I will TRY to keep this simple. I was brought on this project approx. 1/2 way through to fill the role of CM DB SME(20+yrs broad based experience). The PM (non-technical by his own admission) repeatedly asked me to fix project docs etc. during first 3 weeks as he "realized my knowledge and experience will be vital to project success." The team was reluctant to provide me any information regarding their "area of expertise"(expected when you're the new-guy). I found out this is because they have no tangible deliverables/solution after 6 months of work.

The PM went on vacation at which time the client informed the Acct Mgr that they lost faith in his ability to lead the project. They also stated that they had observed my performance and wanted me to step into the role of PM as they felt that I wouldn't B.S. them and could get things back on the correct path.

Changes were made to the teams structure as requested by client and I assumed the role of PM. Acct Mgr IMO informed the team "CM DB is pulled from project plan, so now Mr. X (PM that I was replacing) will be leaving and Mr. O (me) will be PM". I'm sure the team is as confused about this as I, the Acct Mgr's attempt to "save face" is an obvious untruth and completely illogical. I am working round the clock to gather the data necessary to rebuild the project plan and resume things, however this time in the correct manner. Now the Acct Mgr is attempting to circumvent me by allowing a member of "our team" to send documentation (planned CMDB doc-area I was brought in to handle) directly to the Project sponsor (client) without my knowledge. I found this out when the Project sponsor's only response was to forward the email immediately to me, I appreciate that they wanted me to know what was being done without my knowledge. Additional issues similar to this are being brought to my attention and I now believe the Acct Mgr is actively trying to push me out of the picture to replace me with another team member. Most likely the one that will gladly "puppet" whatever he is told.

I am uncertain how to proceed so if anyone has any advice or suggestions, it will be greatly appreciated! Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.

Regards, "Mr. O"

  • 7
    Do you really want to work amongst backstabbers and saboteurs?
    – Bernard
    Commented Feb 14, 2012 at 3:49

5 Answers 5


Not an easy situation you describe.

In my view it is important to stick to someones values. For me this includes telling the truth and insisting on being honest with the customers. If you - as a company - stuffed up the project then it is just a matter of time that the customer will find out. In my opinion it is better to share the bad news sooner rather than later.

In your particular case I suspect that the first step needs to be to clarify roles and responsibilities within your company before you interact with the customer again. As long as this has not been sorted interaction with the customer is likely to be a waste of time.

Without knowing further details maybe one option could be that you start inviting the Account Manager to talk directly to members of your team while making sure you are in the driver seat. For example you could be that proactively sets up regular meetings with the account manager and your team to have the tough discussions.

Another option you have is having a very open conversation with the account manager, potentially with your manager or your joint manager. This conversation should be behind closed doors. This could even feel like a fight. All of that is good if at the end a new basis can be found one which to work together instead of against each other.

What you are describing sounds like a broken team. Only if the leaders - yourself, the account manager, maybe others - speak the same language will the rest of team fall into place. Leadership starts from the top.

If the account manager is not open to address and resolve the apparent issues, if you don't get any support from your manager, then it might be the indication that nothing will change and that maybe the best option for you is to leave.


It would appear that the account manager is part of a sales organization - is that correct? Based on his actions, he appears to completely focused on closing a sale or keeping a income stream going.

If that is true, then the best approach I see is to talk to the account manager or his boss and have an honest discussion about the project - something similar to "Look, I know you want our company to look good now but this project is going to have difficultly delivering something good later. We are at [Position X] and maybe in [time period] we can get to [Position Y] but if you promise more than that we probably can't reach it. How do you want to handle this?" That allows a discussion about risk, benefit, and future plans instead of rehashing current issues.

If you have a possible approach that would help (sub-contract a portion, buy a component, add people etc.) then bring that to the meeting. That would help by pointing toward solutions instead of past actions.

However, this looks like a bit of an uphill climb. I totally agree that you need to work on internal dynamics before discussions with the client. Good luck... and know when to cut and run.


I'd say that the main problem in this specific project is the lack of clear roles for each participant. I tend to agree with John on it (+1, John!).

If you'd need a quick answer, it would be:

It's not a problem you will solve by yourself; it's somewhere in the company's Modus Operandi that needs to be addressed by your superiors. Your duty is to highlight it.

Now, if you have some more time... let's get into some further details.

I believe that's important to bear in mind that, here on PMSE, most of the posts will crucify the Account Manager (Mr $)... as he's the one to seems to be "manipulating" everyone (and maybe that's the case).

If you take it for granted, then go for John's answer.

Otherwise, let's try to have a big picture of it... but instead of offering a 'solution' for your problem, I'd propose some questions that (hopefully) will clarify things up.

  • Is the Acct Manager being sincere?

It seems that the Acct Manager made things up to choose the PM in his project. Would you know someone more seasoned on your company that you could chat with and understand how went other Mr $ projects? When asking it, remember that his duty is to make the cash flowing.

  • Was there any other PM before your former PM in place?

The PM turnover on the project might be giving signals of some deeper problems. Maybe there's a culture in place of 'cutting some heads' to the client as a blood offering for the delays. They need a scapegoat to justify their delays... and maybe you're the goat now.

  • How complex is this specific client?

Maybe the client was unhappy with the previous PM. Maybe the client was expecting something intangible. Maybe the client was expecting too much too fast. Try to know the client, specially if that's the first project with him in the company. Get some background on it and you'll understand things better.


Mr $ duty's is with the contract and cash; your team's duties is with the deliverables.

Conflict clashes are -unfortunately - expected. When they're impacting negatively in your job, you need to take the big picture, understand what's going on, and raise a flag. A candid meeting between delivery and accounts with proper meeting minutes would fit.


I would not be so quick to try to diagnose all the things that have happened or seem to be going on that got the project to the point it is today. Not that these are not important, but a lot of troubled projects are caused by a plethora of variables that evolve over time, sort of into its own sub-culture that picking them a part will prove to be a waste of time.

Instead, approach this as if it is a brand new project. Costs spent are sunk, the original performance measurement baselines are irrelevant, finding fault will not get you to the finish line.

The train is clearly not on the right track. So stop the train. Literally. Stop the project. Have everyone freeze what they are doing, archive the product materials in whatever state they're in, and bring the principles into the room and redefine the project from the ground up, exactly as you would do a brand new project. Check the past at the door. Make it clear what has happened and who caused it are immaterial now.

Start with the project charter, high level scope definition, roles and responsibilities, rules of engagement, and then begin decomposing from there. The clear message for everyone that whatever happened in the past is dead. This is a new project, you will be interviewing your team from scratch, you are starting over.

This can be a political nightmare and a very scary thing for your client to undertake. But the likelihood of you moving a high speed train wreck and getting it on the right track (pun intended) is low at best and impossible at worst. By accepting this path without a major intervention like I described, you are walking into a hornet's nest naked. And since you are new on the team and not politically invested, you are the right person to do it. And, if they do not bite, consider rejecting this role and go find something else. Because by accepting it as it is now, you become part of the problem.

  • Agree that's the best approach, but I'm not quite sure if the fresh PM would be the best person to do it. As you mentioned, the client would be highly reluctant to accept it... and as we've seen in the past, the client has veto power on the PM itself.
    – Tiago Cardoso
    Commented Feb 14, 2012 at 12:59
  • I think the fresh PM is the only person who can pull this off, but I do agree that the client would be reluctant. We have a tendency, all of us, to not accept the notion of a sunk cost, a natural aversion to loss. We cannot turn back now because we are well past the point of no return. This is a fallacy, however, and if the sponsor has any degree of business accumen, then (s)he should be able to arrive at this conclusion. Commented Feb 14, 2012 at 13:08
  • I'm with you, but I believe that the PM could raise this point internally until having the Acct Manager accepting it, and then having the Acct Manager itself (who seems to be the closest person to the client) bringing this situation to the table.
    – Tiago Cardoso
    Commented Feb 14, 2012 at 13:13
  • Oh, I see what you are saying. Yeah, I agree with that. I did not mean to exclude him or the existing relationship. Commented Feb 14, 2012 at 13:34

It's time to stop the train and kick some butts (if they really want you to do something real). The client wants software, executable code, something that they can see. So, basically, you want to follow these steps:

Catastrophe Disentanglement: Getting Software Projects Back on Track

and get something done. So, find out what is the nearest to completion user story, finish it and deliver it. If in six months the team couldn't ship anything, start changing that. Keep focus on each user story at the (re)beginning, until you create a flow of delivered stories. The client and the Acct Mgr will notice the difference.

Now, for your team, they have nothing to do with the client. The only one responsible for lying (and you should never!) or not is you. Manage them to tell everything to you, good or bad news. Show them that you really want to satisfy the Acct Mgr and mainly the client, and that it cannot be achieved by lies.

If you or someone else is there only to act like a puppet, than your role is useless. Better find another job than being a tied escape goat.

Cheers and good luck!

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