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I am a QA tester, and started with my company almost a year ago.

On my second day, I got invited to a meeting to discuss a project (let's call it Project A) that was just getting started. I am the only QA tester on this team. I have been spending about 15 - 20 hours a week for the past 11 months on this project. The rest of my time is spent on another project (Project B).

Just the other day, I came to a surprising revelation: I am 99% sure that I was invited to the original Project A meeting by mistake. They had intended to invite a different QA tester with the same name (I have a very common name). I didn't realize it because it was just my second day. So while I've been giving 15 - 20 hours/week to Project A, I should have been giving 40 hours/week to Project B.

This is a very embarrassing situation, but I feel like it's not fully my fault. My question is, what's the best way to bring this up with my manager, who has a history of getting very angry about small things?

And if you're wondering, this went on for as long as it did because we were all remote due to COVID. When I did have 1-on-1 meetings with my manager (which are not very often), I would sometimes bring up challenges with Project A, but they must have been generic enough problems that he didn't realize I was talking about another team.

Also if you're wondering, I finally started getting suspicious about things when I went to a happy hour (the first post-COVID) with Project A team. When I introduced myself, a lot of people looked very confused. Some just looked at me with puzzled stares. Others made some strange comments like "you've lost a lot of weight" (I haven't), "so you finally decided to shave off the beard" (I've never had a beard), and "how are the dogs?" (I don't have dogs). After a lot of digging, I finally reached out to the other individual with my same name. He confirmed that he thought he was supposed to be working on Project A, but never got invited to any meetings, and so has been focusing on other work.

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    Re: "On my second day, I got invited to a meeting..." Was this meeting in-person or online? Video or voice? Did other people see your face there? Did other people hear your voice there? How have tasks/directions from Project A been communicated since then? Jun 24 at 18:57
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    If your boss gets angry at little things, I would also bring that up with HR. Angry is not professional, and you should expect more.
    – Michael
    Jun 25 at 5:37
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    @Michael That sounds ill-advised. What do you imagine the result of such an action would be? It's very unlikely the boss is going to get fired or reassigned over that complaint, so best case the boss never finds out about the complaint and nothing happens. Worst case you just made an enemy out of your boss.
    – Voo
    Jun 25 at 8:23
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    One wonders where the cost/payment allocation for QA for project A has been going to? Is the other you getting paid for sitting in a cubicle being bored? Did they get a raise for "doing so much work with so little time", if they were allocated other tasks? This could turn into an accounting & HR nightmare, and not just for you but moreso for your administrators.
    – PcMan
    Jun 25 at 10:03
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    @shoover I have so many things bothering me here, but let me just narrow down the one that bugs me the most: not once in a years time did anyone of several people who clearly engaged in small talk and worked with his namesake before, accidently email the correct guy? Nobody had the wrong email pop up in autocomplete or the wrong person pop in whatever chat service they used? When a corporate shift changed my email it took people years to stop autocompleting to my old email because they just started typing my first name and clicking the first result. In 11 months this never happened? Come on...
    – Reaces
    Jun 25 at 20:27
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While this is almost certainly a mistake, consider these two things:

  • project A seems perfectly happy with your work
  • project B seems perfectly happy with what you produce in only 20-25 hours/week

There doesn't seem to be any harm done. Nonetheless, you need to share your concerns with your boss (and probably should have before talking to your name-twin, who may have already alerted someone.) Something like:

Am I actually supposed to be working on Project A? Because I have been but at the recent happy hour, I suddenly got the impression maybe I wasn't supposed to be, but instead another [my name] should have.

Your boss may get angry, or may laugh. If they get angry do point out both of the points I made above. They may decide to let you keep going, or put more of your effort on project B. Try to be equally happy with both outcomes. (A little pep talk to yourself before the meeting is probably in order.)

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Jun 24 at 15:50
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    As a bonus, OP can pitch to their boss that as a result of their revelation, they can now double their performance on project B, for free! haha
    – schizoid04
    Jun 25 at 3:17
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    If they get angry it would be prudent to point out that one of their subordinates spent half their time on the wrong project and they didn't know. How that goes more than a couple weeks/sprint cycles/whatever review period is simply astounding.
    – corsiKa
    Jun 25 at 20:15
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This is a very embarrassing situation, but I feel like it's not fully my fault.

  1. It should be embarrassing for the people charged with managing you, it shouldn't be embarrassing for you.

  2. This is completely not your fault. Again, this is a result of poor managerial oversight.

  3. How do you bring it to the attention of your manager? Simply and directly. Explain the situation, without any of the unneeded backstory you've put in your question.

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    Exactly this, how come the manager doesn't know OP is working on project A for such long time? That is some really bad management there.
    – Mixxiphoid
    Jun 24 at 7:22
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    Reagarding 1: absolutely. ESPECIALLY since OP has been basically doing 2 jobs at once without anyone being concerned about missed deadlines/rushed work
    – Hobbamok
    Jun 24 at 9:10
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    Yes totally, how on earth did your manager somehow miss you were working on two projects for nearly a year!?
    – R Davies
    Jun 24 at 10:37
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    @user20925 Per OP, they did "bring up challenges with Project A, but they must have been generic enough problems that he didn't realize I was talking about another team." You might say that they should have mentioned all projects by name, but in any normal situation the manager should already be familiar with what their employees are working on.
    – BThompson
    Jun 24 at 16:05
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    It also provides a neat escape route, because there isn't a problem if the current situation was OP's manager's intention this whole time, wink wink, nudge nudge. Nobody has complained yet, everyone is happy with the work deliverded, such great management. Hurrah, champagne all round and now lets quietly get all the paperwork in order before management's manager notices.
    – Borgh
    Jun 25 at 13:49
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In my experience, there is one and only one way to get out of such a conundrum: just do it.

Invite your boss to a one-on-one or use your next regular meeting, and simply tell him.

"Hey $BOSS. It recently came to my attention that not everybody is aware that I'm working for project $A as well as project $B, and I believe that may have been a mistake or misunderstanding when I started. Can you help me with that - is it OK to keep working on both projects in parallel?"

That's it. The information is now out. You do not have to worry whether your boss knows or does not know; he now knows.

The talk will continue as it will. I would not overthink this or put together a "decision tree" of which answers you will give to whatever questions your boss had. In the hopefully unlikely case that he is angry, retreat to the position that it was just a confusion between all involved and just clear it up.

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    I like the straightforwardness of this answer (+1), though I'd be concerned that "are you aware of that?" might put the boss in a position to look stupid. Perhaps a version that sounds less pointed like "am I supposed to have been working on both projects?" could make the boss not feel as embarrassed and defensive.
    – Drake P
    Jun 24 at 14:13
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    Good poing, @DrakeP, I've modified the sentence a bit.
    – AnoE
    Jun 25 at 8:19
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    I'm interested that you seem to be missing out the fact that the OP is 99% sure that working on project A was never intended. Is your advice to play dumb on that and just pretend that they think they should be working on project A (despite the fact they've told their namesake already that they believe an error happened so the information is out there)?
    – Chris
    Jun 25 at 10:04
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    @chris, I don't see how you get the impression that I tell OP to play dumb, frankly...
    – AnoE
    Jun 25 at 10:55
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    @Chris, I get that, but I don't see it in my answer. The first sentence circumscribes his experience in that "wrong" team (i.e., people not knowing him at all or being confused that he was at the get-together). The second sentence asks the manager for help and advice and opens the door to discuss either the exit from the project or the official inclusing. Both sentences don't "care" about what the manager already knows. I'm not a native speaker, if you think one of these sentences is formulated weirdly, I'm open to concrete suggestions of how to reword it.
    – AnoE
    Jun 28 at 10:23
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I don't see how this is a problem for you. You work in the QA Department and are supporting a development team. It doesn't actually matter who in the QA Department does the work as long as the outside team gets the support that they need.

Speaking of which, normally your boss assigns you what to work on, not random outside teams. At least at companies where I've worked. Strange your boss never directly instructed you to work on this project but don't worry because it sounds like you did the other person's job. They're the person who will be in trouble, not you since you've completed all of your assigned task plus the extra work!

I would tell the boss exactly what you told us, including what your co-worker said. Don't do this in public. Do it in a private meeting.

Also make sure you get your annual review and that in that review it is explicitly mentioned that you did the work for Team A and you did a good job. Also push for a raise and promotion. You often don't get what you don't ask for.

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  • It's (probably/maybe) not a problem per se, but depending on some things, it may very well be. Is the OP charging time to different projects? If so, the fact that time is being charged against A should have been caught, but wasn't. If the customer were a gov't one, this could be considered a problem. Just putting out there that we don't know all the facts.
    – CGCampbell
    Jun 25 at 12:32
  • I think asking for a raise and promotion is a huge reach when OP accidentally worked on the incorrect project for nearly a year without communicating clearly enough to even make their manager aware of this fact.
    – App-Devon
    Jun 25 at 14:44
  • @CGCampbell Management didn't ask OP what he was working on for an entire year. Doesn't sound like the kind of place where people are keeping track of time.
    – HenryM
    Jun 25 at 14:49
  • @App-Devon Imagine a guy, on his own initiative, got 50% more work done which WAS needed and contributed to the success of the team & company. How is that not worthy of praise and a step towards promotion/raise? OP is in this situation, except he didn't know it at the time. Yes, something bad could have happened but it didn't. Yes, communication wasn't good but that must be normal at this company or the boss would have known something was wrong within 1-2 weeks instead of being asleep for a year. And asking for a promotion/raise is always a reach unless you're way over due for it. I'd say
    – HenryM
    Jun 25 at 14:56
  • @HenryM, while I get your point I also don't think we have enough information to quantify OP's work. All that has been stated is that they split their time, but that doesn't mean they did 50% more work than was requested. It seems that perhaps the other QA wasn't expected to spend %100 of their time on this project either. Since day 2 this person hasn't been fully working on Project A so their manager thought they were less productive than they actually could have been. But because they didn't communicate effectively the company also couldn't redirect them towards their priority work.
    – App-Devon
    Jun 25 at 15:11
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You got invited to a meeting, on your second day, and you were assigned work to do. You did the work. I assume the work needed to be done, right? And I assume that you did the job well, right? And the people doing Project B haven't been complaining either, right?

So nothing here is your fault. Actually, you did exactly the job you were told to do. And you did it well. Just assume that your manager knew about this all the time. Because if he didn't, that puts him into a very very bad light, not knowing what an employee is doing for 11 months. If you did a bad job, that would be your fault. If you work for the wrong team, and your manager doesn't notice for 11 months, that's your manager's fault. So his only choice is to pretend that you did exactly what you were supposed to do.

And since your manager always knew what you were doing, there is no need to bring this up at all.

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    @LeotheDog this all sounds like a huge failure on the part of the people organizing the work. If the other person gets fired for something that shouldn't be their problem, that's just more managerial fail. It's not your fault, it's not their fault, and both of you should probably look to work for a less dysfunctional organization.
    – Erik
    Jun 24 at 6:30
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    @LeotheDog Why would that other person be fired? For not attending a meeting that nobody told them about? For not doing work that nobody asked them to do? If it's anyone's fault, it's the person who invited you and not the other guy. (BTW. I worked at a place where they had a pair of twins, plus one guy whose last name was different in one letter only, in the same team. Caused confusion sometimes, especially since two of them looked the same).
    – gnasher729
    Jun 24 at 7:38
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    @gnasher729 If I understand correctly, you're advising to not mention it at all? That seems like it could backfire once other people mention it. Or are you suggesting to mention it, but from a standpoint that assumes everything is correct (e.g. casually mentioning the other people were confused because originally a different person was supposed to do that work)?
    – lucidbrot
    Jun 24 at 8:40
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    The last phrase is a strange conclusion to make. You spend the entire answer explaining that the OP is not at fault at all so it's no big deal to tell about it... and then suddenly advise not to? Jun 24 at 9:14
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    I wouldn't advise OP to not bring it up with his manager. His manager needs to know about the mistake, it's up to him how he reacts. If he decides to act like it was intentional (whether it really was or not), he'll have OP's back if/when it comes up in discussions with other managers. If OP's manager doesn't know and gets surprised during a discussion with other managers, he will look very bad. Your manager looking bad can rub off on you, and may make him resent you. Jun 24 at 14:39
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While I agree with some of the others that this is not a situation that is your fault, and that, if there has been an error, your manager or other levels of management should have caught the mistake and corrected your course, this is something to be brought up and corrected. Arguably, your current course of action is what is right for the company, but if your company employs different budgets for headcount and for work, you may be accidentally building a case that, while you were hired under Project B's headcount, actually that money needs to be allocated to Project A since that's where you're doing the work.

Again, this is something that is more the concern of your manager, and is their responsibility more than yours, but if you don't bring this up, you run the risk of them thinking you intentionally sabotaged them, especially if it comes to light that you realized that work was being charged to the "wrong" project and you didn't mention it to them.

As always, when it comes to what could potentially be a dispute in the workplace, document as much as you can while the facts are clear in your mind, and email invitations and paperwork have not been erased in the name of tidying the archives. When it comes to documentation of actions, it's always better to have and not need than to need and not have.

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There is of course a chance that this was all done completely deliberately by the management (your manager and others). It could be as simple as your manager putting you onto Project A to see how you'd get on, or because they knew Project B wouldn't fill up your time.

As for the team social... Lets say you're John C Smith, and the other tester is John D Smith. Project A's team were told "Yeah, we're getting a tester to help us... let me check... his name is John Smith".

At that point all of Project A team groaned because they know John D Smith, who's a bit unhelpful, sometimes inaccurate and generally not terribly good at what he does.

The project's progressed, and Project A's testing has gone well, so they're generally happy. Old resentments may still linger, but they're doing fine. Then all of a sudden, you turn up at their social event. They're expecting John D Smith - they think they've been working with him for the past year. They don't really know John D Smith very well (as they don't really like him all that much, they haven't taken the time), and maybe you look passingly similar, so they assume you must be John D Smith.

Remember, they were never told "We're getting John D Smith, the one who's not very good" - they assumed this for themselves, and nothing over the last year has changed their assumptions. They never heard "John C Smith - the new guy". Even when meeting you face-to-face, they're still not thinking "oh, maybe there's another John Smith". They're obviously heavily biassed to believing that they got John D Smith - the guy they already know.

As noted in the other answers though - no matter what happened here, it is absolutely not your fault. If anything, your manager should have had a tighter grip on what's been going on - especially in the early weeks of your tenure.

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    I don't think I've ever been accidentally assigned to the wrong project, but I've deliberately changed my name at work to avoid confusion. If there's someone named Bat Food (easily misheard as "Cat Food") I will start calling myself "Cat Chow" or "Cat Lunch" to help disambiguate.
    – catfood
    Jun 25 at 13:11
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Your question:

How do I tell my boss I've accidentally been doing other work?

Added detail:

When I did have 1-on-1 meetings with my manager (which are not very often), I would sometimes bring up challenges with Project A, but they must have been generic enough problems that he didn't realize I was talking about another team.

I don't have a practical answer for what you should actually do right now, but don't forget that you did tell your boss, more than once. Literally exactly zero of this is a problem you caused. The fact that your boss doesn't know this, even though you told him more than once about Project A, puts it all on him.

He may not see it that way but those are the facts. If he doesn't like it, you can ask to transfer to Project A full time.

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    "I don't have a practical answer for what you should actually do right now, but don't forget that you did tell your boss, more than once." No, they didn't. The referred to it, but they didn't tell their boss they were working on it. Jun 26 at 2:36

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