09. May 2013
3 min

Coaching Testers with James Bach and Anne-Marie Charrett/ 1-day workshop

A brief description of what I experienced on a one day workshop in Brighton.

The Ministry of Testing is an initiative to bring software testing related events and learning opportunities to the software testing community (so their website). They invited James Bach and Anne-Marie Charrett to Brighton.

Anis, a colleague of mine who is involved in the subject decided to participate. My own focus is more on the developing side, but the links to the testing colleagues are tight and after filling up the trenches between development and testing colleagues in our customer team, I was sure that coaching testers could be an interesting issue for me as well.

I would like to compare the outcome I experienced with the list of aspects on which the workshop promised to focus on:

  • Building a connection with your student
  • Observation in Coaching
  • The Coaching Task including some Heirloom Exercises
  • The Coaching Syllabus
  • Managing Tension & Energy in a Coaching Session
  • Patterns in coaching
  • Creating Dilemma’s in coaching
  • Analyzing Coaching Sessions

The one-day-workshop was based and introduced through an incredibly line-symmetric diagram which explained the coaching space. This is meant to be the arena of coach and student tester and is a description of all interactions which can appear in a coaching session. The coaching tester is located on one side, the student tester on the other. I must admit that I was very skeptical, because usually real world relations very rarely are THIS symmetrical. To tell you in advance: The approach is very close to what coaching is about (as far as I understand it now). Discussing that symmetry in a morning coffee break showed that one or the other participant had the same feeling about this. In the late afternoon I must admit that I lost a large part of my initial skepticism.

Well, the symmetry does not say, that all attributes should have the same value for both sides, tester and coach. But nevertheless, they are important aspects for the coaching procedure. Understanding that a coaching session supports and trains the knowledge about how to successful approach a testing task on the student’s side and how to optimize the coach’s assistant work is the actual result that I found remarkable.

So the mentioned diagram told the truth and is helpful as well: The attributes the coaching space focuses on are the important ones for both partners in the act of successful coaching. For the coach it is a wonderful image of how he has to interact with the student and how to be aware of what his goals are. I want to mention some work shop elements I regarded as helpful:

Some helpful exercises we did in the workshop:

In groups of two we started short coaching sessions (one coach, one student) on testing an online children’s game. We switched roles after some minutes. In this very short time, it was quite clear for us, how we as student or coach “played” the coaching session. The low complexity of the domain made it easy to focus on the coaching process itself. After a short wrap up discussion the essential attributes and relations in the coaching space could be recognized AND understood.

People might think, this coaching situation is too artificial. I really got very excited, when in the afternoon a real life coaching was organized. The subject to be tested again was rather simple (testing Skype emoticons), but not were necessarily the students. They were real life testers in companies in India (mine from Hungary) and so vivid was that coaching situation. I never had thought that a coaching via Skype could be possible and this intensive and effective. My counterpart turned out to be a quite experienced tester and he took directions himself. So building up trust and credibility was my main task.

My conclusion:

  • Like in boxing coaching testers should be a sparring situation. The coach has the overview and the advantage of lessons learned by a row of different student mentalities and coaching situations he experienced before.
  • One important phrase by James Bach: Do not spoon-feed your student!
  • The coach learns himself and should be open to change if necessary.
  • Coaching is not a training situation (think about the difference!)
  • If the student has a direction, don’t hinder him. Let him find out his own results. But do not let him off the leash. Build up pressure, but know the right moment for an easing of the tension.

It’s all about communication, actually it’s pure soft skills which lay the basis for a good coaching.

Tell me about your experience!

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