I have a new project at work that involves foreseeing how customers might use a software and recommend to our IT experts / programmers how this software can be improved, test for issues, etc. by different deadlines set by their department. (I have been assigned to this as I have extensively used a similar software in my previous work at the company, was the top performer in the department and manage my staff of users of that software; though I don't know how software is created)

I don't know whether it is due to my recent issues with focusing or whether I simply am unable to do this regardless - but it appears that I am not doing a good job on this because the IT guys later find more program errors than I do, and for the past few weeks my boss has been admonishing me all the time:"See you should have found this", "This is what you were supposed to find", "You need to check more thoroughly" etc.

I am just plain confused because, obviously, I didn't know that a customer could do a process I didn't know about, i.e. it is actually not written in stone what all the different scenarios are (they could potentially go beyond the previous software I used) - but they would count that as an error as well!

So there are two possibilities: I am unable to forecast all scenarios either because I have an irritating health issue that hinders my focus, or because I am not learning this.

What should I do in the second case, i.e. I don't understand exactly what I need to do, no matter how many times my boss admonishes me?

  • I don't think I fully understand your role here, were you asked to roll out a new piece of software for your department and work out whether it will solve their needs? Or were you a tester / analyst for the software itself? – Fiona - myaccessible.website Jun 27 '14 at 8:24
  • I am the main "end user" of this kind of software in the company and have been asked to test it. But I am not an IT person per se. – RhinitisRhinoceros Jun 27 '14 at 8:30
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    Are you just reporting problems with the software when you come across them, or are you actively trying to find bugs / break this software? – Fiona - myaccessible.website Jun 27 '14 at 9:33
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    Is this the kind of work that you usually do (but with a new project), or is this a different role? Does your role normally involve forecasting customer scenarios? – Alnitak Jun 27 '14 at 10:00
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    What is your professional background? It seems odd that a sales manager is supposed to test software. Are there any testers in the company? – greenfingers Jun 27 '14 at 10:15

What should I do in the second case, i.e. I don't understand exactly what I need to do, no matter how many times my boss admonishes me?

Clearly, you need to talk with your boss.

You need to tell your boss that you don't understand how to do your job, and ask for suggestions on how you might learn to execute your role to his/her satisfaction.

It might be that there is insufficient documentation for you to accomplish your tasks.

It might be that you need additional training to learn the concepts involved.

Or it might be that you just aren't capable of fulfilling the role assigned to you - in which case you may need to be transferred to a different role or be dismissed from the company.

The only way you'll know is to talk with the person who can help - in this case your boss.

[Your role sounds similar to Quality Assurance or Software Testing. I can tell you from experience that those aren't roles that everyone can fulfill. It takes a very different mindset to find issues with software than it does to use it or create it.]

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I'm guessing that you are a business analyst(BA) or something similar where you are the subject matter expert(SME) that has the responsibility of knowing the domain. Thus, you are to know how something could be used and what should happen if someone uses it in inappropriate ways. While this can seem like it is expecting a lot, the reality is you are similar to the end user that may go through various scenarios that I wonder how well do you understand the bounds of your role.

How well do you research what the use cases are for the software? How well do you cover what should happen when someone does something unusual or off the script? Those would be something for you to consider here.

In a small company, one may wear multiple hats in which case, I'd ask your supervisor how much into being a BA are you expected to be here as it may be that this is what is being asked of you indirectly. The key is to consider that you are going to be expert in terms of how from the user's perspective the software works. User experience(UX) would be another phrase you may hear about this for another term to note.

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  • Hmmm... not entirely clear. I generally check if the program works as the other program is supposed to, plus look at any new functions. I have made good suggestions on what new functions to add, how to make it faster, remove useless processes, but I am not good at guessing what exactly the "unusual" or "off the script" actions could be... – RhinitisRhinoceros Jun 27 '14 at 8:10
  • The funny thing though is that the "unusual" and "off the script" actions that may result in a program error are also considered errors. I am a bit clueless as to how to find those... – RhinitisRhinoceros Jun 27 '14 at 8:11
  • What is your title: Business Analyst, Quality Analyst, Test Engineer or something else? That is part of my problem in trying to answer this as there are more than a few roles that are to know how something may be used to my mind. – JB King Jun 27 '14 at 8:13
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    Testing is usually done by Quality Analysts or people in a Quality Assurance department. However, determining the business rules is part of what a Business Analyst does in terms of understanding how something is supposed to work. – JB King Jun 27 '14 at 21:12
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    @RhinitisRhinoceros, I also work in a small company of 120 people but we have a Test department and all the people who test software have IT background. So, yes, it is an unusual assignment for someone with your experience. The fact that you had used similar software doesn't make you a tester. I would suggest that you google 'software testing' and either learn the basics from the references you will find there or show your manager how complicated and unrelated to your area of expertise it is. – greenfingers Jun 30 '14 at 8:23

Software testing is a complex subject that is very difficult to do well. If you are good at your job, it is a very big change of mindset for you because you are used to doing things right and in testing you also have to try to do things wrong.

It helps to think about the worst person you know who uses the software and say to yourself, what ways have I had to help out Joe when he messes up?" Now you know some of the bizarre things people will do wrong.

It also helps to have specific process for testing and written test cases that you can reproduce every time you test. If you don't have testing tools, I can recommend you put all your test cases in an Excel spreadsheet. Then the next time you go through, you can do the same tests. As more things come up, add more tests. Make a set of tests that would cover doing things right and then a separate set of tests for pushing the limits of the program. For instance test the various values that go into the fields. If the value is normally from 1-100, test what happens when someone puts in 0, 150, and ABCD. What you are trying to d in this case is make sure an error generates and that the software doesn't accept your bad values. You know what the good values generally are, so you create these things by thinking about what you would not put in the field.

You also need to look at edge cases. (95% of the time you enter US addresses for instance, but in a few cases you enter Canadian addresses or ones from other countries. Test to see if the address fields will work for those types of addresses.

Also get with the software devs and see how they want you to report problems so that they are easier to find and fix the problem.

There are some good books on testing, it would be worth your while to read some of them if you are going to continue doing software testing.

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The only thing you should care about is whether your boss's criticism is well founded. If your boss's criticism makes sense, then go with the flow and learn from the boss's criticism. I have received on occasion tough minded, ego busting, blistering criticism that was well founded and after taking the corrective action needed, I was none the worse for the wear and tear :)

Whether you lost your mojo depends on your determination that whether given what you knew, you could have predicted and pre-emptively avoided the criticism you received. From my outsider's vantage and from what you disclosed in your post, it doesn't look that you could have known from your own experience, so your health was not a factor in this case.

Grin it and bear it, fix it, learn from it and especially, don't pass judgment on yourself over it. Not knowing everything is something that happens to the best of us :)

Note: if you believe that your boss's expectations are unfair, push back at once. I worked once with a colleague who actually expected me to read his mind. I told him point-blank that I am no mind reader and I had him lay out his expectations. If you have a systemic communication problem with your boss, then before you do anything important, you need to pre-emptively review with our boss what you intend to do. You don't need to go into excruciating detail, you want to make sure that you are not missing a big piece. At any rate, criticism is good and life would be boring without it - nothing like getting pushed to do better :)

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