Work issue: taking over from a 10+ year expert, WWYD?

I’m a little more than one year into this job and getting more and more frustrated with one aspect of it. I’m an analyst, doing waterfall software requirements, which isn’t hard. But also I’m expected to be client-facing, having meetings with the external client to go over their issues and explain our proposed solutions. Pretty standard stuff.

My manager’s even-keeled but a perfectionist, and I took the job over from someone who was here since the beginning of the contract (10+ years) and retired. She knew the system inside and out, and I know he wants me to get to that point also. But the way he’s doing it is making me anxious, nervous, frustrated and I’m not sure if I’m being a baby or am justified in my reaction to his style. I’ve been in client-facing jobs before, and even ones that required that I get up in front of a room of 40-60 people to make presentations. That didn’t make me as anxious as he is. He’s making me feel like I can’t make a single mistake, or I can’t hesitate one second too long if the client asks a question. Just amazing pressure.

Even worse is that I haven’t really had a meeting with the clients yet where I was the one speaking. I’ve gotten this freaked out just from his prepping me to do them.

So first of all, I need to learn all the ins and outs of the system, AND how the clients use it, but I can’t ask the clients how they use it. They only let me talk to our internal QA and Dev teams to learn about the software. If you’re at all familiar with software you realize that this is limited. Talking to the technical teams only provides me the hows and whys of the software design. They don’t know how the clients actually use it and they don’t know if the clients have implemented any workarounds for parts they find difficult to use. So I am not learning the client’s perspective. (I’ve found that this is common in past jobs, too, but managed to work past it anyway.)

I understand that before I talk to the client, I need to fully understand how the system works and be able to communicate it clearly. So for example I’ve been asked to research the list of change requests in our next release to make sure I understand the issues and proposed solutions. Anything I’m not sure about, I know I need to ask a developer or QA person. Done that.

Pull my manager into a 1:1 meeting to do a “practice run” and he starts picking me apart. He never gets mad, but I can’t say a single thing without him correcting me or telling me I need to go ask developer Bob or QA Kerry. Which I did already, and it was some detail that they didn’t know either. Or he just doesn’t like how I phrased something so he says “say this instead…” Then he starts the lecture about how if I’m not sure of anything I should ask. Heard this one several times now. I know to his perspective it just looks like I didn’t know and didn’t ask. But I DID ask someone all the questions I could think of, so the things he’s tripping me up over are stuff that didn’t occur to me. How do you ask about something you don’t know? Or I thought I knew the issue very well, but… you know… I haven’t worked with the system for 10 years and you just threw something at me that I’ve never encountered or thought to ask about.

I’ve done practice runs with coworkers before the ones with him and that didn’t help. He just finds things to pick that they don’t. He keeps telling me that he wants the practice runs with him to be like role plays with the actual client, so no mistakes. They don’t go longer than about 5 minutes before they fall to pieces.

He gets me so flustered that I start hemming and hawing and sounding like I don’t know the first thing what I’m doing. When I get nervous or frustrated, my voice gets hoarse. Then of course his feedback gets worse because I sound so clueless. He might not be mad, but I’m super frustrated and discouraged. Lecturing me about how I should do things isn’t helping.

Should I stop trying to be a business analyst, because I’m pretty convinced that I suck at it.

Oh, one other thing that’s making me look bad is that I’ve been working on too many things at the same time while preparing for the next release. I’ve been managing all the many changes to the change list, researched each one and made little notes for myself about what they were/how to illustrate them to the client in this meeting, drafting documents for various requests, making more changes, sending emails about various things, the typical plate-spinning that BAs do, and… now that we sit down for a practice run some details have flown out of my head even with the notes I wrote. And my hesitation as I tried to pull my thoughts together about one of them got me the lecture about how I need to be prepared and not have long delays to come up with answers.

If it’s a single entity as the client, seems to me like they should send you to spend a couple of days at a client site to see how they use it. Unless there’s only one way to use it.

If they were selling it to a new client, you’d be in on those discussions, no?

Breathe. Your boss sounds like a trial by fire kind of guy and is playing the asshole customer in his practice runs because he knows the customer can be an asshole. I think that your boss is more nervous about this than even you are. Most likely the examples of what not to say to the customer were ones he made himself. Breathe.

I’ve had to make similar presentation to top management at General Motors, a company known for difficult assholes who love to pin a supplier to the wall. In general they will know you are replacing someone with loads of experience and will cut you some slack at first while you get up to speed. Might even make a little fun of you messing something up in front of your boss but let it slide. Your boss is the one who is actually in the hot seat, that is why he is so nervous and picking on you. Once you realize that his objections and comments actually make him look weak and nervous. This can be a somewhat comforting feeling and have a calming affect on you.

Oh, and breathe.

To ThisisTheEnd: You’d be surprised about that! LOL!

Ideally if you want to know how a group uses your software, you’d send your analyst to watch/analyze how they use it. But I none of the places I worked for have done that. My guess is that they feel this will make us look like we don’t know what we’re doing. But it’s really all in how you frame it. The client’s not stupid - they understand that you just hired a new person who needs to learn. And if you frame it as “learn from the best” how could they possibly be offended?

But anyway, that’s a little different from my main issue which is feeling badgered by my perfectionist manager.

I’m thinking of telling him I need more time to learn from how he and our other manager deal with the client and to learn the system. I could do the client-facing work now if he wasn’t pressuring me so hard to have all the answers in a hot second.

Aside from the advice to breathe, I don’t agree. As I mentioned, I’ve been in the position of making presentations to roomfuls of people. At that job they literally did throw me to the wolves, as in let me get up there and make a fool of myself. On the one hand I appreciate that this manager is not doing that. On the other hand, he makes me seriously want to quit before I even get there.

I have been in meetings with them and mostly stayed quiet while my manager talked. They are friendly, easygoing people. The pressure is entirely from him. Apparently even saying something like “I don’t know that, but I will research it and get back to you” is not acceptable to him, where it was the approved response to any curveballs in other jobs I’ve had.

Then your boss is a nervous asshole or just trying to make you look bad and take blame for something he did. Get out of there.

I think you’re dealing with a compulsive micromanager. In my experience these people rarely follow through on everything they specify, so I just act like they’re right, do as much as I can, and say “sorry” if I missed a detail.

It sounds like this person has terrible emotional intelligence and is insensitive. It sucks but I don’t know what to do except be assured that you’re not bad, this is just an obnoxious person who accidentally makes people feel bad. But do try to hit the high notes like always asking for help, even if it seems hokey. It will mean something that you did this without being told. Walk the line between overstressing, placating, and just blowing off your boss.

And if it feels terrible, I hope you’re in a position to just quit! Sometimes that’s the only thing to do.

Yep, I do try to do a good job, which means asking my coworkers and getting as much info as I can. I also strive to work at a level where I don’t need to be managed or told what to do. So this is another part of why he frustrates me. He’s actually making me feel stupid and incompetent.

And yes… I have enough saved up right now to retire early and my husband makes enough (and still enjoys his job) to support us. I’m sure that’s also a factor in my lowering tolerance for bullshit. I’m seriously thinking of just walking away from corporate day jobs, focusing on my shop that I own and operate and enjoy a quiet life. There will always be things that annoy me, but so far all of the issues I’ve had with my shop I’ve met as challenges that I was happy to overcome. Autonomy is huge with me, and I have zero of it in the day job with a perfectionist manager.

FWIW, I agree w @HMS_Irruncible. The folks up-thread who’re suggesting your boss is anything but an incompentent idiot motivated only by his own insecurities are flat wrong.

Any manager that doesn’t want his BAs at the customer site learning how the customer uses the products is insecure to the point of paranoia. Either that or he knows his product is absolute shite and he’s praying he can retire before his boss and / or the customers figure it out. Meanwhile he’s playing denial and cover-up to his last ounce of your sweat.

I recall a few long threads about your previous job(s?) a couple of years ago.

Bottom line: IMO you’ve found yet another toxic environment in IT. Congrats on your excellent nose for finding the poop. Stop rolling in it.

So, a follow-on question if you guys don’t mind:

I talked to him about it today. My proposed solution was for him to lead this meeting with the client again, while I listened (and take notes) and learned. His response was a flat no. It’s my job and I need to do it. We discussed the issue I’m having. He said that maybe he needs to re-think his communication style with me but otherwise seemed to stick to his guns. He continued to say that he does not expect me to be perfect or jump immediately to having 10 years of experience with the software, despite clearly also not wanting me to make any mistakes in front of the client (or actually, in front of him either), so I don’t think he really sees the problem. He did kind of make it out to be that I’m pressuring myself or reading him wrong and he didn’t mean to give me any of that impression.

So we ended the talk on a mixed note with me still not being very happy or confident, but agreed to go back to the team to discuss the change requests in more depth and try to learn everything there is to know about them. He said it didn’t matter how long it took because there are no deadlines at the moment, although the client could come back and request a meeting time today or tomorrow, or next week. We don’t know. So there is still time pressure despite what he says. And he keeps saying that he wants me to be confident that I KNOW this stuff.

I’m going to just focus on the work, trying to learn as much as I can about these 36 change requests and if I’m not done when they call for the meeting, too bad. But I have a strong feeling when they do come back with a meeting time, he’s going to turn to me (privately) and say “hey, you all ready?”. I still do not have confidence because of the way things have gone with him so far, and I’m deathly afraid of making any mistake in front of the clients because of the way he’s pressured me. I can’t lie and say yes because then if I make a mistake in front of them he’s going to ream me. But if I’m honest and say I’m not ready… then what? He’s not going to like that answer.

(I’m still going to bail and retire, but need to do just a little bit of “homework” first. So I’m trying to go along to get along mostly just to buy a few weeks time.)

Well, who cares now?

New focus: screw up the meeting so you he lays you off and you get severance and can collect unemployment.

Yeah, pretty sure it doesn’t work that way! It’s more like screw up the meeting so he fires me and I can’t collect unemployment.

But that’s neither here nor there. I don’t want to go out in a blaze of ignominy. I prefer some professionalism.

This thread is giving me PTSD, but for a different reason than @JcWoman’s. I’m part of a committee that is tasked with helping the vendor adapt our court case management system to their new version of the product. The back story here is that, I was on the original committee 14 years ago, I’m the in-house expert for using the system in my court, and the vendor actually created the system originally for us, with our input. Essentially, we paid for all of their research and development. Now, all these years later, they have a new “core” product that we have to transition to (for a large sum of $$, but that is for a different thread).

My issue is with the person who is the primary spokesperson for our court with the vendor. That is, she leads all the discussions with the vendor, tells them what we need and what we don’t, explains how we use the current system, etc. Problem is, she doesn’t use it like the “ground troops” do. She pulls statistical reports, charts a lot of numbers. But the day-to-day case/matter entry, the data entry, tracking a case’s progress and timeliness through the court, the process – she doesn’t do. There are about five of us with very specialized knowledge about the various aspects of the system and who use it every. single. day. None of us can make a suggestion or state how we actually do things without this woman brushing it aside: “We don’t do that anymore.” Since when? I did it yesterday. “We have decided to change that.” Says who? “No, that’s not the process.” Wanna bet? Several of us have stopped speaking up at all in any of the meetings or finding that we urgently have someplace else to be. Retirement can’t come soon enough.

I feel for you @JcWoman. You are on the other side of the coin I’m stuck on. Hang on.

If you folks who represent the real users don’t speak up now, you damn well better be retired before the spokechix’s disaster is delivered for you & your colleagues to somehow have to use every day.

You’re in a shitty situation, but abdicating your responsibility to your future self isn’t wise.

I totally agree. And yet, so many places are exactly like that and scorn things like best practices or analysts trying to educate themselves. When I was a software engineer I would occasionally bump up against an analyst assigned by a third party vendor to work with me on an integration project and they were rarely prepped. The analyst would have to troubleshoot the integration with me, which on their side involved writing down the problem as best they could, going back to their engineering team, and then (maybe, but usually not) reporting back to me when it was fixed. So frustrating, and now that I’m an analyst I try so hard not to be like that. But I’m finding that they almost force you into situations you’re not competent to work in and they don’t give a rats ass.

Oh, the other thing I’ve seen companies do with analysts is to assign them the job of doing demos or client training sessions with next to no training for themselves. So it’s like “figure out as much about this software as you can because you have to do a demo for the prospective client next week. Oh, and don’t screw up and embarrass us all because we really need to make this sale. I’m sure you’ll do great, don’t worry!”

Yeah, that sounds pretty standard. I’ve spent most of my career being tossed into situations where I have almost no expertise in whatever it is they want done. Fortunately I’m very good at bullshiting.

Run. Don’t look back.

I’m really BAD at bullshitting, so this is a huge amount of stress for me when it happens. :slight_smile: Over the years I managed to learn how to sidestep a difficult topic with tact or diplomacy but if asked directly…? I answer. I just can’t not answer a direct question.