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We are a small three-person team dealing with data analysis working in a software company. Until a few months ago, it was just me and another colleague, both of which have a technical background (engineering/data science).

A few months ago, we were assigned a product owner that joined the company: their qualifications included a Ph.D. in a natural science (not CS) and various data analysis tasks in R, so it seemed to be a good fit since we needed someone on board who was familiar the content matter to some degree to take on some of secondary aspects and communication matters (aside from the usual product owner aspects). Their experiences prior to joining were (as far I know) mostly in Academia as well as data analysis at another company.

We only met the person once prior to them starting, and it wasn't for a technical interview - they were OK'd by another team prior to us starting at the company.

On a personal level, we get along with the person great. Unfortunately, as we dealt with the person more and more, we ascertained that they are lacking in some - in our view, rather basic qualifications. For example:

  1. They are expected to analyze and come up with a product vision and ideas, but many meetings on the topic had to be steered almost entirely by me and my teammate for it to be fruitful at all (little to no methodological know-how).

  2. They are often not very well prepared for said meetings (and others).

  3. To complicate matters: the person is not a native speaker and often makes grammatical errors in writing and speech. While we don't have any issues with this internally (it's entirely possible to hold a normal conversation), the person is also responsible for external communication with potential clients which, to be honest, does not seem very professional. We gladly point out or offer to help out with this, but our responsibility to the team should lie within what to communicate, not proofreading for spelling mistakes.

  4. Lastly, and the impetus behind this question: we have had several meetings where we asked for some input to determine some values that we use for various features. We have provided tools, infrastructure and information on how they might be able to determine these values. We've had to explain these things numerous times and it seemed that the person was unfamiliar with some basic statistical/numerical analysis methods (or at the very least, unable to effectively apply it).

The person hasn't been on board long and they needed time to understand our domain, which is completely understandable. However, their qualifications just don't seem to translate to hard skills which help us very much.

I'm worried that if we allow the above situation to fester, it's not only going to hurt our team standing in the company (since communication is mainly their role) but make our resulting work suffer as well since it does eat away quite a bit more of our time than expected and, frankly speaking, is very demotivating.

We haven't actually spoken to the person about this since we're not sure how we could possibly provide this kind of feedback ("How did you reach your level of qualification without knowing XYZ?" - not verbatim, obviously) tactfully.

How can we resolve this situation?

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  • Do you know if this new team member has been employed under a probation period?
    – Boots
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 14:41
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    It sounds like you don't have hire/fire authority over this person? Assuming that's true can you include details about your boss and anything you've discussed with them re this situation.
    – Kaz
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 14:43
  • I believe that they are employed under a probation period, which has not yet run out. Re @Kaz : unfortunately the boss that employed them is no longer working for the company, and the interim time has been rather tumultuous, so there's no specific tech-savy boss that I can go to at this time...
    – fin
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 14:53
  • Surely if this person had communication problems, you would of picked this up when you initially spoke with them? Seeing as the are expected to talk to external customers? Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 15:01
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    Some minor edits to the question for wordiness.
    – Ertai87
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 16:35

3 Answers 3

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There seems to me to be two key issues:

1: Issues with their client-facing communication.
2: Issues with their technical ability/ability to contribute.

The communication one is tricky as little nuances of the native language (which a non-native speaker might not pick up on) can really have an impact on the reader, giving an air of unprofessionalism - but in the same breath, it's something that people are quite sensitive about for fear of being perceived as discriminatory.

The real issue, however, is the latter one - you have the tools and you have the work to do, but if they can't do what you need them to do, then you aren't achieving what you need to with them.

My first question here would be to ask if this is a coaching or an issue with framing? Factoring in the Academic background, it maybe that the way you are describing what you want/need is not translating well (I don't mean across language barriers, I mean across the Business/Academia divide) - My Dad who was an Aeronautical engineer used to get annoyed at new graduates from Uni who were otherwise smart and capable people not thinking with a Business mindset - his example was of a new hire who spent an hour calculating each force and stress on a component, whereas my Dad looked at it and said 'the single greatest net force that it will face, allowing for 2x load for safety margin is this' - did a single calculation in about 5 minutes.

Was the new hire wrong? Technically not, he was approaching it as an Academic exercise and there may be situations where this was appropriate, my Dad was approaching it from a Business perspective, where time is Money.

This may be the basis for some of the confusion - it's possible if he has the skills required that he's not understanding what is required and so is unable to provide the necessary input. This may be doubly a factor if Native Language is also a factor.

How to address this - they are on probation, at the least you need to raise the concerns with them and lay out your expectations, give examples to illustrate.

If they fail to meet those within the probationary period, then talk with Management with some specific examples of when they failed to do the job or lacked the skills you believe is necessary.

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You say in your question:

(since communication is mainly their role)

You also say in your question:

the person is not a native speaker and often makes grammatical errors in writing and speech

Sounds to me like this person may not be not qualified for the job. Especially when this is a client-facing matter, you should let management know about this, at the very least.

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  • Also, they need to ascertain what wrong with their interviewing process. Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 20:23
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    I'd say let management decide if the person is qualified for the job, OP should stick to talking about how it affects the work.
    – jcm
    Commented Dec 16, 2022 at 8:00
  • @jcm answer edited.
    – Ertai87
    Commented Dec 16, 2022 at 15:36
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Your choices seem to either to actively help bring this person up to speed, or to let management eventually notice they are underperforming and fire them (perhaps saying something, perhaps not, depending on how much their weaknesses are affecting your productivity), or mention to them and/or management that they don't seem to be a good fit for the current position and might benefit from moving to an assignment that is a better fit for their skills or investing some time and/or money in active education in the field they have moved into.

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