Used Car Salesman

I joined a problem project a number of years ago. The problem started by a decision to reengineer and reimplement the entire project. So all changes in the old system that were slowly being phased in were accelerated to production. The result was a bunch of production software that was not ready for prime time. The maintenance team was managed by one Sally Mayner.

The best way to describe Sally was that she resembled a used car saleswoman. And she was a good one at that. Sally could talk her way through unhappy customer meetings. However she was severely lacking in technical knowledge. And it appeared her goal was to cover herself from blame. The result was that a lot of team leaders under her were frequently put in front of the customer to explain the details of every single problem that was wrong with the system. This meant they were unable to spend a lot of time leading the teams that were supposed to resolve these problems.

Like many doomed projects, the direct effect was that everybody had to work a lot of unpaid overtime. The customer demanded it. And Sally caved in to their demands. After a couple months the developers got tired of working every single weekend. Many good developers left. The others just revolted against Sally. Sally was sure to document this and inform senior management and the customer. I think you could call this un-management or non-management.

In the end Sally left the company. While departing she said the reason was that she could not take the stress of facing the customers on the job. When I heard this I was puzzled. Sally did have to listen to some unhappy customers. But she passed the blame and the customer management tasks down to team leaders. So I am not sure what type of stress she was concerned about. I guess we may never know. But given a poor example of how not to manage irate customers, I can think about the anti pattern of better customer management and learn something.