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Help with difficult client

#1 Help with difficult client
08/06/2010 20:54


I have been working as a Business Analyst or in similar roles for 18 years, but have never encountered my current situation before. Please advise on how you would handle this.

I am a Project Manager / Business Analyst Consultant on an information technology project at a large corporation. The Program Manager, who I report to, and who is an employee of the organization, has incorrect information about business processes that we are supposed to support. I don't just mean 1 incorrect assumption, I mean many.

It is difficult to find solutions when we all do not have a correct understanding of the problem. I don't know how to point out all of the places where she is wrong about how the business works without insulting her. It also is embarassing for me, sometimes we attend meetings to discuss solutions and she presents different information that me, based on her incorrect understanding of the business. People tend to believe her since she is in a higher position.

In addition, the Program she manages is CRM software, but she has no capacity to understand architecture or the problems with the current architecture. What is worse, there is no architect on the project who is running things and making architecture decisions.

I have a PhD in Computer Science and I know the system was architected poorly in the first place, and am trying to work toward solutions. However, it is hard/next to impossible to get there as she wants to do things that everybody else in the room understands will fail. How do we work around this? Her superior is as bad, or worse than her.

Any thoughts/advice would be much appreciated. I am actually thinking about leaving this assignment as it seems hopeless!

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#2 RE: Help with difficult client
09/06/2010 08:08

Cynic to Pam (#1)

Hmm, the way I understand it is that you've pointed out some important issues to your "client" (who I understand is basically someone senior in your company, or for all practical purposes, your boss in this context). However, your "client" is choosing to ignore your advice.

Therefore I would be inclined to ensure that you have a pretty good "cover my butt" audit trail (put things in e-mail, minutes of meetings, etc.... but make sure you do it in a polite/constructive/non-threatening way... e.g. "My understanding was initially XYZ however you have advised that the situation is actually ABC therefore I will do PQR"... I think you can be this direct if you're a database analyst type role where you need to be clear and specific.

Then, just do what she says. If she's the boss, she has the final say - that's her prerogative. If she wants to run the project in some bizarre nonsensical manner, let her. It's a management problem at that point - her boss needs to pick up on this and deal with it. If he/she doesn't, then his/her boss needs to... going all the way up to the company owners via a chain of accountability. It's not something her subordinates need to feel responsible for, even though I accept it's extremely frustrating when you know you're working for an idiot.

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#3 RE: Help with difficult client
09/06/2010 08:43

billum to Cynic (#2)

also flag it up your own company's chain of command - client partner, account director etc

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#4 RE: Help with difficult client
10/06/2010 01:15

Brenda to billum (#3)


Sounds like a very difficult situation.

You imply that you are an external consultant working directly for a member of the client's organisation.

My suggestion is that you keep your own counsel for a couple of weeks and then say to everyone who will listen - "OMG, I've just been told that all the assumptions / foundations we've been basing our work on are flawed!".

I would then tell everyone who will listen in as much detail as possible and copy in as many people as you can get away with, especially those in your own organisation, as per billum's comment.

This also gives you the opportunity to highlight your views about the architecture etc in terms of clarifying your understanding of where you're at.

To a degree, it then becomes an issue for your own company as to whether the assignment is worth sticking with and you should make it clear you are looking for guidance from them as to how to play the situation. If the client refuses to acknowledge the "truth", a senior person from your organisation will need to have words with the client's equivalent to work out a way forward.

Good luck!

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#5 RE: Help with difficult client
10/06/2010 09:40

someguy to Brenda (#4)

Pam - When I hear a BA say that a client has an incorrect understanding of the business they are running my antennae go up.

Now I want to play devil's advocate and ask whether you are perhaps overstating your case a little. As the business "owner" maybe she has certain information you're not aware about regarding the business process requirements or the architecture that you need to align with her? Maybe there's an impending reorg or software tender / RFI in the wings which would make your current assumptions obsolete. Her superiors acting like she does leads me to believe they as an org have withheld information.

Why not have a coffee with the Program Manager and ask her to help you "align some of the assumptions I am struggling with". That'll at least open a channel. Make sure to examine why they (as an org) want to do X, Y and Z. Frankly (and I don't know what stage of the program you're in) you should have done this at the beginning. Ultimately it's the client's accountability at stake in this program, and if they really are as off-base as you say, there is little you can do other than escalate or leave.

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#6 RE: Help with difficult client
10/06/2010 17:25

anon to someguy (#5)

If you're a good business analyst / consultant I would say that it's your job to gather and understand all of the relevant information and then provide challenge and advice to your client to help them to make better decisions.

If you think they don't understand their own business processes then suggest that you carry out an exercise to document the processes in full (in collaboration with all of the right people who actually perform step in the process on a day-to-day basis).

If there an issues with the architecture then it's up to you to identify them and raise them with your boss. If you're an external consultant then I suggest that you send these to you client boss and copy in appropriate senior representatives from your own firm. If you're an internal business analyst (i.e. employed by the same company) then presumably you have business analyst/business partner line management in addition to your "client" that you can copy in.

But remember, in addition to providing some challenge and guidance, your role is also to support your client and help them to look good, so I woudl be cautious about burning bridges by doing anything that would make them look silly.

As long as you've documented your evidence and shared it with a few appropriately senior people from you own chain to cover yourself the it's really up to your "client" if they want to do something different - although it begs the question of why they're paying you to be there in the first place if they don't want to listen to your advice.

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#7 RE: Help with difficult client
12/06/2010 20:39

The Darkside to anon (#6)

Have you thought about having a late night adventure with the boss then smothering the boss with a pillow post-climax. No boss = problem solved.

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