For Part 1 of this series, see Australian Testing Days 2016 Reflection – Day 1
Coaching Testers (workshop)
I chose Anne-Marie Charett‘s workshop for day 2 to learn about coaching testers. Even though I’m not directly in a coaching role, I thought there would be lots of great things to learn and a number of things that would apply to teaching non-testers in my team about testing. The day started on discovering why each of us had come and what we were hoping to learn from the day so we could focus our discussions accordingly.
First up we thought about coaching sessions and how they should not transform into a “How are you going” session. Much more effective is to make the sessions task-based (e.g. let’s work through an activity and I’ll offer assistance along the way) or for the student to come with a question.
The next lesson was a great approach to teaching new techniques or skills by starting with applying it to a familiar, non-testing situation. For example, creating a mind-map of your family. This takes away the fear of getting it wrong since it’s known and familiar, and greater focus can be put on the technique or skill being learnt.
In understanding what things to coach and how to go about coaching them, we need to understand the context of both the coach and the student. They will each have 2 images of themselves, one of how they view themselves as a tester, and the other as how they view themselves as a coach/student. As well as many other factors that need to be considered in knowing that different approaches work for different people.
The day was broken up with a number of movie clips to show different coaching styles. First up was the scene in The Matrix where Morpheus asks Neo to show him the Kung-Fu he has just learnt. Throughout the scene, more pressure and direction is added from Morpheus as Neo progresses through the task. It starts of easy, then gets harder and more physical as Neo is pushed further and further to learn the lesson Morpheus was teaching him (the rules can be broken).
Next we watched a clip from The Blind Side where Sandra Bullock’s character was better able to teach her foster son how to defend in Grid Iron better than the team coach. This was because she better understand the needs of the student and what motivates them (in this case, family). The question that he needed answered was “Why” not “How”. Trust was also a big factor in the success of the coaching efforts.
Taking this lesson further, as a coach you want to find out what people’s drive is, why are they in testing, how did they get here and where do they want to be? Then the coach can focus on directing them on how to get there and where they need most help, based on the journey they’ve had so far.
Our next video was from The Magnificent Seven, where a young character was challenged to match his speed at drawing his weapon against the team he hoped to join. This was more about putting people out of their comfort zones and seeing how they will respond to pressure. It was a way to show this man that his skills weren’t up to scratch, and that he would need to lift his game.
Following this we talked about Socratic questioning, which is all about not directly answering people’s questions but instead asking questions in return to help lead them to discover the answer for themselves. This is a very powerful tool in coaching, an answer you come to by yourself is much more powerful and memorable than one you were told. But it can also be taken the wrong way and be demotivating when people feel like they never get straight answers.
The coach will need to help manage the way people feel about themselves and base their coaching on the students needs, energy and context. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.
Our final movie clip was from Million Dollar Baby where Hillary Swank’s character is trying to convince Clint Eastwood’s character to coach her. There was certainly reluctance in this coaching partnership, but biases had to be overcome and the student had to reflect and show they did indeed have the passion and desire to not give up, even though it would be hard. Sometimes we too might not feel comfortable at first about coaching someone or being coached.
2 final points were made around managing expectations and reflecting on progress. Manage people’s expectations to learn something quickly by showing that confusion is just a learning state and is not a weakness or lack of ability. It’s also powerful if you can show someone how much they have grown already to help give motivation to continue on that journey.
The day finished with a practical exercise of simulating a coaching session between a Coach, a tester and a developer, trying to come up with acceptance criteria for a payroll system. This was great to put into practice some of the things we had been learning throughout the day and see how even in controlled environments, people have quite different needs, opinions and expectations and so coaching will need to adapt all the time to suit.
I had a great time at Australian Testing Days 2016 and am looking forward to going again next year! I’d also love to hear what other people got out of the conference or if you have a different view point to anything discussed in either of my posts about it.