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My current project ends this week and my manager expects that I will lead the project support team for the next 6 months after the project ramps down. The support team would consist of two members from offshore.

The client I am dealing with isn't a healthy customer, making demands at 1AM (their morning) and expecting one person to do the work of 10 people. My current team leads have created that expectation.

I do not want to take this customer’s calls the whole day. How can I explain to my management that I am not interested in doing the lead job?

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I have one customer in Australia. I don’t mind if they make demands at 1am - because they don’t have my private phone number, so I will see what they want at 9am when I arrive at the office.

If they call you on your private phone, you tell them it is your private phone. If they tell you what they want, you tell them this is your private phone, you are not at work, you won’t take any action, and they should send an email to your works email address. And stick to it.

They can expect you do the work of 10 people all they like, it’s not going to happen. You have a team of three including yourself, so you do the work of 3 people.

You should have a list of things your team are working on, and a list of things in your backlog. They can add things to the backlog. They can ask for prioritisation. If they want it ahead of things that are currently in work, they can have that but you tell them it will cost extra time. No overtime, no shortcuts because of extra demands.

So you can tell your management that if you become team leader then this is how it will work. If they agree, in writing, you take the job. If they don’t then you don’t say you don’t want the job, you say that you don’t think you will be able to handle the job successfully.

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    By the way, customers really shouldn't have your private phone number. In addition, the customer may or may not have SLAs. You can't just decide to put their support requests in the backlog. – Gregory Currie Aug 20 at 14:48
  • In that case your employer has a defined on-call ring and agreed compensation for the on-call hours and possible overtime due to a call that demands immediate action. – Juha Untinen Aug 20 at 20:15
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    @GregoryCurrie: Backlog = everything I'm not actively working on right now. There should be one thing you are actively working on, then you finish it, then you remove one thing from the backlog and start working on it. Customer is free to decide where in the backlog a new task goes. In extreme case, they can put it ahead of what I'm currently working on which will cause inefficiency. – gnasher729 Aug 20 at 22:10
  • @gnasher729 That model doesn't work for support in a lot of cases. – Gregory Currie Aug 20 at 22:48
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...expecting one person to do the work of 10 people

Your customer will need to adapt their expectations of the workload your support team can produce. You can't help them with this aside from having your team lead explain to them your team's limitations.

The client I am dealing with isn't a healthy customer, making demands at 1AM (their morning)

The main issue seems to be the time zone difference. Here is a somewhat decent answer to give to your boss.

Assigning me to this role wouldn't be conducive with the team being able to provide an adequate SLA in your customer's timezone. I would advise you to either: elect one of our current offshore resources to the leader position or find another employee to lead who can better serve the customer in their timezone.

Now I'm assuming that your offshore team is in the same timezone as the customer, or at the very least have a better timezone overlap than you during business hours. If not, leave a comment, and I'll remove this answer.

Simple, Effective and no knee-pads required.

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    "Your customer will need to adapt their expectations of the workload your support team can produce." That's typically not how these things work. A customer probably has a signed contract indicating what level of support they get. They really don't care about the individual situations of employees within the company. – Gregory Currie Aug 20 at 14:46
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    @GregoryCurrie That contract doesn't make any difference to the amount of work the team can do. – gnasher729 Aug 20 at 22:13
  • @gnasher729 That should be taken up with management not the client. Management can decide if they want to increase support capacity or renegotiate with the client. – Gregory Currie Aug 20 at 23:01
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I do not want to take this customer’s calls the whole day. How can I explain to my management that i am not interested in doing the lead job?

This is not a good idea. This will only make you look bad and hurt your career within this company. There is a huge difference between not wanting to take calls at odd hours and telling management that you are not interested in doing work that has been assigned to you.

The first thing you need to do is review the written agreement with the client. Look for the written expectations of support calls. If it is not in writing that they can call you at 1 AM then you have no obligation to answer and help at 1 AM.

As the team lead you can set the expectations, I would recommend to work with your management to write up a new support document. Clearly define reasonable hours and stick with it.

If the original agreement says they can call whenever, then you need to speak to management to either have this changed or discuss a reasonable expectation that you will agree to follow. Don't run away from your problems, it is not good for your career.

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There are quite a few answers here that miss the mark.

The client I am dealing with isn't a healthy customer, making demands at 1AM (their morning) and expecting one person to do the work of 10 people.

You'll find the client doesn't really care about how many employees your company has, or how many people are on support. What they do care about is getting the level of support they are accustomed to, or the level of support they are paying for. Their expectations are not personal, so don't view them as such.

If you do find yourself on support, you don't simply get to decide to deprioritise the work. You can't ask the team lead to talk to them. It's really outside of their control unless team leaders typically negotiate contracts. For all you know, they may be paying a pretty penny for platinum level support, and all they get is a single overworked resource, so you can't just go to them and say: "Sorry, I will answer at 9am my time".

You need to act in accordance with what you and your boss agree on, and this should be in alignment with customer expectations.

What if the company is not able to find people to do support? Then it becomes a business decision. There are several options the company can go down. These include:

  • Renegotiate the contract with the client
  • Terminate the contract with the client
  • Wear the financial penalty for missed SLAs
  • Hire more people that can conduct support
  • Outsource the support
  • Shift the focus to bug-fixing to reduce occurrences of invoked on-call
  • Restructure support to be tiered

How can I refuse a team lead position that would entail working with an unreasonable client?

This is your actual question, and I've spend my time so far discussing other answers.

You are in control of some things. Firstly, it is within your capacity to talk to your boss and indicate the types of work you would rather not do. Would you do it for more money? What if was just during the week? Maybe you would settle to be part of a rotating support roster? There is almost certainly some level of on-call you are willing to do for the right enticement.

In addition, there are laws and guidelines in several jurisdictions that limit the time and scope of on-call. You should see if there are any in your location. I believe it's unethical for someone to be on call for 4380 hours straight.

It would be excellent if you could find reasons why you can't do support, or why you would be limited. Do you play sport? Do you have poor phone reception? Poor internet connectivity? Have to drive the kids to school in the morning?

In a perfect world, you don't need reasons, but it would be less of a career limiting move if it seemed like there were underlying reasons why you are unable to do support.

In the short term, you should try to learn as much as possible from previous projects and how they could have handled support better. Is your overseas support team well-equipped to handle the bulk of issues? Do they have mitigative strategies for when the client reports issues? Can they clearly identify severe and non-severe issues? Is there capacity for the client to fix things when they go wrong without involving support?

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"How can I explain to my management that I am not interested in doing the lead job?"

Find a new job.

I don't mean to be snide. It sounds like you have foreseen a potentially horrible situation that you want to avoid. You might be able to dodge it with some cunning office politics or you might be able to rise to the situation and handle things.... but it can't hurt to start working on plan B.

  • To be honest,i did think of the same. Then I realised their are not many jobs with my niche skills in my current (home) city. That is the biggest pain. – The IT guy Aug 21 at 7:07

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