Create the Change You Want – Part 2

Before you start, catch up on Part 1 of this series

Coaching

coaching

What it means

Next, I want to talk about coaching. I mentioned in the previous post that the best way to master something is to learn it well enough that you can effectively explain it to someone else.

Have you ever tried explaining something to a toddler?

You: “Don’t kick the ball in the house”, toddler
Toddler: “Why?”,
Y: “Because you might break something”,
T: “but Why?”,
Y: “because you might hit a vase and make it fall down and break”,
T: “so?”,
Y: “so your mum would be upset if the vase broke”,
T: “why?”,
Y: “because she likes it”,
T: “why”,
Y: “I don’t know”,
T: “why not” …

You get the point, when you try to explain something, people tend to ask why, which can really stretch your understanding and beliefs. You’ve developed a set of assumptions that the way you do things now is the best way to do it, or that it’s too hard to change. You teach this message to someone else, but they don’t agree, they might say, ‘Why don’t you try writing a program to do that for you?’ … Perhaps you’ll be pleasantly surprised and discover a new solution that works better and say: I hadn’t thought of that, or I don’t know how to do that. Or in other words, that sounds like something I need to change, something new for me to learn. Great!

As you spend time coaching someone, you are being tested each day to deeply understand what you are teaching as you explain it to someone else. It’s a great way to find out if you’ve thought of all the different options or to cement your knowledge.

best-sports-coach-linksIn a sport’s team, it’s the coach’s job to help show people where they need to improve, and guide them through how to improve. A coach within testing works the same way, pointing out areas for growth, and assisting through the growth. Having someone coach you in testing is quite beneficial for you in helping to identify your weak spots and help you develop a plan to get better. Perhaps the areas of your role that you’ve always stayed clear of will become a little less intimidating, or you are challenged to approach a situation differently. Either way, there are changes for you to make, challenges to take on and new growth to be found.

3 examples

Here’s some examples where I’ve tried this. The first one is actually the reason I’m presenting this series. I have a mentor, Katrina Clokie, who I was connected with through the SpeakEasy mentoring program who has been mentoring me in how to write a talk to

CAST2016 talk - 3
Me, speaking at CAST2016

present at a conference. Just over a year ago, we started connecting via fortnightly skype sessions, discussing what I would need to do in order to speak at a conference. Starting from fine tuning ideas, to learning how to communicate these ideas into an abstract and right through to actually putting the talk together and creating slides. I knew something about these skills previously, but definitely learnt a lot from her guidance.

I learnt how to assess what ideas were worth sharing. I learnt about having a target audience in mind when writing so that the content can be more intentional and actionable. And I learnt about how to communicate my ideas. If you are interested in speaking at conferences, I definitely recommend reaching out to SpeakEasy to get yourself a mentor.

From the viewpoint of being the coach, I’ve found my skills and understanding of writing automated testing solutions have really been challenged when I try to explain my test approaches to my workmates and explain how and why I’ve made the choices I did. Solutions I thought were quite clever and effective or just the only way to do things were challenged as i explained and presented them. I’ve been challenged to investigate whole new technologies and code structures to get a better solution which of course means stepping away from my comfort zone and trying new things which means areas for growth.

I’ve learnt a lot about re-using code, readability of code, maintainability, and much more from the feedback of others as I’ve tried to coach them in the way I’ve written my automated solutions.

The other main source of learning I’ve had from others coaching me is actually indirect coaching through attending conferences, going on training courses and reading blogs. These are all great ways to indirectly have other people coach you as they share their knowledge to a group. bloggingThere are hundreds of testing blogs, several testing conferences and training courses that are worth going to and provide great opportunities to learn. Which of course, you already know because that’s why you are reading this blog! Keep using these opportunities all around you.

I’ve also experienced this side for learning as the coach as I’ve shared some of my learnings on this blog and had hundreds of people from all over the world read my posts to learn from me. It’s amazing how many people from so many countries want to learn about testing. Communicating my ideas well is certainly an area requiring constant improvement for me.

Take-home challenge

So the take home challenge for this section is probably pretty easy to guess. Find someone you can coach in a skill you are familiar with so they can challenge you and push you to really master it. And going the other way, find someone who can coach you to teach you new skills, whether someone in your company or perhaps in a local meetup, or if needed even indirectly via the internet. Having someone to coach you means they can teach you new skills that they have and challenge you to grow in different areas.

This is part 2 of 3, Stay tuned for part 3 coming soon! Or take another look at part 1

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Australian Testing Days 2016 Reflection – Day 2

For Part 1 of this series, see Australian Testing Days 2016 Reflection – Day 1

Day 2

Coaching Testers (workshop)Coach showing the right way to follow

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.

Summary

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.

Australian Testing Days 2016 Reflection – Day 1

On May 20-21 I went to the inaugural Australian Testing Days Conference in Melbourne. The first day involved a series of talks, mostly on sharing experiences people had in testing and the second day was an all-day workshop on test leadership. This post outlines the key messages from the session I attended and the key things I learnt from each one.

Day 1

Part 1 – What you meant to say (keynote)

First up, Michael Bolton discussed how the language we, as testers, use around testing can be quite unhelpful and cause confusion for those involved. For example, automated testing does not exist. You can certainly automate checking, which is mainly regression tests of existing behaviour. But you cannot automate testing, which is everything someone does to understand more about a feature, giving them knowledge to decide on how risky it is to release it. The way we communicate what we do will impact what others understand it as and then expect of us. Similarly, it is important to understand the language others use when asking us to do something.

Another helpful lesson was that customer desires are more important than customer expectations. If they are happy with your product, it doesn’t matter if it met expectations. If I don’t expect the Apple Watch will be of much use to me, but then I try it and discover that I love it, my expectations weren’t met, but my desires were, and it’s a good result. Similarly, users might expect something totally different to what you produce, but if they discover that what you made is actually better than their expectations, it is likewise a good result.

Lessons learnt:

  • Be clear in communication of testing activities to avoid ambiguity and misalignment.
  • Seek the underlying mentality behind people’s testing questions

Part 2 – Transforming an offshore QA team (elective)

Next up Michele Cross shared on the challenges she is facing in transforming an offshore, traditional and highly structure testing team into a more agile, context driven testing team. The primary way to achieve any big change like this is in creating an environment of trust, which comes in 2 ways. A cognitive trust is based on ability, you trust someone because of their skills and attributes. For example, trusting a doctor who has been studying and practising medicine for 20 years that you have just met to diagnose you. An affective trust is based on relationships, you trust someone because of how well you know them and how you have interacted with them in the past. For example, you trust a friend’s movie recommendation because of shared interests and experiences, not their skills as a movie reviewer.

To help establish this trust and initiate change, three C’s were discussed.

  • Culture – Understanding people and their differences. The context that has brought people to where they are now will greatly shape how they interact with people. Do they desire structure or independence? Are they open to conflict or desire harmony? Knowing this can help inform decisions and approaches.
  • Communication – Relating to other people can be just as hard as it is important. Large, distributed teams bring with them challenges of language, timezones, video conferencing etc… It is crucial to find ways to address these concerns so that everyone is kept in the loop, aligned on direction and is able to build relationships with each other.
  • Coaching – Teaching new skills through example and instruction. Create an environment where it is safe to fail so people feel comfortable to grow. Use practical scenarios to teach skills and get involved yourself.

Lessons learnt:

  • Consider the cultural context of people you are interacting with as it will shape how to be most effective in in those interactions
  • Learning through doing, and doing alongside someone is a great way of learning
  • Trust is built by a combination of personal relationships and technical abilities

Part 3 – It takes a village to raise a tester (elective)

Catherine Karena works at WorkVentures which is all about helping under privileged people develop like skills and technological skills to help them enter the tech workforce. She talked about how to figure out what skills to teach by looking at where the most jobs were in the market and the common skills required. This includes both technical and relational skills as they interact with structures and other staff in companies.

On a more general note, a number of characteristics of what makes a great tester were highlighted to focus on teaching these skills as well. A great tester is: curious, a learner, an advocate, a good communicator, tech savvy, a critical thinker, accountable and a high achiever. When it comes to the learning side, a few more tips were shared around teaching through doing as much as possible, making it safe to fail, using industry experts and building up the learning over time.

Some interesting statistics were raised showing that those trained by WorkVentures over 6 months were equal to or greater in performance and value compared to relevant Uni graduates when rated by employers.

Lessons learnt:

  • Relational skills can be just as, if not more, important than technical skills in hiring new talent.
  • Learning in small steps with practical examples greatly improves the outcome.

Part 4 – Context Driven Testing: Uncut (elective)

Brian Osman talked about his experience growing in knowledge and abilities as a tester and how greatly that experience was shaped by testing communities. He explained how a community of like minded people can help drive learning as they challenge each other and bring different view points across.

A side note he introduced was a term called ‘Possum Testing’ which is how he described “Testing that you don’t value, motivated by a fear of some kind”, for example, avoiding using a form of testing because you don’t understand it or how to use it. This is an idea that many people would understand, but could perhaps find it hard to articulate and discuss. Giving it a name instantly provides a means to bring it up in conversation and have people already have a good idea of the context and any common ground in thinking.

Lessons learnt:

  • Naming ideas or common problems is a helpful way to direct future conversations and bring along the original context
  • When looking to improve in a certain area/skill, find a community of others looking to do the same thing.
  • Use these communities to present ideas, defend them and challenge other’s ideas. Debates are encouraged

Part 5 – Testing web services and microservices (elective)

Katrina Clokie (who also mentors me in conference speaking) spoke about her experience testing web services and microservices and a previous version of the talk is available online if you are interested. Starting with web services, she pointed out that each service will have different test needs based on who uses it and how they use it. Service virtualisation is a common technique used in service testing to isolate the front-end from the inconsistencies and potentially unstable back-ends. Microservice testing puts another layer in this model.

Some key guidelines for creating microservices automation were presented, claiming that it should be fit for purpose, remove duplication, be easy to merge changes, have continuous execution and be visible across teams.

An interesting learning technique was present called Pathways which can be found on her website which list a whole bunch of resources for learning about a new topic. They are a helpful way of directing your learning time with a specific goal in mind.

Lessons learnt:

  • Make use of Katrina’s pathways for learning about a new area (for myself or as recommendations to others)
  • Get involved in code creation as early as possible to help influence a culture of testability
  • Write any automation with re-usability and visibility in mind

Part 6 – Test Management Revisited (keynote)

Anne-Marie Charett finished up the day sharing some reflections and approaches she implemented from her time as Test lead at Tyro payments. She started by asking the question, do we still need test management? Which has been asked a few times in the community already. The response being that we do need a testing voice in the community to go with all the new roles and technology coming through like microservices, and DevOps. This doesn’t mean we need Test Managers who deal with providing stability, rather Test Leaders who can direct change. She talked about using the “Satir change Model” to describe the process of change and it’s effect on performance.

She brought a mentality to transforming Tyro to have the best test practice in Australia, and was not interested in blindly copying others. There is certainly benefits to learn from the approach others take, but should be assessed to meet your company’s environment. She discussed a number of testing related strategies that you might have to deal with: Continuous delivery, testing in production, microservices, risk-based automation, business engagement, embedding testing, performance testing, operational testing, test environments, training and growth.

The next question was how to motivate people to learn? Hand-holding certainly isn’t ideal, but you also probably can’t expect people to spontaneously learn all the skills you’d like them to have. This needs coaching! And the coaching should be focused around a task that you can then offer feedback on afterwards. Then challenge them to try it again on their own.

An important question to ask in identifying what skills to teach is in highlighting what makes a good tester at your company, because your needs will be different to other places. She then finished with a few guidelines around coaching based around giving people responsibilities, improving the environment they work in and continuing to adapt as different needs and challenges arise.

Lessons learnt:

  • Any practice/process being used by others should be analysed and adapted to fit your context, not blindly copied.
  • Be a voice for testing and lead others to make changes in areas they need to improve on
  • Think about what makes a good tester at my company and how I measure up
  • Help prepare the organization/team for change and help them cope as they struggle through it

That’s a wrap for Day 1, find my review of Day 2 here, where I took part in a workshop on Coaching Testers with Anne-Marie Charrett