Save the drama for your momma - oh wait, that's me!
December 13, 2014 9:19 AM   Subscribe

Something crazy happened at work while I was on maternity leave...can you help me figure out what it was???

I work at company A for Boss B, and we contracted with Organization O to work on a product together. I was sent over from my company part-time to work on the product and I've been there for the past two years leading its development. I've received nothing but praise for my work and me personally - people reported that they found me professional and a hard worker. I worked closely with two large outside advisory teams as well as an established in house team who had worked on similar products in the past. I also worked with the organization's director D and my supervisor S who are both relatively new.

The product was set to launch in January of this year, but I left in the fall on maternity leave. I left them with everything they needed to finish off the product, and the organization hired someone in-house to replace me and finish up my work, as well as carry on into the new year with promotion and further development. I trained this Employee E and explained why we made the decisions we did. Employee E had a lot of questions as to why we made the decisions we did, but I explained them and she seemed to begrudgingly accept my answers.

Meanwhile, an outside person, X, established in the field got wind of our product and was angry he was not involved in the development. We brought him in to consult, but were pretty strict in our expectations that we are in the end stages and major changes weren't going to be happening.

So when I returned from maternity leave two months later, everything was changed. The product was getting a full reboot, it seems based on advice from X, and most of my work was going to be thrown out to be redone by a seemingly eager employee E. I was essentially told that I would not be able to work on the reboot and was given a pretty tangential role moving forward. When my boss and I went to talk to the organization's director D and my supervisor S over there , it was a confusing muddled conversation that went around in circles and resulted in S crying twice. Both my boss and I left completely bewildered.

My boss then wrote an e-mail expressing what we thought came out of the meeting, including that my work was still going to be used. Director D wrote back that no we were not correct but he was busy and would get back to us. We assumed this was a big blow off and started making plans on how to eject from the project. The Director D then a few days later sent an e-mail saying that he was getting a "negative vibe" and wanted us to know that we are full partners and was looking forward to our continued work together.

My boss and I are both wanting to eject out of this project and what seems to be total crazy town - but I'm sort of like, what happened in the two months I was gone???

So, maybe some people completely divorced from the situation can help me figure out what happened, and why if they don't want to use my work or keep us involved are they sending this nice-nice e-mail? Oh great hive mind of the MetaFilter, what say you??
posted by Toddles to Work & Money (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Organization O is planning on phasing out their relationship with Company A. You got caught in the cross-fire. I don't know if your leave is coincidental or not to the decision, but Organization O may have decided they can do what they need in-house going forward with input by person X assisting.
posted by inturnaround at 9:28 AM on December 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Why I think S cried: S likes you better than she likes E, but has been told by higher-ups she's stuck with E. S is sensitive to the fact that this comes across as a big blow-off to you, and feels super awkward treating you this way, but again is stuck with it.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 9:36 AM on December 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Why they sent you the nice email: maybe S had a talk with D about how terrible this makes their Organization come across, and D saw the light a little.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 9:37 AM on December 13, 2014

What happened

E got a role she liked and didn't want to be shoved out of on your return, and worked with X to convince D to cement her position and sideline you, B and the rest of A.

S has been told to pull her head in and not make waves for reasons she understands but doesn't agree with, and it's getting to her.

why if they don't want to use my work or keep us involved are they sending this nice-nice e-mail?

Because D is shitscared that E and X are not in fact going to end up being able to deliver on time, and is trying to hedge his bets.
posted by flabdablet at 9:38 AM on December 13, 2014 [19 favorites]

Yep. Sounds like E and X convinced D that O could pull this off without you. S sounds like she disagrees but doesn't have enough leverage to do anything about it. Assuming that you can afford to, I'd play it cool going forward. Let E and X hang themselves on their own rope. They'll just keep undermining you otherwise.

If and when this project blows up, charge them more to clean it up.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:49 AM on December 13, 2014 [18 favorites]

Yep, play it cool. Be sure to ask E how the project is going when you notice her in a bad mood or stressed.
posted by rhizome at 10:08 AM on December 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

E and X threw you under the bus so they'd have jobs. S is stuck in the middle, and this has probably made mounds of bullshit work for her.

The follow-up email was probably because D is afraid there's going to be backlash from your employer (are there other projects Company A is involved in?) and is trying to preserve some kind of relationship.

Fuck 'em, and practice your sorry-not-sorry face for when the whole thing shits the bed. Don't do anything for either D or S, no matter how bad it gets, until they formally grovel through appropriate channels.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:11 AM on December 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

The broad brushstrokes of this as I read it: O had hired you on as a contractor? And when you left on maternity leave, it sounds like O essentially handled it like they didn't require assistance from you or your company any more, and they'd take it from here, thank-you-very-much.

Question: why didn't A send over someone to keep their finger in the pie?

It sounds like there was no-one on the project who could protect your work. So E and X ran roughshod over it (and probably slandered you badly, too). And screwed up the project.

If it were me, I'd be focusing on conversations with your boss and other people in A. It sounds like the project is going to fail, and when that happens, you and your company may be blamed. And I know this is 20/20 hindsight, but A not sending someone to backstop you during your absence might be singled out as a cause. In short, you and your boss and others at A should be thinking about how to handle it when you get That Call. Having a plan in place to fix things quickly and cheaply would be a good idea.
posted by doctor tough love at 12:08 PM on December 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

I agree with above answers saying it looks like the project (and its creator) was thrown under the bus, and possibly badmouthed before being scrapped because it was "all wrong." Someone got a bee in their bonnet and pushed the changes through, probably arguing that the original product would have been catastrophic.

So, this seems to me like CYA time for you. In your shoes, I'd write a very brief report covering what you did, summary of decision points and reasoning as you explained to E, and list of remaining steps that were to be done when you left, on the original timeline. Then add a paragraph noting that the project trajectory was changed and explaining how the project could return to where it was left off and be done in [time frame] as a Plan B. Submit this as your end-of-project report, which can serve as a smooth exit for you and your boss.
posted by zennie at 1:01 PM on December 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

They don't want to burn bridges, I assume, which is why they are sending the nice email. The project has already been totally changed and everything you've done is being thrown out, so being nice and saying they want to work with you in a future doesn't undermine any of what they are planning to do. It's just a way of keeping you from running to a competitor or leaking details or whatever disgruntled employees do, or perhaps they really like O Organization and they want you guys to continue to do work with them in the future.

I'm not entirely sure who the stakeholders are and your relationship to them, but here's what I would do: Since the project has already changed and you've been thrown under the bus, there's not much you can argue for. What's done is done. So, I'd just say, sure, sounds great, I appreciate that and leave it at that. They don't want to burn the bridge and I wouldn't either. In the meantime, just look for other work you can do. If this is a situation where you don't need this contract or there's no reason money-wise or career-wise to help them with this project going forward, then you can say you appreciate that, but given the reboot, you will not be the right person to lead the project and you'd be happy to return when they have new projects. Whatever you do, don't tell them off. Stay positive, whether you reject them or not because you don't want the reputation of an asshole.

As for what happened while you were gone: Employee E had a different notion of how the project should work and it sounds like she had an ally in Consultant X. Employee E secured her value in the project going forward by changing so much of it and being responsible for much of it. Consultant X sounds like an egotistical blowhard -- (I find it really weird some outside guy would be allowed to come in and work on a project just because he wanted to be involved in it) -- and he wanted to make his mark on the project as well because of what an egotistical blowhard he is. I'm guessing Director D supported all of this and Supervisor S felt forced to throw you under the bus, which she probably feels bad about, hence the crying. Or maybe Supervisor S willingly through you under the bus to Director D and now feels bad about it. Either way, she feels bad about how you got cut out and there's a chance she senses how dysfunctional her workplace is.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:05 PM on December 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

^ I meant Company A in the first paragraph and accidentally wrote Organization O. This question is like Alphabet Soup! My bad!
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:32 PM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Something similar happened to a friend of mine very recently (not on maternity leave, but on an extended leave between projects).

I cannot favourite Ruthless Bunny's comment enough. You cannot trust them, they are planning to stitch you up and shift the blame onto you.

Run for the hills. You cannot trust these people - they have no professionalism and no integrity.
posted by plep at 2:37 PM on December 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

Agreeing with the above. If any of this crosses your radar at all in the future you should emphasize how this is completely E's baby. There are scads of project management writings about this kind of thing and how disastrous it inevitably becomes. It may limp into existence, but Second System Effect and Changing Horses Midstream are a couple of phrases that come to mind.
posted by rhizome at 2:38 PM on December 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with all of the above. O seems to be making a big mistake, and yes, it seems that you, your boss, and A need to focus on damage control. You don't elaborate on the money side (e.g., might O try to get a partial refund?), so that might deserve some analysis. "Still full partners" is an odd phrase, as is "negative vibe." Is D thinking this is personal and saying "let's still be friends" or "when we are famous, we will still thank you in the acknowledgments?" Or is D saying "we'll blame you for the outcome?" Finding a way to eject with minimal hard feelings seems like the best move. I'd throw in something meaningless to avoid a bad vibe, like "We enjoyed the time spent working at O and wish you all the best as you pursue your important mission of..."

Important characters in your question are "two large outside advisory teams as well as an established in house team who had worked on similar products in the past." Do you have an ally there who can give you the inside scoop? Even in your initial outreach, be careful; maybe don't put anything into writing. Do you have records of those meetings for CYA purposes?
posted by salvia at 3:44 PM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it's hard to say what you should do going forward without knowing what the financial relationship there is, and that's probably beyond what you can talk about here and you may not know all the details.

But if you even know all the details of that, it will inform D's response. Was Company A completely covering the cost of you, or were they receiving budget from O for that? Will the change in direction affect the profit A will make, and if so will that be automatic or would that be something O might or might not try to change. There are all kinds of implications depending on what the agreements are. D might just be sending the nice-nice note to try to head off legal action, or his statement that none of your work will be used might be in order to put that fact in writing for later legal maneuvers.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:57 PM on December 13, 2014

X is trying to replace your entire companies role here. And succeeding, sounds like. They should never have been allowed in but since they have I think you need to disassociate from the project hardcore and in writing. With both your company and the project lead at the client company. Not rashly, think about it but get an acknowledgement it's X's baby now.

Basically the company has kinda accidentally hired X to replace your companies role on this project. X's goal from here on out is to get rid of your whole company's sub role and take it over, starting with discrediting you personally. You need it in writing to your boss and S that your project has been totally redone and you are no longer the lead architect, to be point person for issues. Let X sink on this one.

E is just someone who probably got promised the number 2 position in X's new subcontracting company. They're unimportant.
posted by fshgrl at 6:17 PM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm wondering if the reason X was allowed in, and was able to take over, is that O was never that happy with the direction you took the project.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:38 AM on December 14, 2014

Especially if Employee E has not liked it and has been grousing about it from the start.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:55 AM on December 14, 2014

It sounds like E started right before OP left; s/he was hired essentially as her replacement.

It sounds to me like the change was caused by the concurrence of E's opinion and (especially) the advice of X -- that X steamrolled everyone and went to D, playing some trump "expert" card, and S didn't have the power or knowledge to counter it? I'm still curious why S cried: frustration? guilt? S has had months to get used to the frustration, so I tend to think it's guilty feelings toward you.
posted by salvia at 11:51 AM on December 14, 2014

If O didn't like the project, it seems unlikely they would persevere on it for two years.
posted by rhizome at 2:22 PM on December 14, 2014

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