Boss C is project manager for our team, although his usual function is to manage the dev group. There are three workers on the team: me (business analyst), the dev, and SQA (the tester). Our "customers" are all employees of the larger institution.

As business analyst, it is my function to gather the requirements for the project, organize them, and transmit them to the dev and SQA for development and testing. I also answer questions and get clarification after the dev and SQA review the requirements.

My relationship with Boss C has not been good. Things came to a head in the past two weeks, when he has gone to the customer directly and gathered additional requirements without including me in the process at all. This is also during the development cycle, when the requirements are supposed to be frozen.

Approaching him directly is politically difficult because he is not a colleague like a project manager usually would be; he is one level up from me and has a management interest in the dev work, therefore has a natural favoritism toward his own resources. My boss and I have worked through several solutions based on the assumption that Boss C was either micromanaging, minimizing my contribution to the project, or generally controlling. We've both successfully handled situations like this in the past with other personalities (mostly customers) but in this case, none of our attempts worked. In fact, the situation worsened, with Boss C developing greater hostility in the office and reaching out to the customer more.

What finally brought their boss into the picture was that Boss C instructed the dev to contradict a carefully negotiated requirement. When I showed him the requirement and asked him about the difference, instead of coming back to me, he went straight to the customer and stakeholder group and told them "This is how we're doing it, right?" Subsequently, a huge political battle ensued, and although in the end, the dev did what Boss C wanted, it seriously damaged our relationship with business.

Their boss agreed that it was clearly outside Boss C's domain as project manager. In that conversation, Boss C declared that I was bullying the customers. As a result, he is not only circumventing my role, but actively interfering with my relationships with the customer because he believes he is defending the customer from me.

In the long term, this perception will continue to cause problems because I will be on his projects. This is a different situation for me because it is personal—he's objecting specifically to my behavior—and not territorial. I need to have a working relationship with Boss C.

In the coming week, my boss will work with Boss C and their boss to clarify job responsibilities. I think this will help demonstrate their faith in my abilities, but it doesn't address Boss C's perception that I'm bullying and as long as he thinks that, he will feel his behavior is justified.

How do I manage a working relationship with Boss C? I need to be able to do my job without his interference. At the very least, I need to minimize the harm his actions are having on my relationship with the customer and the confusion he is causing over my role in the project.

  • 3
    I don't think we can really help much here. We don't know how you and the customer get along, what was said/done that is causing Boss C to feel you are a bully, etc. At this point it sounds like a cluster of miscommunication and assumptions. About the best I could offer is the next time you talk to the customer perhaps "slip" that Boss C is under the impression you're bullying them and go from there... You may find perhaps the customer does feel bullied for some reason. You might also consider talking to boss C asking what you can do fix this misunderstanding. (what YOU can do, not him) Sep 19, 2014 at 14:30
  • Talk to Boss C and ask how you can improve the relationship with the customer so he doesn't feel the need to fix the bullying situation.
    – user8365
    Sep 19, 2014 at 14:33
  • I mentioned already that I can't approach him directly about the customer. With regard to bullying, the customer has made it clear to my boss that they want me to stay on the project and for Boss C to stop causing issues.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Sep 19, 2014 at 14:58
  • Could you clarify: "My boss" and "Boss C" are different people? Your boss, you, and your customer have everything worked out nicely between you, Boss C is interfering with it, and when your customer says everything is fine and Boss C should stay out of it, Boss C thinks your customer only says that because you are bullying the customer?
    – gnasher729
    Sep 19, 2014 at 18:16
  • 1
    @BenBarden He got fired about a year after I made this post, so that solved everything.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jul 15, 2020 at 15:07

1 Answer 1

  1. Let the manager take the lead this time
  2. Work with him to make the customer happy with this project
  3. Incorporate this experience to improve future customer relations

Let the manager lead

If the manager in this case is responsible for actually implementing whatever is agreed with the customer, then the manager is making his own bed. If he's above both you and your direct boss on the food chain, you'd be fighting an uphill battle and it doesn't sound like this manager's intention is the problem, only the execution.

Work with the manager

If the execution is the issue, offer your help to the manager while being clear that you're letting him lead. You can couch this several ways, but in general I would suggest being:

  1. Deferent (make sure it is clear you aren't trying to do his job)
  2. Practical (explain why your participation is good for him)
  3. Specific (explain the extent of what you want to do clearly)

Hey Boss C, I understand that you're not happy with the way I'm handling this customer. You're in charge of this project, and I want to do my best to support it however I can. Since you have other responsibilities, I was hoping that I could at least visit the customer with you, let you lead, but learn from how you handle them for my own benefit, and save you time by helping write up minutes of those meetings and drafting the requirements and specs based on what's discussed (with your review of course!).

The point is that by being involved you can:

  1. Actually do something in the project rather than having it done without your involvement at all
  2. Make sure that the decision-making process is clearly documented so that if something your boss decided with the customer causes problems down the line, you aren't the one stuck holding the bag
  3. Allow you to potentially nudge the process (and the customer relationship) in a better direction than if you weren't involved at all

Incorporate this experience to improve future customer relations

Change is tough, especially mid-project. There are deadlines, promises, and customers waiting. If you raise a stink mid-project, business realities (deadlines, promises, customers) tend to take priority, and paint your constructive criticism in a bad light. By working with the manager to do things on their own terms, and working to successfully complete the project, you will be acting in the best interest of the company's priorities, making your opinion more valuable if there is something that needs to be changed.

A post-mortem document going over the lessons learned from how this project was run can be far more effective (and comprehensive) giving your boss more ammunition to push for change if merited (especially if the project goes sour, deadlines are missed, or the customer is unhappy).

This isn't to say that you should just document the mistakes -- if there are legitimate places where you can improve, be sure to put those in there too -- by making this about improving the process to achieve the goals of the company, the company will be more willing to implement it.

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