13

Consider you run a project where a key stakeholder is one of VPs. She is a typical hit-and-run type of person: she comes to a project team with half-baked idea, either refuses to discuss details because they're confidential or just throws some anecdote as a business story and expects everyone would start working on a project, whatever that might be.

To make things worse from time to time she bypass project leaders and just tell people what they have to do, no matter how disconnected it is with any project plan which was prepared.

Because of hierarchy she can't be ignored as the project team works under her. Also standard methods, e.g. trying to set some formal rules, don't work as she just ignore any arrangements she doesn't like.

How to deal with that kind of person? How to bring some order to the project?

Or maybe it's best option just to accept how the things look like?

  • In this situation, are project goal reached by the team? Could it be an answer to fail with some goal thus demonstrating her intrusion has negative impact? – davidepiazza Mar 6 '11 at 18:05
  • Failing to reach VPs goals doesn't make her aware of negative impact she has on the team. Basically her character seems to be unchangeable so far, so I'd look for solutions rather on team side, not on stakeholder one. – Pawel Brodzinski Mar 6 '11 at 18:36
10

That's a typical problem for C level. The CTO or even the CEO will have to deal with it, as that's exactly their function in the company: taking decisions about operations. Neither a stakeholder nor a VP has this power, so if they don't want the other stakeholders to fire them because the delays in projects cripple the company, they better address the problem.

Your role in the matter is simply to let them know what's happening, and let them do their very job.

And if they decide to let the VP do her thing, then there is nothing more you will be able to do!

Don't forget: your hierarchy is fixing your priorities, not this person. If you are stuck between your hierarchy's order and the VP's order, refer to the hierarchy and let them decide what to do. If the VP is unhappy with that, just say her to check it with the C level, as you are not allowed to change your priorities.

7

Ignore her in terms of project management. At the same time be very polite and friendly in terms of personal relations.

At the same time be very strict and explicit with your project members. They have to understand who is giving orders - the project. Sooner or later they will start ignoring her and obeying project rules.

This may help: http://www.yegor256.com/2015/01/26/happy-boss-false-objective.html

3

I believe you still need to confront this person with her behaviour and the impact she has on the team and its performance.

If that doesn't help, you need to brave her as a team. For instance, when you are working in sprints, everytime she comes up with something new you could tell her that the sprint is now fixed but that she can add her new idea / additional work to the backlog of the next sprint. If you all do this consistently, and back each other up when she is targeting an individual, just maybe after a while she will get the point.

3

I've worked in a similar situation with a VP who I refer to as "Crazy French Lady." This was in the IT department of a consulting company (so it was like Office Space, but the rest of the company were the Bob & Bobs). Even though she was a VP, she had enough clout with the board of directors to get anyone fired.

In this case, the PM pretty much surrendered and let her have direct access to the developers (which I was the last one remaining) as the PMs could not handle her activities (which sound remarkably like the situation you are describing). About the only method we found for dealing with her was to put everything into a spreadsheet, and cross off what was done (this was in the mid 90s, there wasn't a lot of bug tracking software out there, so our bug tracking was done in Excel) because there were a lot of conversations like this:

CFL: Blue? Blue! What sort of idiot makes things blue?
Me: What color would you like?
CFL: Green!
Me: adds new entry to bottom of spreadsheet with time and date, and remarking that CFL wants the web pages green

next review meeting

CFL: Green? Green! What sort of idiot makes things green?
Me: What color would you like?
CFL: Everyone knows the corporate standard is blue!
Me: adds new entry to bottom of spreadsheet with time and date, and remarking that CFL wants the web pages back to corporate standard from green, and point back to the line where she wants it green

later on

CFL: You developers waste so much time! Why?
Me: pulls out spreadsheet that gets emailed to everyone on a weekly basis and point to all the flip-flopping she's done.

2

It might be worth discussing the idea of maybe hiring a senior engineer to work directly with the VP. Part of innovation comes from the ability to move quickly on new ideas, and it's usually the VP's job to make strategic decisions.

The problem is that the VP is interfering with tactical decisions or making too many strategy-changing strategic decisions.

If the VP had a researcher that could work with her, her new team could experiment with new ideas -- possibly helping to discover some new channels of business -- while still keeping the current projects on track.

If that's not an option, then maybe a 5% or 10% project for a few select team members is an option. Google has had tremendous success with the concept of 20% projects.

If hiring more people and using 5% to 10% projects is not an option, then the VP should maybe consider researching it herself, assuming that she is a CTO or someone with a technical background.

2

You need to include more about the context of the situation. On the top of my head is one key fact that needs to be considered: is the problematic stakeholder the person who is paying for the project or the boss of the person who is paying for the project? If the answer is yes, the best way of addressing the issue is going to the person and explaining why and/or how her actions are interfering with the goal of getting results - this explanation should be clear, to the point and defensible.

On the other hand, if the VP is not somehow responsible of paying for the project, then the issue shall be escalated to whoever has this responsibility.

Good luck!

  • 1
    It's kind of tricky. VP is somehow accountable for project income but not accountable for its cost. And yes I used the word "somehow" on purpose. In short: it's complicated. Anyway from VP perspective we could give the client anything they want on impossible deadline. And the hot potato goes directly to the project team. – Pawel Brodzinski Mar 7 '11 at 18:14
0

There's a book that focuses on how to have these type of conversations called Crucial Conversations. It breaks down the conversation you need to have in 3 steps:

  1. Share Your Facts - What is she doing that's damaging to how the team operates/functions? Stick to specifics, details, and non-disputable points; not perception, but true facts. EXAMPLE: You've given instructions to the team without discussing with the leads. (Stay away from disputable phrases like "half-baked idea" and "disconnected". Those can be debated. Don't open up that opportunity)
  2. Tell Your Story - What is your concern with her behavior? Focus on a single point so the conversation does split into multiple directions. EXAMPLE: When you give the team tasks without discussing them with the leads/myself, it is very difficult for me to stay on top what the team is actively working on, impacting my ability to deliver against our deadlines.
  3. Ask For Other Paths - Ask her to share. Don't lead the question. Have it be an open ended question. EXAMPLE: Can you help me understand how I can better manage our goals and the changing priorities?

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