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I am developer in a technology consulting company, where each developer is assigned to multiple client projects simultaneously. Each client project has a designated project manager who is responsible for the client relationship and overall success of the project.

I get along great with all my project managers (and most of the time fairly well with this project manager too - Let's call him Bob).

The two of us were assigned to a relatively small project, and basically all the work is on me to do (unlike some other projects where the project manager needs to be more involved consistently). Since I'm very self-disciplined about my work, Bob hardly ever needs to do anything - sometimes he'll even skip meetings or won't reply to general emails from the client (since he knows I'm fine replying when I'm able to answer it). That's usually fine with me since the client is happy & I'm still able to be productive.

However, here is the situation I'm dealing with now:

The client recently sent us a request (basically asking for us to reach out to some of his sub-department managers, since they potentially have more work for us to do). This requires initiating a conversation with new stakeholders and laying out an estimate/scope of work.

Although I'm occasionally asked to review work estimates (to see if the total amount of hours and WBS makes sense), this request is obviously well beyond the duties of a developer, so I waited for the project manager to reply.

After two days of silence, I replied to the email just to Bob with a quick note asking if he'd ever replied to it. By the next morning, Bob had replied to the client letting him know we'll get started on it.

It's been nearly a week since then without action. This morning, the client sent a followup email to us to hear if we've had a chance to do this yet. I'm well aware that the answer is "no", and that Bob needs to get moving on this.

I don't want to keep bugging Bob (I'm not his policeman & he's supposed to be the one who cares most about the client/revenue) but I don't want the client relationship to get damaged (we've come close to that in the past, from situations similar to this) - And I obviously wouldn't want my company to lose out on the extra revenue if this deal would have gone through successfully.

How should I deal with this specific situation? Should I reach out to Bob again, or just ignore the email and hope that Bob eventually replies?

This situation feels super ironic b/c usually the project manager is the one who has to be on-top of the developers, not the other way around. But I've seen this many times with Bob, so I know it's not a one-time thing.In general, any tips for dealing with these types of role-reversals?

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    Just for the record, this situation is not as unusual as you may think. Good luck! – Gregory Currie May 7 at 4:39
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From what you stated, I don't think Bob will answer without prompting. I'd chase him up by email - "Bob, this is not something I can/should answer. When can you get back to the client?"

Put the onus back on Bob, and make sure you have an audit trail - just in case.

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I hear two possible explanations between the lines of your question. Either:

  1. Bob is asleep at the switch. If this is the case, either someone (perhaps you) needs to wake him up to the fact he's about to lose important business here, or he'll end up getting woken up to it eventually once more damage is done. Unfortunately, if this is the case, your ability to solve the problem without overstepping your role may be limited. At least you should have an email trail showing that you told him this request is his to solve.

OR

  1. Bob doesn't have a very firm grasp on how you prefer to divide the responsibilities for this client. This may be partly caused by you, since for other requests you've been happy to bear more than the usual developer's share of responsibilities in communicating with this client. While it's obvious to you that the current request is in Bob's area, not yours, that may not be obvious to Bob.

To give Bob the benefit of the doubt, imagine that he is fully willing and able to handle the current request, but that he assumes you prefer to handle it. Perhaps he even assumes that his taking a more active role in this would be stepping on your toes. In this case, neither you nor Bob has really done anything wrong---but between the two of you, you've ended up with a complete misunderstanding about who's doing what on this particular request.

If possible, I would suggest addressing this misunderstanding asap in person or by phone---media that are more conducive to a nuanced negotiation---so that you can clarify that you think he should take the lead on this request, and also listen to any thoughts he's had about it. While email notes are clear for specific actions, only a conversation will really help create a shared understanding about your roles. If he's actually been concerned about this request but was waiting for you, you're completely in case #2 and you just need more communication between you and Bob. If it wasn't on his radar at all, it may be unfortunately case #1.

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