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I'm the technical leader at a software development company, and my boss instructed me to rush the team for implementing various changes on a system that were informed after project release, since the data needed for this change had to be provided by the client's workers, and was going to be used in a presentation for the directive board so it had to be implemented fast.

We requested the data with anticipation via email, but it was shared by them after work hours one day before the presentation and it was in the wrong format. I stated to my boss that the data was wrong and that even if we could fix the format there was a high risk of creating system failures and that the development team did accomplish their tasks, but he said we just needed to make the necessary changes and I should ask the team to stay late, an instruction I refused to follow and lead to an argument.

Things like this are becoming a norm working with this client, their personnel responds late and we are asked to rush for changes, for me it's unfair and caussing problems with the team. Since I'm the second in line of command, what could be the best professional way to handle a meeting with my boss and show that this customer relationship is wrong?

EDIT

Regarding how communication was handled. I sent an email five days before the deadline as soon as I got the assignment. Attached in the email was the file example in the format required. Then I followed up by making phone calls and sending WhatsApp messages from the company line but got no answer whatsoever and no one returned calls. I didn't send further emails about this until I got the response.

Reviewing the answers, I'm updating the question to ask what solutions could I present to my boss for this issues, since is more helpful and constructive than proving a point as my original question intended.

  • 2
    Did you keep your boss posted about the not-yet-delivered data and the consequences of it being in late? Did anyone pressure the other party to send over their part of the work? And are there any consequences for them when they fail to deliver? – Erik May 28 at 7:28
  • You're mentioning communication via email, and delivery of data after hours. When emergencies happen, can you just pick up the phone and call the client? Sometimes, email can delay or confuse things that could be fixed with a quick call. – dwizum May 28 at 13:46
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You asked,

Since I'm the second in line of command, what could be the best professional way to handle a meeting with my boss and show that this customer relationship is wrong?

But, to slightly frame-challenge your question, I'm not sure you're focusing on the right problem. The focus should be on fixing what's broken, not proving something to your boss.

Don't go to your boss set up to convince him there's a problem, instead, go to your boss and explain what changes you're working on to improve the situation. Trying to pin a problem on a client relationship is always a dangerous thing; after all - you are in business to serve your clients. What you need to do is find the best way to meet their needs, and problems like "the data is in the wrong format" or "everything happens at the last minute" will go away.

Consider the following:

  • If your client regularly delivers things at the last minute, make sure you're prompting them ahead of time and regularly checking in.
  • If they request changes or new features at the last minute, consider building more flexibility into your product.
  • If your client delivers data in the wrong format, make sure you're specifying a format in a way that's easy to understand, providing samples, and otherwise supporting them in getting you what you need
  • If emails and after-hours delivery cause missed deadlines, consider communicating important things via email and a phone call - shoot them a note asking for the data, and then immediately call them and say, "hey did you see my note? Let's talk through what we need."
  • Make sure you're keeping your boss in the loop on the status of critical issues and what you're doing to resolve it, ahead of time. That will go a long way in ensuring he has your back when a client really does something unusual or especially egregious.

Ultimately, your goal should be to organize your work process in a way that works well with your client's behaviors, versus just working as hard as you can and pointing out your client's problems. The good news is, once you understand the pattern of a particular client's behaviors, it becomes easy to anticipate the issues and plan ahead of time on how you can work around them.

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    What I read was, "We requested the data with anticipation via email." To me, it wasn't very clear what the OP had specifically done. And anyways, the point I'm making is, there's a difference between sending a single email "hey can you give me the data?" versus sending an email outlining the request and then checking in regularly via email and/or phone to make sure they understand what you need and are working on it. – dwizum May 28 at 14:20
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    OP has edited his post, I though you might want to see that the request for datas was only 5 days before, which is effectively very short. OP and his boss need to plan further ahead. – Walfrat May 29 at 7:44
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If such issue is becoming a norm then I would advise to talk about regulating overtime and reimbursement.

Only way to avoid such problem is to avoid relationship altogether. But, I assume, that is not an option.

First I would ask your boss to acknowledge that the problem exist. Then work with him to make extra work as soft as possible. That the delay must be calculated into workflow and accommodated.
So for example making team aware they would need to spend extra 2 hours a day for a week after release. There is nothing wrong, and I think people generally agree, some overtime happens. But it's better to be aware of them so people can better arrange their time. If you have communication "on 5th of June we will be releasing but please make sure you will be available for two extra hours" people are more kin to do that. Best if they are also informed that the overtime will be paid and few days after the rush will be shortened for 2 hours (for example).
Second thing is making that stay as pleasant as possible. People performance usually drop if they have to work 10 hours straight. So it's in company best interest to give people some slack during that day. Stupid free pizza work great for morale and letting people get twice the regular time for lunch make them less stressed and more focused after coming back to work.

So I would start with

Boss, because of the recurring problem with X I think we should make some permanent changes to how we are working with them. Current approach is bad for morale and performance and we might loose some very good employees.

3

From your question it's not very clear if (for this example) this data was just asked once or if this was continually followed up upon.

So in general, one way of showing this to your boss is by making sure that everything is traceable. This means:

  • Making sure the request was made clearly and have evidence of this on mail.

  • Proving this request was actually accepted/agreed upon. This could again be on mail.

  • Following up with the client for as long as this request was not fulfilled, whether that means sending weekly reminders, daily reminders, or even multiple reminders per day (unclear what the timeframe was for this example).

  • Make sure your boss is always aware of the progress, including any delays or hiccups.

This way, when the deadline is eventually missed or the client didn't provide the requested data (as previously agreed upon), you can clearly indicate all the effort that was made from your end as well as the lack of effort from the client's end. Making it so you can simply present your evidence (mails, agreements, responses/lack of responses), that should be clear enough for your boss.

Not only can this be used as evidence for your boss, this can also be discussed with whichever contacts your boss has with the client (for example the manager of the team you made the request of). this could possibly lead to solutions or changes to the team from their end.

By doing the above you can also avoid any unpleasant surprises for your boss and whoever he has to report to, possibly also preventing him from any tight spots.

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Usually this kind of stuff is handled with proper planification of deadlines and cascading of missed deadlines.

For instance if you have a presentation for the day X and you need data from the client. Request the data from the client for Date Y with Y before X days, enough for you to work with that data, even if it's crap (tips : there's always problems with the client's data anyway).

Any delay to the deadlines will push back all the deadlines that depends with him ("cascading of missed deadlines"). You need to be firm on your communication and eventually repeat yourselves ("If we don't have the data before Y we will need to postpone the presentation after the day X") and escalate to your boss when necessary.

Of course for that you need to have the support of your boss. If he doesn't care about that, deal with it or find a new job.

Finally, you need to work with your boss to plan sooner. 5 days to have your clent give you their datas, in your format and then process it on your end is too short. For me unless you trust your client to really be available and answer fast, any demands should allow a window of at least 2 weeks.

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Couple of things here.

  • Typically in a project based environment, you need to expect to work some non standard hours occasionally, especially close to delivery dates. As an occasional request, it doesn't seem too out of line.

  • If it happens all the time, then you need to look at why it's happening. Can you schedule in a post implementation with your boss, and members of the team?

  • I would expect somebody, whether that's you, your boss or someone in a different role to be managing that client relationship though. Both in terms of 'We can deliver, but you need to be aware of these risks', and 'We aren't getting the information we need from your staff in a timely fashion'.

  • It's good you were brave enough to say no (As long as for a good reason,not stubbornness!). Protecting the quality of your product, and/or the well being of your staff is good leadership.

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