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Liveblogged! Anne-Marie Charrett’s “Coaching Software Testers” Webinar Review by Mauri Edo

  • 30/04/2013
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  • Posted by EuroSTAR

Below is a live blog by Mauri Edo which was written during Anne-Marie Charrett’s webinar – ‘Coaching Software Testers’ from Tuesday, 30th April.

Under the public twitter request by Matt Heusser, the topic of today’s webinar will be specifically “Coaching Theory, Examples, Exercises” regarding software testing and testers, and who could deliver this webinar better than today’s host? Anne-Marie Charrett has a continued experience in coaching testers, and today she has shared with the EuroSTAR Community Webinars audience some of her knowledge on this interesting topic, here we go!

According to Anne-Marie, “traditional” test management has not been mainly focused in helping testers but in making testing happen (this is “getting testing done”). Getting better at testing has to be balanced with our daily duties and this is where coaching fits perfectly. Coaching is completely focused on the testers’ problems, on how to help the testers become better and achieve their specific goals, giving breathing space and learning opportunity.

Together with James Bach, Anne-Marie Charrett has developed a “systematic approach” to coaching testers (and a cowritten book currently under production), that included building a coaching model during the last four years, by giving coaching sessions (and watching others coach), evaluating the coaching given, identifying patterns in both the coach and the coached and then test those patterns (and the model itself) to confirm or discard these ideas.

A visual representation of what we could call the “coaching space” as it was understood by the model’s developers around 2011 was:

The core elements between the student and the coach are the task given to help the session go by, the energy of both the session and the actors involved in it (specially the student’s energy, as he has to be motivated to change, to get better for a successful session) and the media, with special attention to this last one, as the coaching session media (email, skype…) often distorts the session itself.

This coaching space representation has been redesigned and improved recently, and this is how it looks in this year 2013:

In this refined representation the direction contains the task, so the task is an instrument that helps the coach direct the session and respond in front of positive or negative reactions to it; and a new element appeared, the observations. It is crucial for the coach to observe what the student does, says and uses, to understand him better and lead the session properly. In addition to this changes, trust appears in scene as well as energy management; it is equally important to build trust between the coached and the coach, as well as for the latter to read the student’s energy and manage it, adding or relaxing pressure to the discussion when required. Remember that the goal of the coaching session is to help the student overcome his problems and get better at testing!
As you can see, the coaching space includes complex elements, because coaching is a really challenging activity for those who manage it. What to do next and what to skip, when to apply more / less pressure, how to recognise problems… are common questions for coaches. At this point, Anne-Marie gave us some priceless tips on patterns identified during these years of research and experimentation in the subject, tips illustrated with real examples of situations experienced by the presenter herself.

Typical student syndromes while being coached are showing overconfidence in their capabilities, being unable to explain or justify their answers, giving shallow answers and missing testing knowledge, systematic approach or lateral thinking skills. On the other side, typical coach syndromes are wandering, without a clear idea on what to do during the session; showing intemperance, swinging from one extreme to another in terms of pressure; being blind to troubles, specially noticing small problems and not major ones; making judgement mistakes and being insincere, specially when praising attitudes and responses that do not deserve it. This might destroy the trust between coach and student and empowers overconfidence in the coached one.

Beyond syndromes, there are some student action patterns that coaches have to detect and react to them: some students wander as well, skipping questions or avoiding deep thinking exercises; some students get shallow, as a clear signal of their energy decreasing; others ask continuously for hints, forcing the coach to read the situation and decide to keep giving them or raising the pressure and making the student answer the questions instead…

To end with the webinar, Anne-Marie gave some coaching actions to better direct the sessions, like asking the student to define terms proposed by the coach, aiming to align both members in their understanding of a concept or idea; driving the students to detail, a very important one, as it helps to understand better how the student thinks and expresses himself, becoming easier to identify reasoning gaps or hidden issues; polarising the answers given by the students and watching their reaction might help identifying if the student has understood the implicit nuances of what he just said or wrote; and bracketing topics to not mislead the flow of the session and cover topics separately without confusing the coachee.
Unfortunately, the coaching exercises have been left out the webinar, but anyway, it’s been an amazing session, thanks! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, and if so, why not attend Anne-Marie’s tutorial on Coaching Software Testers on 2013’s edition of EuroSTAR Conference?

Come on, you won’t regret it!

You can watch the recording of this webinar here.


Mauri Edo is a self-made testing professional currently working as a QA Manager at Netquest, a firm specialised in on-line market research services, from Barcelona to the world. Always ready to discover new things, Mauri is a huge defender of continuous learning, knowledge sharing and testing conversations. You can find him on Twitter as @Mauri_Edo and blogging at (Spanish) and at the Software Testing Club (English)

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