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I started work in a new company three months ago as a Jr PM and after a month of shadowing/training I got my first project assigned. I'm leading a team of six people. Overall everything is fine except with this one senior Architect, let's call him John, who is also 20 years older than me.

The team is divided into three groups: two functional groups (1 architect and 1 analyst each) and one technical group (with 1 architect and 1 developer).
Here is the situation that just happened:

I have my weekly meeting with my manager and we'd been discussing some documentation that needed to be provided by the functional groups. One group delivered the documentation and the other didn't. This was requested by me three weeks ago and, I was to focus on one area of the project but failed to do a follow up on this specific task, so when my manager asked, I have to take the blame for not doing a proper follow up. (This was on me, and I acknowledge that).

Then we had our daily meeting, I requested the documentation again to John, reminded him that it was requested 3 weeks ago, and I needed for today. He told me that he agreed to give it to the technical team on Monday, he and the tech team had a private conversation about it, but I was never informed of this, thus I was not able to provide this information to my manager. I told John that I was fine that the team communicate internally and I encourage team work, but I need to be in the loop for any decision in order to be able to keep track and make sure everything is according to the plan (delivering this documentation on Monday could cause a delay), and I ask him to provide, if possible the documentation today. This is where things went out of control. He started to talk, in front of the team, things like "Who do you think you are? I'm 20 years older than you, Why do you have this God-like attitude? If I said to Mark that I will send it on Monday, then he and you will have it on Monday. You are not a good PM, blah blah…". He keep going for like 5 minutes until the other functional architect told him to stop. Then we finished a very very bad, daily meeting. I told him at the end that we can talk in private or if he wanted, we can talk to my manager and get this issue resolved. I ended up with the feeling of a poorly managed meeting from my end.

TL;DR: How to handle a conflictive team member who quickly escalates conversations on meetings and made side deals with other teams member without letting me, the PM, know?

How do I handle this team member? Should I escalate? Should I talk to him 1 on 1? What should I focus on in this conversation?

As I said before, I'm a junior PM but I have a strong technical and functional background in the tool we are working on. It's also worth mentioning that my manager warned me about John and his attitude when I was given the team. So, it is not a first time and he is known to be a conflicting person. Also, it is a cultural difference background, John is from a country that values age over experience and position and therefore he might have some negative reaction to having a PM 20 years younger than him.

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  • What is your role in the scrum team - product owner, scrum master or dev team member? There are no other roles in scrum. – Philip Kendall May 20 at 14:37
  • @PhilipKendall I removed the "scrum" word as it might lead to confusion. We are a startup with around 50 employees and PMs here are doing multiple roles while the company is growing. – Orejano May 20 at 14:41
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    So your team contains 3 architects, 2 analysts, a project manager and one developer? What is your product exactly that there is 6 people planning for every one person doing actual work on the product? – nvoigt May 20 at 14:54
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    @nvoigt We do SAP projects, in our current project we are implementing two different SAP modules, therefore one Architect for each module is requiered, and there are a lot of custom develop to be done, hence the Technical architect (which design integration with external systems) and one developer to help him. – Orejano May 20 at 14:57
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    If someone 20 years my junior with exactly zero expertise in my field demanded that I do something immediately because they promised it to someone else without consulting with me, I would give them a dressing down they wouldn’t soon forget. The disrespect you showed is what earned you the response you got. Why are you promising things without consulting the people with the expertise to know how long things will take? You’re the PM. It’s your job to gather this information and manage it. – ColleenV May 21 at 14:14
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So as a PM I see you having three problems.

  1. Modification to deliverable details without you being informed. Let them know what was decided is fine but the way it was decided negatively impacts you. Follow up with how you expect changes to deliverables to be processed in the future, confirm with the person receiving the documentation if there are any knock on effects from the delay, and drop it. If the behavior continues I would go with a formal training session on change management expectations and if it still continues proactively asking in regular meetings if any change management needs to be undertaken.

  2. Pushing for early delivery of a deliverable is not good project management. If the other team agreed to Monday and confirm there are no knock on effects from it then it is safe to assume it would gather dust in their inbox until Monday. Getting the work to flow smoothly is more important than the fine details of the schedule. Pushing your team to meet meaningless deadlines is a waste of political capital.

  3. Personal attack from the team member. I would get feedback from your manager on how to handle this situation with this person in specific. A month into your role there is no shame in going to your manager to ask for advice, just frame it in a way that you are looking for advice on how to resolve this and not necessarily asking them to intervene. I recommend this over asking people on the internet as there can be a lot of nuance at play (ie maybe this is a pattern or maybe it's a one off and he's going through bad non-work stuff).

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I told John that I was fine that the team communicate internally and I encourage team work, but I need to be in the loop for any decision in order to be able to keep track and make sure everything is according to the plan

This is very reasonable. Good job. I don't think John complained.

(delivering this documentation on Monday could cause a delay),

How so? The party that it is to be delivered to already agreed on the Monday date. So how can it delay anything? Where they wrong? Is there an actual delay if it's delivered on Monday?

and I ask him to provide, if possible the documentation today. This is where thing went out of control.

Yes. This is where you showed that to you it is more important to be right about something, than to make it work. John had a perfectly working solution. Maybe it was later than your plan, but apparently it was perfectly fine for the customer (the other team). Then you insisted that it must be today, not because the other team needed it, but because your plan said so.

I would certainly be upset too if I found out that I do not work to enable the other team to do something, but instead work to make your report fit your boss' expectations.

Was it professional of John to show it this way? No. And you should handle this privately. Tell him that the next time he is upset he should say something like "maybe we can talk about this after the meeting" and then talk to you in private.

So what can you do now? Well, you have to figure out why you need John to do this today. Do you have an actual reason? "because my plan says so" is not a reason. There has to be a real world reason why you want it done today. Figure it out. Tell John. If John sees why it's important he will understand. On the other hand side, you may come to a point where you cannot come up with a reason. A real reason. Then you should consider apologizing.

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