Work/project question: should I keep my trap shut?

I’m a senior level business analyst, sort of an unofficial team lead, but not officially. I’m on a very large project part time, training another business analyst who we recently hired. She’s very good, smart and definitely also has senior level skills. Our industry is very hard to learn, though, it takes time. Up to several years, and she’s only been here for a few months. I recently got a bunch of other stuff dropped on me with a short deadline so had to back away from the project, although I told her I would answer any questions she had and continue to help her as much as I could. But she’s attending all the meetings and doing all of the documentation herself.

There is another person, an official lead who is sort of “in charge” of the project from the business team’s perspective. (We’re very loosey goosey here, with no real understanding of project management.) From the beginning he’s been spread super thin on multiple projects so if he attends the meetings for this project, he usually has his head down in his laptop working on other things and not paying attention unless someone says his name. A few months ago my mentee and I told him that we weren’t able to keep up with the workload of that one project so asked for some help. He assigned a third BA to help us.

She occasionally attends meetings but rarely speaks. A few times my mentee has delegated some work to her - which she never does so my mentee ends up doing it. My mentee has told me that sometimes she works until 10pm or works weekends trying to get the work done and she said that in the last meeting the project manager was getting on her case about not having requirements done in time. He was making it sound like it was all on her, so she’s frustrated and was venting to me earlier today (which is okay, I’m here to support her).

I told her to tell the PM to lean on our official lead about the slipping timeline, and to tell the lead that the “helper” BA isn’t doing squat. She doesn’t want to cause friction, though. I want to tell someone (choices below) that this project is in jeopardy unless she gets some help, and that the person who was supposed to help her isn’t doing anything. She doesn’t want me to, though. It’s a very large project with a team of around 20 developers and I’ve never figured out how they expect one business analyst to keep up with it - let alone someone new!

So, would you raise this concern? Would you tell the lead? Tell her supervisor (who is not the lead)? Keep quiet and let her work it out herself (and possibly burn out and/or quit)?

Do you have the authority to talk to BA3 yourself? Is she overwhelmed, doesn’t understand, a slacker in general?

Tell whoever is officially in charge that BA3 is not pulling her weight for whatever reason (whatever you found out, if you can), and if you don’t get some real help the project will miss deadline.

Couple thoughts. First, the ability to ask for help or to respond to impossible expectations is something any good worker needs to learn at some point. Better for the newbie to make her concerns now, rather than waiting until the whole project goes down in flames. I would tell her as much, very firmly.

From your perspective, it is more complicated. You are not her official supervisor. It is not your project. So you could just sit back. But you are more senior, and apparently care about the entire firm’s performance, I think you should figure out who best to inform that this person seems like a good potential longterm employee and is working hard, but is not getting sufficient support. It is in the firm’s best interest to give her the necessary support to do well on this task, and to retain a new hire.

BA3 is my peer, so I don’t really have authority over her. I don’t feel comfortable talking to her directly because of that and also because it’s sort of hearsay that she’s not doing any work on the project. I have sort of seen it myself: we asked her to do X and Y and she did no apparent work so BA2 (my mentee) ended up doing it. I noticed myself that BA3 is the kind of person who does not follow up to let you know her progress. If she’s doing any requirements, she’s doing it on her own computer where we have no visibility instead of in the Sharepoint documents where we are all working. Personally I kind of hate when people work that way because of the lack of visibility but I respect that other people have different ways of getting things done. My BA2 also works that way but she at least follows up and communicates her progress without having to pull her teeth.

We went for a walk this afternoon where she vented some of this stuff to me, and I did tell her your first paragraph. It might be cultural, her wish to not cause conflict (she’s asian Indian).

It’s a pretty critical project as well as large. I’m not technically more senior than her, just more experienced at this company. I also have no problem throwing my weight around when appropriate. I’ve already demonstrated once that people shouldn’t piss me off. :smiley:

Perhaps I’ll talk to her supervisor, who is really the manager in charge of the project officially. I like your wording for doing that, thank you.

Be VERY careful.

I saw this written as a joke today re: Wells Fargo: “Just call our internal ethics line, 1-800-UR-FIRED”
Except that in 2016, there are ZERO protections and its pretty-much 100% True.

IME a ton of younger folk do not realize the extent to which they need to speak up on their own behalf - not only blow their own horn to get credit, but also identify when they need help. A lot of people think they should never say “I don’t know” and should never ask for help. A

Again IME - I’ve had instances where I had to stop being understanding and supportive, and instead take a hard line and tell someone that speaking up when a project is going south IS a vital part of their job. I recall telling a new hire that if they failed to seek assistance and the project bombed, I’d make sure to fully report that I had advised them to seek help. Kind of force them to speak for themselves.

In reality, I’d likely do both - urge them to come forward, and go behind the scenes. That way, when they DO ask for assistance, the supervisor has already been thinking about it and is more prepared to act, AND the newbie gets credit for following your advice and speaking up. AND you get appreciation/respect from both the newbie and the supervisor. Win win win win!

We’re having so many problems in my current client because the document management programs have no way to let you know a document is already being edited that I’m getting a toothache just reading that. Keeping the Sharepoint updated is not a matter of preference, it’s a must - if their computers fry, the work is lost.

BA2, your mentee, when she is asked about slipping deadlines, needs to be prepared to say “X, Y, and Z are done. Q and R were assigned to BA3, and I don’t know her status. You will have to ask her.” And/or copy the project lead every time she emails to BA3 “what is the status of Q and R?”

It’s entirely possible that BA3 actually did the work, but never told anyone that it was done or offered it up for QA, which is nearly as bad.


Speaking as a PM, you need to raise your concerns with the PM. It’s really the PMs job to make sure the workload is balanced across the team and to deal with any performance issues.

How frequently does your PM meet with the team?

Is there a clear understanding of what tasks are in the pipeline and when they are due?

Msmith, the PM is actually struggling with this project also, and has the cards stacked against him. Our company organization has the BA team reporting to the marketing division instead of IT with the developers. Which wouldn’t be a problem except that the marketing division managers/leadership has no understanding of the importance of project management. Because of this, they promoted the implementation date to our external customers without doing any evaluation of the labor required to implement. There was no estimation involved in planning the sprints, only we’ll do X, Y, and Z as if they were box-checking exercises. Meaning for example they said that in sprint 3 we’ll write the requirements for reordering the data, but nobody analyzed how hard that would be to figure out. So we’re doing all of that analysis in each sprint as we get to each task, and falling desparately behind schedule.

So coming back to the poor PM (who is on the IT side of things) he has no authority to fix it. I’m sure his leaning on my mentee is just him struggling to keep things on track without any authority to assign more people to the project.

This broken machine will remain broken until/unless somebody can get through to the Marketing team. The OP, her BA2, BA3, and pseudo-PM are simply getting ground up in the gears.

Ultimately each participant needs to decide for themselves how hard they will push forward from *within *the impossible process and how much they’ll work to change the impossible process from without.

Ref Count Blucher’s joke in post #6, at worst you’re left with three mutually exclusive choices:

  1. Kill yourselves and maaaybe get it done (barely).
  2. Blow the whistle now and be fired as a troublemaker.
  3. Work normally and be fired when the project fails.

Sometimes the resources required/provided disconnect driven by upper management’s reality distortion field (AKA Marketing) is large enough that Door #1 is patently obviously impossible from the git-go. If so, you’re really reduced to Doors #2 or #3.

IME (and I have more experience with deeply dysfunctional dev vs sales events than I care to remember), the only bright spot is that companies that are that crazily (bi-polarly?) run often tend to be real bipolar about responses to project failure.

Some fire everybody, and some just keep the same folks on indefinitely to fail and fail again under the impossibly broken processes of the business.

If your business is the latter type, and you can individually stomach it, this opens a fourth option:

  1. Show up, pretend to care a tiny bit, put in your 40 and go home promptly at 5pm, and collect a paycheck from these beknighted fools UFN.
    My bottom line:

From the scant info available, I suspect BA3 has chosen Door #4. Which might turn into Door #3 once the inevitable project crash occurs.

The OP seems to favor risking Door #2 in lieu of Door #3.
My bottom-bottom line: In a broken environment there are no winning strategies. All there are is better or worse coping skills. Hint: Scotch at lunchtime is an especially poor choice of coping skill.

True. Bourbon is far more appropriate for lunchtime. :slight_smile:

This team is dysfunctional, but as LSLGuy says the elephant-in-the-room problem is the reporting and responsibility structure. You could try to improve communications in the team, so that you either (A) gain insight into your perceived slackard’s actual productivity, or (B) visibly call out the actual slackard’s real non-productivity. But my sense is that this would be the classic situation of “arranging deck chairs on the Titanic”. That’s no reason not to try, of course. If there is something within your effective power to fix, I think you have a professional ethical obligation to try. But don’t expect to be able to fix everything.

This. If she is uncomfortable with this requirement to the point of avoiding it, she is not the person for the job - period.

I would go a step farther and say that BA2 should have documented the task assignments on the project plan, where it is out there for everyone to see and everyone can be help appropriately accountable. That alone could be the impetus for BA3 to get it done.

This x 1,000. If your process (or lack thereof) is as you outlined it, your company is unequivocally headed for a major project fail. Maybe not this project, but it will happen. Really, the options at this point are fix the process or fail.

As for your actual question, give BA2 one more chance to escalate all of her concerns to the appropriate person/people. If she doesn’t, see point one. At that point you must escalate.

My new attitude in such situations is - if I’m going to get fired anyway, fire me for not giving a shit about fixing the mess someone else created. I can always find another job.

But really, a major part of a PMs job is to get resources for their project, even if they don’t have real “authority”. The project has a sponsor. If the project sponsor has any interest in the project being completed on time (or at all), the PM needs to have those conversations.
That’s the problem with being an IT project manager. They are the lowest level of pseudo-management before you get to the people who actually have to deliver functioning work. Everyone else is just status reports and Powerpoint decks pushing their shit downhill.

This. The strong PM model where the PM commands resource allocation and is twinned to the sponsor works. The weak PM model where he/she is simply a bean counter and progress report creator is designed from the git-go to fail. Epically fail.

Quoting myself:

This deserves some expansion as specific actionable advice to the OP. I spoke of individuals, but there’s also an opportunity for collective action here. Which is far more likely to result in actual change rather than lip service change.

IMO the OP, the PM, and BA2 *ought *to get together and speak freely to one another about their perceptions of the overall situation. For cultural reasons BA2 will probably be most reluctant to speak freely. *If *the three of you can reach a common perspective, you *may *be able to make a common plan for who to push this problem up to and how best for the three of you to cooperate to push it. Protip: Writing even more routine-looking status report emails cc’ed to half the wiring diagram aint’ it.

As msmith537 astutely says, the project sponsor is the *only *one who has the organizational *need * to fix resource shortages and schedule fantasy. Until and unless this person or persons has the facts and believes them, they’ll be living in PowerPoint delusion-world. Everyone else up and down the chain has more interest in preserving the illusion / delusion as long and as thoroughly as possible. You *must *break / bypass this cycle to win.

Your (OP’s) call on whether to bother with this play. But IMO it’s the only one you have.

Dithering about whether BA3 is shirking or not is peeing on one corner of a smoldering toga while the rest of Rome is aflame. It won’t work, and more importantly, it won’t matter to the larger reality. If you currently think it’ll make you feel better to do so you’ll probably find out afterwards that you were mistaken in that belief.

If we have a PM model here (and I cynically emphasis the IF) it’s the weak one. I’m in total agreement with you guys here, and after reading your responses and thinking about this further I think I just want to leave well enough alone. My only interest is in not losing my mentee because she’s smart and skilled. But if it’s in her best interest to quit, I would support her in that. She’s hanging in there for now and has started pushing back (go her!) on the unreasonable demands.

I honestly (although cynically) believe it’s going to take more than a few people to change this culture. Our “PM model” is so weak that we don’t even have project sponsors. It’s hard to say that because it seems so illogical. Someone created the project, assigned a budget to it and fired the starter gun. But from what I can tell our management team thinks that’s all they need to do. They dump projects in people’s laps regardless of their current workload and assume it all works out for the best. Everybody here from the top down has a very lackadaisical attitude - the only fire-in-bellies I’ve seen have been from newbies we’ve just hired. I’ve been astonished at the complete lack of reaction when I’ve uttered what should be trigger words like “behind schedule” or brought up risks that I’ve just identified. They’re like “oh, well if that happens then we’ll figure out what to do”.

Well, I’m retiring in a few years, so no skin off my rosy nose.

The default answer to nearly all scenarios is “Keep your trap shut”. Especially if in doubt.