Help with new QA/QI employee question
August 16, 2021 8:34 AM   Subscribe

I have a friend who has taken a new role as a quality assurance person, with some quality improvement expectations baked into the job also. It is their first time in a role like this, where the nature of the role pits them against the veteran workers. They are running into some issues and I told them I'd try to help.

My friend is dealing with coworker gatekeeping. He is supposed to take over a database, but hasn't been given keys. He's supposed to find errors, but the person who is running the database currently seems to be getting defensive about it. He's demonstrated that he is willing to help the person by automating some of their work and they haven't accepted the support. He also asked them how much do they want him involved - and if they want him to stay in his lane just tell him so. They ignored the message.

He recognizes that they need to build trust in him, but it seems like there's additional tension in the relationship beyond that and I offered to help him troubleshoot his communication. I have no experience with technical jobs, QA, QI, etc. and whenever my role has had adversarial components I had strong management backing that made it function better so I'm not sure how to help. Is it as simple as making sure you offer positive feedback before the corrections?

How do you correct someone's work when it's your job to do that, without making enemies or having them behave obstructively? Unfortunately his manager is not helping. The manager is also only answering very basic questions, and when he asks about their broader interest in his outputs, they won't give a straight answer.

Possible contextual factors: my friend has the impression that his new boss is intimidated by him. My friend can come across pretentious even though he isn't intending to "show off" due to some neurodivergent-related social cue issues. The women in our area are socialized to be generally passive (and passive aggressive).
posted by crunchy potato to Work & Money (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add, that the coworker in question knows he is supposed to take over this project "eventually." And the entire department is aware that he was hired as a quality insurance person who is supposed to help improve efficiency, reduce errors, etc. How does one build rapport and alliances when their job is inherently win/lose (or many people will feel that way about it, even if that's not strictly accurate)?
posted by crunchy potato at 8:42 AM on August 16, 2021

Best answer: I'm in Software QA, and have been for quite a few years now.

In my experience, the best way for me to deliver bad news to the Devs/Stakeholders is to keep it clinical, and keep personalities/blame/attitude out of it.

For example - The issue: DB query is supposed to return 2 results, and it returns 40.

Good way to describe the problem: "When running Query X, I got back 40 results. I was expecting to get back 2 results. In previous instances of running this same query, against this same database, I got the 2 results I expected. Those dates were: {date1, date2, date3}. The query I am running is: {SQL Query Here}.

The other issue I emphasize in my work with others is that I see myself as part of a team with the Devs, PMs, Stakeholders, etc, and that the end goal is to deliver a quality product. Better that I find the bug, and not a customer! Having an adversarial relationship with the other teams doesn't help anybody.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:06 AM on August 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

“ Is it as simple as making sure you offer positive feedback before the corrections?”

No. It’s as simple as having his manger set expectations. Somebody has to let the rest of the company know that he’s there, that’s he’s doing this job, and that’s the way it’s gonna be. I used to lead trainings for an enterprise software company. Most of our clients had been using a competitor program that had been around since the late 80s, meaning that a lot of our new users were learning a new program for the first time in30 years. Not surpassingly, there was a lot of pushback from users who didn’t like change, to the point where my company trained all its customer-facing positions how to deal with recalcitrant users. In training we just got used to complaining, but there was one I’ll never forget. The owner of the business was kind of absentee, and I was training his employees without him. Since he wasn’t around, everyone was complaining. Finally, about an hour in, one of the oldest people there, she must’ve been 80, stood up and slammed her cane on the table and yelled at everyone, “look, I liked the old system better too, but this is what [owner] decided, so this is how it’s gonna be, and I don’t want to hear any more complaining”. And everyone listened. Your friend needs to find someone like that. Someone who can slam their (hopefully metaphorical) came against a table and explain that this is how it’s going to be. Whether that’s your friend’s manager, the manager of the asshole colleague, or someone different, someone needs to put their foot down. QA isn’t optional. It needs to happen, your friend is the one to do it, and no complaining. The end.

Although, to be honest, it sounds like your friend would probably be better off winking at a non-dysfunctional company. That’s another option to consider.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:11 AM on August 16, 2021 [7 favorites]

It’s nice of you to offer to help, but this is really your coworker’s manager’s problem. If his manager isn’t actively backing him up when he runs into resistance, that manager is setting your coworker up to fail.
posted by mekily at 9:18 AM on August 16, 2021 [7 favorites]

100% your friend’s manager’s problem.

Send your friend a link to Ask A Manager, especially the “advice about your boss” category, to see how Alison talks about managing up.

In your conversations with him about work, talk about de-personalizing the experience, recognizing how the team is a sick system, and de-coupling the lack of support for their *position* from a lack of support for them as person.
posted by itesser at 11:54 AM on August 16, 2021 [5 favorites]

Occasionally there are tricks around getting your coworkers to see you as a fellow person on the same team (not, say, a source of irritating spam emails about database access that they don't know quite how to respond to and just keep putting off). "Stopping by their desk" doesn't work so well with covid but getting a zoom meeting at least so you can hear voices and see faces, and express interest in their role and experiences (which any QA person should legitimately have that interest).

If it's just one person you (they) can't get hold of, it is worth trying to stay compassionate and go to your boss - "are they at work? Are they out sick and I just don't know it? Should I be going to someone else?" If they don't respond to your emails and meeting invitations, tell your boss or another person who has more experience with this person and ask for their help setting up an "introduction" call.
posted by Lady Li at 6:17 AM on August 17, 2021

Best answer: You didn't really indicate whether with is software or manufacturing quality (or other) but it doesn't really matter as your first "more inside" paragraph seems to indicate that this is about poor supervision, team dynamics and interpersonal relations.

Is it as simple as making sure you offer positive feedback before the corrections? No, you also need to be positive after to give them the proper "shit sandwich". Joking aside, the answer is linked to your second question How do you correct someone's work when it's your job to do that(?) That depends on the relationships and how you are determining that their work needs correction.

The easiest case from the quality world is when someone in quality is evaluating the actions of a person they have no organizational connection to e.g. a QI (quality inspector) checking production. In an organization with a good quality system, the proper functioning of the system is documented, so the answer is the QI tells the person: per document XYZ rev2 section 3.2.a you're supposed to do I before E but you are doing E before I; please follow the documented process. If there are not documented procedures then, well, it's harder. Probably all other situations will be more complex due to undocumented expectations, organizational (hierarchical) complexifications and power struggles, and interpersonal issues.

IMHO your friend needs to start with the relationship with their manager - his manager is not helping, only answering very basic questions, won't give a straight answer, is intimidated by him. Not quite sure of what to make about your comment about women in your area, but if you think your friend is naturally intimidating that would be good feedback to share with them.

The curse of working in quality is that you have responsibility without authority; usually you're responsible for things running or happening correctly without the organizational authority to directly control the running or happening. Bottom line is you have to show people that what you need them to do is in their best interest. (in Quality Leadership for 15 years)
posted by achrise at 10:03 AM on August 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

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