "No". Instead say "Yes. And here's how and when we can do it."

The projects should be reviewed periodically (perhaps weekly) for status updates. And any revisions to the working documents should be noted during those meetings. It's ridiculous that significant requirements changes were only discovered 10 weeks later. That's a huge process failure.

And you want to make sure all of your conversations and all of your emails are fully respectful. Since that seems to be a big issue in your shop, it's in your power to remove it as a source of conflict.

  • I suppose I could try this. But I imagine she could simply deny agreeing to whatever I wrote, and it would be true. – InTheTropics Oct 7 '18 at 14:25
  • This is going to sound even worse, but there are weekly status update meetings. Somehow this topic was never mentioned. There is a document repository. Unfortunately, this document didn't make it there. Also, I don't control the schedule, the project manager does. I am not able to convince her to do anything at all. – InTheTropics Oct 7 '18 at 14:29
  • Does the project manager decides both the schedule and the features regardless your estimation? What's the role of the product owner on this? About denying: something tracked in the repository (with version history) can't be denied...i – Adriano Repetti Oct 7 '18 at 15:56
  • @Adriano I'm not certain how the schedule is compiled. I make it clear that I cannot give estimates when I do not know the scope of the work. Since documentation never arrives before we are at least nearly done I rarely give estimates. Nonetheless, schedules appear. The product owner has the final say on the requirements. Typically the PO, the PM and the BA along with any other SME discuss what they want. – InTheTropics Oct 7 '18 at 16:36
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    On reflection perhaps my language was a bit strong, although I believe that it was entirely accurate. I'm going to write her saying as much. @Kilisi suggests that noone else will take her assertions seriously, so perhaps I shouldn't either. However, I will also update my resume. If this or anything like happens again I'm out the door. Thank you for your answers and comments folks. – InTheTropics Oct 7 '18 at 22:54

The first question is:

Is this hill worth dying on/for?

This person is not going to change. I've known this type in many versions. They "demand respect" because they get none, as they have earned none.


  1. You go to the CEO with, "This person is clearly outside of their competence, and here are 5 proofs of that, all of which have significantly damaged this project." If the CEO is at all competent, one of the two of you will no longer work there at the end of the week. Don't be surprised if it's you leaving, though, as they did SOMETHING to gain that position, and you know it's not skill or talent.

  2. You deal with it. You figure out ways to communicate "around" this person, and get what needs done accomplished, all while allowing this person to maintain their delusion of importance.

Personally, I'm an "Option 1" kind of guy, but my lifetime record on that is 7-2. However, at no point when I went "Option 1" was I in a financial situation that made it risky. You need to do what's right for you.

  • +1 .- I am also an option 1 person, but then "oh, we fire you, what you do" gets answered with "loosing 5% of my income and spending the other 95% now doing something sensible". Most people are NOT in this situation. – TomTom Oct 9 '18 at 7:30

You have to realize that however frustrating this might be most of the time, we cant change the people we have to work with. Rather, we have to figure out a way to work with them.

You havent mentioned what it was you really said to the product owner which she found disrespectful. In a professional workplace, we always have to be professional in our communication and never be impolite, rude, or disrespectful.

If your product owner has signed off on the requirements, then that means you are good to go. It doesn't really affect you whether she really read it or not. Since she has signed on it, if something goes wrong at a later stage, she will be held responsible for it.

Dont ever get personal, have a calm mind, protect yourself adequately and just focus on getting the job done.

  • Hi, for me the challenge I have with this approach is that she has already demonstrated that she is willing to claim that things are not what they are. This is the reason we disagree in the first place. Since she is the product owner, she has to accept the product. It seems to me that I can't just expect her to accept responsibility should anything go wrong. – InTheTropics Oct 9 '18 at 10:26

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