Having been doing QA work for close to 25 years now, I have come across one or two difficult situations.
The one that seems to cause the most angst is the dreaded “finding a Severity 1 defect late in the game”. This one is the toughest because QA is now potentially the messenger of death for a given project. Finding this issue could delay or even shelve an entire project or program.
The best example I have encountered is two weeks before deploying a huge program; there was a massive performance issue discovered. After almost two years of planning, requirements, development and testing were all for not. From a non-functional testing standpoint, this was late to be doing such tests. The team tried to retest as much as we could in the hope that it was an issue outside of the actual system (possibly a test environment issue).
For a week, we stress-tested the application with no real change in the results. The next thing to do was let the executives know what was going on. To say they were not happy would be an understatement. A lot of questions came out, and the team tried their best to answer them. We had mitigation plans and rescheduled dates to accommodate the work needed to fix the issue. A day later, there was an announcement that the program is not going forward. That was the biggest kick in the gut the team could have had. Years worth of work and the last two weeks of trying to find ways to get it to work just done with nothing to show for it for our customers.
Internally there was some benefit as we looked hard at our processes and made changes, so something like this could not happen again. That is usually the best thing that can come out of difficult situations; discover a problem and a resolution comes out of it for future work.
That was a difficult situation for the team, what happens if it is an individual. We all have something that can happen in our personal lives that could find its way to impact work or something that happened at work that makes things difficult. A people manager should be conscious and considerate of what people are going through. Help them as best as I can to get through what they are going through. It is a tightrope act in how to deal with issues that, if personal, people may not want to share with their direct manager. For me, I always tell my team they can approach me about anything, and they have my confidence that it would only be between myself and them. If not, they should go to an HR representative as they would be able to help out with whatever is needed.
The one thing I do feel that letting someone know what is going on before it festers is the best scenario. A good manager will not be angry at the messenger; they will focus on rectifying the issue.