A technical error happened over which I have no influence. A software bug I think, and I have no IT or technical background to be able to address that by myself.

Also, for this very specific software, nobody in the company nor the software provider can provide support in real time for this failure.

My boss is telling me he is very disappointed because of this, because the error caused an issue with a client.

How should I react?

  • Did anyone in your company get a fix on what the error is? – Vietnhi Phuvan Aug 2 '14 at 11:40
  • Is it possible to work around this issue, or prevent it? Have you documented & reported this error (including instructions on how to reproduce it) in the software? – alroc Aug 2 '14 at 12:19
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    nobody in the company nor the software provider can provide support in real time for this failure if neither your company nor your vendors can support the product, then that is a bad thing. the fact that it is a software product doesn't seem to be the real issue – Brandin Aug 2 '14 at 12:34
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    What's your goal? To fix things with your boss? Your client? To just look better? – enderland Aug 2 '14 at 12:35
  • @Brandin Note that the OP says "in real time". I read that as "quickly enough to fix this right now". Which isn't so surprising; the vendor might simply not have the resources to drop what they are doing and issue a fix for what, for all we know, might be a small glitch affecting only a single, minor customer. – user Aug 2 '14 at 13:08

It is hard to answer this question without knowing a little bit more, but I will assume that 1) you have some level of "ownership" over this system and 2) your boss is specifically disappointed in you because of the failure and 3) this is a normal functional organization.

It may very well be the case that the problem is not your "fault", but there are still valuable things you can do to be a part of the solution and to make people feel more at ease. I work in manufacturing and frequently deal with situations in which something stops working and where the responsibility for action is poorly defined. Here's a timeline of what I do:

  • Triage the problem. Before you or anyone else can do anything, it is important to know the scope of the problem: Who/what is affected? Who knows about it? How long has it been going on? Is it still occurring?

  • Communicate. Report back to your boss and other key people what you found out. This is where the previous step, triage, is important. In some ways, you are sort of being like a "news reporter". It seems like a few phone calls and emails are like nothing, but they go a long way towards establishing a sense of control and putting people at ease.

  • Discovery. This may or may not be mixed in with initial communication and action plan, but it really is a distinct function: finding out the root cause. You can't really fix something until you know the root cause. Again if you don't know the system but still have ownership your role may be limited to coordinating people, keeping stakeholders informed, and being "a shortcut" for anyone needing help to do their job. In some organizations, "discovery" unfortunately means finding someone to blame even if that means shooting the messenger. I find that people are more willing to help and provide important information if there is not a dreadful atmosphere of "blame and accountability" swirling around them.

  • Action plan + implementation. Depending on your role, you may then need to take some action. If you don't have the skill/authority to implement a fix but still have ownership of the problem this means coordinating with the right people. An action plan will involve not only sketching out time, materials, and people to work on a solution, but also checks to verify that things are being fixed and workarounds until the problem is solved.

  • Tracking. During the implementation, you can make yourself useful by keeping tabs on what is happening, helping the implementers in whatever way you can, communicating to key people the progress of the implementation.

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If you don't know what your boss thinks you could have done better, ask him or her.

  • You may get useful specific advice -- perhaps regarding customer management, perhaps regarding how to get your company's technical folks to respond more quickly, perhaps something else.

  • Or the discussion may help your boss understand that, in fact, you did the right things.

  • Or the discussion may show that the boss was disappointed, but not disappointed in you, and that you shouldn't be taking it so personally.

But in any case, clarifying the statement and seeking advice on how to achieve better results are the next step.

I also have to agree with @Brandin. If nobody in your company can provide support adequate to the customers' needs, the customers are going to go elsewhere. You, or someone, MUST either get that fixes, or accept that your product/service/business is not one that customers can safely bet their business on. Again, this is sometimes a matter of managing the customer's expectations... but if they (for example) have a large e-business site which is offline due to your glitch they may be literally losing millions of dollars in sales every day they're down, and if you promised you could support them when they bought from you then you'd darned well better make every effort to provide that support, including scheduling 24-hour coverage and hauling developers off new work to help solve the problem if that's what it takes.

If the problem is in a vendor, and you can't persuade them that they need to support YOU and your customer that way... you picked the wrong vendor and need to fix that as soon as possible.

Note that realtime support and instantaneous fixes are not the same thing. The customer will (or should) recognize that diagnosis and fix will take a bit of time. They just want that time to be as short as possible. They also will (or should) recognize that problems have different severity levels, and that sometimes they'll have to settle for a workaround rather than a true fix. This is the "customer management" part of the equation.

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