So, what is this test coaching stuff?

We ask Anne-Marie Charrett some questions about Test Coaching.

You can sign up to her Test Coaching course in London on May 4th 2012.

A test coaching session takes place when a tester, guided by a coach, works on improving their testing skill. It can be performed remotely or face to face and lasts approximately 90 minutes.

Many testers feel frustrated that they fail to recognize bugs, or unable to develop an appropriate testing strategy. The traditional approach to solving a problem like this has been to spoon feed testers with templates or examples of existing strategies.

Real skill is more than filling in a template though, a tester needs to be able to develop a test strategy based on what they’re testing, who they’re testing for and the environment they’re testing in. This traditional approach does not encourage a tester to question or be skeptical, yet its these precise skills that we want our testers to have!

My coaching approach encourages a tester to challenge their testing approach, to question why they test in a certain way and encourage them to find a way to improve. In this way, testers become thinkers, designers and problem solvers.

Why can’t we just learn more about testing?

How would you teach a kid how to whistle? Would you give them a book to read? Ha! My nine year old would throw it back at you in disgust! But you might give them a little demo and ask them to try it, then give some feedback. Then you’d probably send them off to practice (preferably far away from you!).

Testing is like whistling. You can’t learn it all from a book. To be a tester you have to test. To become a great tester, you need to understand how you test, and work on your flaws. My coaching helps you do that in ways reading a book or taking a course can’t.

Who can be a test coach?

It’s best to have some experience of testing under your belt before you start coaching, so experienced testers, test leads, test managers would be ideal people. Most important is that you want to help others become better testers. If that’s you, then why not try test coaching?

Why do we need it?

I know what its like to be in the thick of delivering testing within a project. It’s hard to allocate time to the quality of your testing when a delivery is looming large. Coaching allows you the breathing space to improve on your testing skill. Its also ongoing. Coaching is not an quick ra ra exercise that excites the team only to have them fall into the doldrums two weeks later. Coaching can be applied over time, making it more effective and more relative to the work at hand.

I’ve never seen designers or developers get test coaching, have you?

No I haven’t, but with the concept that “test is dead” perhaps they need to start working on their testing skills. Any takers?

Seriously though, the concept of coaching is not new. For many years there has been the concept of an Agile Coach that offers realtime and instant feedback into the agile team. Coaching within organisations in lieu of performance appraisals is not a new idea.

Our coaching is a little different with our emphasis on skill, but there’s no reason why our coaching can’t be adopted within organisations. In fact, many organisations are already taking an interest in coaching, Barclays Bank and Fibrelink are two companies that come to mind.

Who is doing test coaching?

I work closely with James Bach, Michael Bolton and more recently Ilari Henrik Aegerter. There are others out there, though none I know of who have developed a systematic approach to coaching, and who offer to workshops in coaching testers.

For the last two years, I’ve been working alongside James Bach to figure out a systematic approach to test coaching. We’ve coached hundreds of testers,reviewed and evaluated the transcripts. We’ve identified coach and tester patterns within coaching sessions, and we use these to help us improve our coaching. Now we’re coaching other testers on how to coach. Ilari Henrik Aegerter is an example of someone who is being coached by both James and I.

Does it have to be virtual?

Coaching can be face to face or virtual it really doesn’t matter.

Apart from the benefit of being able to coach testers from any location, virtual coaching encourages a tester to slow their thinking down and reflect why they test in certain ways. Coaching over chat also has the benefit of having a transcript that you can look at after the coaching session is completed.

The challenge in remote coaching is to fully understand a tester and what’s happening in their day. That’s why my coaching approach makes a special effort to take a testers context into consideration.

Apart from the benefit of being able to coach testers from any location, virtual coaching encourages a tester to slow their thinking down and reflect why they test in certain ways.

Want to learn more?

Meet Anne-Marie in person, you can sign up to her Test Coaching course in London on May 4th 2012.

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