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One of my colleagues constantly faces the following problem:

We have a team consisting of programmers that are always working on one project or the other. Now there are times when we have to work with cross functional teams to get some data (data from particular databases). and this colleague of mine is responsible for getting that data.

However, whenever my colleague tries to get this data from a person in the other team, he is not able to succeed. One reason being the person in the other team is a very difficult person and another being that he doesn't really have the need to share his data.

Due to this, there have been a couple of instances where this person has held my colleague up. My colleague escalated this person's behaviour to his manager; however the manager simply told my colleague "You are all professionals, you know how to deal with these problems".

What do you think my colleague should do to get the data?

12 Answers 12

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Consider the only team as one cohesive functional unit. If you're a programmer, think of them as an API. You ask them for data, and they're supposed to hand it to you. If one single person is internally responsible for that specific process, that's entirely up to them. If that particular person happens to be failing on you, you're no doubt affected, but it's their manager's problem. He's the one responsible for making sure that his team is able to perform all of its tasks.

If the process requires that you request data of this particular guy, fine, but when things don't work out, don't tell their manager that "this employee of yours is a prick", tell him that his team is keeping your team waiting, by not being able to provide the data. It's really up to him to deal with. You may very well all be professionals, but dealing with people isn't necessarily your profession - it is, on the other hand, exactly what can be expected from a manager.

Every time this isn't working out, or every week or so of delay, if it can't be regarded as distinct attempts, remind the manager of that team that his team fails to deliver.

This guy will sit passively by as you slowly grow weary of him and secretly make him redundant by building something new that doesn't depend on him. That's entirely his loss.

  • 2
    +1 for keeping this objective. Is not about his personality, is about him not completing the task. Agreed. – Geo Feb 19 '11 at 0:49
  • You are correct in stating that this is shall not be put forward as an individual's problem. It should be projected that the other team is not delivering the stuff because of which your team is suffering. Once you have made it a team issue, its upto the managers to handle. Your team's manager will make sure that he gets the work done or get his superiors informed about the failure of the other team. Team failure hurts the project managers the most. So make it their issue and not yours. – Nitin Srivastava Feb 24 '16 at 9:51
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Continue to escalate to your manager's manager, the owner of the total project or even that person' manager.

This is not your battle.

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Just send an email to him keeping your manager and his manager in cc. Mention clearly in the email that your work will remain pending unless he supplies you with the required information.

If he still doesn't reply send an email to his manager with your manager and him in cc and ask him whether he can assign someone else to provide you with the information as the concerned person is clearly too busy to respond.

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    +1 - That is my favorite tactic, but only after I've raised the issue to their management already. It keeps a history that can't be denied. Additionally, I always include something like "could you please get me or delegate someone who can" in my request that way if they are too busy they are still on the hook to find someone to help me. I learned the need to add that last part the hard way. – Dunk Feb 20 '11 at 22:16
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Assuming that your team has a manager, this is the time for your colleague to escalate this to him or her, and let that person deal with the other manager. The difficult person's manager has to be the one to handle the difficult person: that's part of his or her role as a manager.

Ultimately, I assume that if your team does not get the data, the project will fail, and that cannot be acceptable for the organisation. You describe the difficult person as not having the need to share his data... but surely the data is not his? Does it not belong to the organisation? It may not be a priority for him to hand over the data, but priorities can be changed.

The final route for resolving this must be to get your PM to escalate the issue to your project sponsor / executive / or equivalent, with the impact clearly and firmly described, and, if necessary, documented. That way, the appropriate senior manager is able to make a judgement as to the significance of the issue and deal with it at the appropriate level.

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    It's a shame to be forced to that point, but if the data-guy is really blocking and withholding your colleague from doing his job, it's actually the only solution. Consider this: the main task of a manager is to give his team the means to do its job. Which means sometimes to deal with problems like this one! – Alexis Dufrenoy Feb 18 '11 at 8:21
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From a PMBOK view, I would imagine that the first action should be add something like "Unable to receive required data in a timely manner" to the risk register. Next step would be to identify the impacts and then try to find a way to mitigate the risk.

I assume that this is mainly a schedule risk? If so, I would be tempted to work backwards a bit. Find the key milestone related to this work, check with the team and find out the the absolute minimum deadline that you need that data, and identify that drop dead date. Publish that date immediately to the key stakeholders and a brief summary of the impacts.

By give a "cold" or non-emotional statement of the impacts to your bosses, that gives everyone a real starting point in discussions. Try to convince stakeholders on "your" side to back you in your requests to the managers on the "other" side.

This will take some time. So while the talking is going on, try to look for workarounds. Can you use fake data? Can you make guesses? Can you grab something similar from another source? Is there some 3rd party provider that you can just buy the data from? A good brainstorming session with the team seems like a good way to talk about "What if we don't get this?"

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My first suggestion to get your objective is to ask the PM to organize a meeting between your two peers. The data requester and the developer. Have on your back pocket all the attempts you have done to get the data, but don't use it right away. Before the meeting make sure the PM is up to speed on the latest developments of your situation. In the meeting be ready to do most of the listening, try to understand from your peer's point of view, WHY he has failed to provide the data. Maybe, just maybe, there is valid reasons for it.

Make sure you both leave that meeting with a process on how to request data, and if the data will not be provided in time, a notification will go out letting your PM and you of this. This way the PM will have to take action once the notification comes.

In the event that the above setting don't work. Then I will go with David's suggestions. The only issue I have with that suggestion , is that very likely you will be violating the company strategy.

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As a consultant I have to admit this is one of the 'good' things - I only need to deal with the difficult people as long as the contract runs, and I only need to deal with getting the project done.

I find it best to make sure I don't get caught up in the emotions of the behaviour and always work to achieve the project goals. If the person is actually toxic, I will raise the issue with their supervisor.

If you want to have the person removed from the project, you need to work on that early. If you leave it too long, they are too difficult to replace.

Good luck, it's not fun.

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Another approach to obtain the data is to talk to the manager of the other department or a member of the IT department and just get access to the data yourself and cut out the middle-man.

You should be able to get access to everything you need to do your job. If you're a programmer or project manager, the success of the project is riding on your shoulders. If the company can't trust you with the data, then why would they trust you with building critical software or trust you with the reigns of the project?

  • This is definitely a valid solution but I wouldn't prefer this because it is going to add to your workload while the person actually responsible would relax. – Mugen Mar 3 '11 at 15:49
  • @Mugen - If you get easy access to the data, then it shouldn't increase your workload. It sounds like it's actually harder to have someone else get the data for you than if you were to just do it yourself. – jmort253 Apr 3 '11 at 22:48
  • But when someone else is getting the data for you and you're waiting for him the delay is not your fault. You have a valid reason for the delay if it actually happens. On the other hand if you start eliminating the middle man everywhere you need to start multitasking more. Your productivity will decrease. – Mugen Apr 5 '11 at 6:21
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This is all about building a relationship with the people who make up your project team. If one person is missing the deadlines you can complain all you like to their manager but ultimately that will not help to improve your relationship with them nor will it help your project release on schedule. I see two options: can you remove the need for the data from this person by getting it some other way? Probably doubtful, so you need to work with them to build a relationship. Try to understand why they are not meeting your dates

  • is it because the dates are unrealistic
  • are they too busy doing other higher priority projects
  • is it difficult for them to get the data
  • is there anything you can do to help them get the data you need

Maybe they are just being awkward which is a real pain but complaining to their boss will not help. Ultimately people only really do things for other people because there is a good relationship between them so you need to work on building that with them. There is a good podcast at http://www.manager-tools.com that has a number of useful resources for building and maintaining relationships.

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This is a common one. (full disclosure, I'm founder of a company who's products are intended to help solve the cross-functional team friction problem).

Most likely the issue isn't your co-worker, really. It's more likely that the different parts of the larger team are not focused on the same goals & priorities.

A smart guy once said that ~80% of the friction in teams is due to unclear goals vs. a very small fraction due to intractable interpersonal crap. He pointed out that conflict tends to come from Goals, Roles, Processes, and Interpersonal "stuff" in roughly that order.

What to do? Your guy's manager's solution "you are all professionals" doesn't get at the core issue. But escalating the immediate problem is just going to get people's backs up -- pretty naturally.

Some ideas:

The PMBOK (the American National Standard for project management) would point you in the direction of the project charter. See if you have one. If the team has a charter use that to focus people's attention. Since you are referring to the authority your position will be strong. If you have questions about this and don't have a PMBOK, happy to answer them.

Point out to the "all professionals" manager that there is a mis-alignment that has nothing to do with a lack of professionalism. That's a managerial concern that can't reasonably be shucked off.

If you get traction to the idea that the team needs a re-baselining of it's goals, roles and responsibilities again see PMBOK for tools such as roles & responsibilities matrices. See if you can get an Organizational Work Breakdown Structure (also see PMBOK; a WBS that is mapped to groups of people) from someone so you can match against the matrices. What you're trying to do is make the roles & responsibilities concrete. Making things clear is half the battle -- and saying that they are not yet clear is much easier for people to hear than if you just say, in effect, so and so is a bozo.

If you get the "you're asking for so much new work" complaint point out that this is basic stuff that must in some form already exist in someone's inbox or a shared drive or there wouldn't be a cross functional team to begin with. So it's not new work, just needs to be reviewed.

And if you get much further I would seriously suggest finding a project management information system that includes roles, goals, responsibilities, requirements and decision-making in its information model. Something that can keep your team aligned and focused on a day to day basis. That way you can get past today's issue and also not get stuck again tomorrow. (As I said at the top, on this point, I'm biased...)

Good luck!

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All the answers are great. Your colleague needs to be able to manage this issue. The difficult person's manager is both right and wrong. If they were both professionals, there wouldn't be a problem.

Your colleague should also remember that the sponsor is there to help with issues. This may need a bit of a Sponsor to Manager conversation.

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If your manager is refusing to do his job than the only remaining thing to do is to politely escalate more.

Anyway, before doing so you should be aware of these things

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