In pursuit of coaching excellence

When you coach a tester you’re working in an environment that dynamically changes as both the student and coach work through a coaching task.  If you look at the diagram below you can see all the different attributes that might change throughout a coaching session.

Also, throughout the coaching session, the student and coach have a mental model of the coach and themselves. They constantly re-evaluate these models as the coaching session progresses.

The coaching I do (and James Bach does) requires that the coach has a testing syllabus that they use to help the student. This is different to life coaching which is non domain specific. Also, our coaching is lot more directive. The relationship between the coach and student is more coach->student than the traditional peer-to-peer relationship you find in life coaching. I see our coaching more like sports coaching, where a coach outside of a game, runs you through drills and challenging exercises to help you improve, often without realising your in need of improvement.

Personally, I’ve experienced good and not so good sports coaches. In my school days I was a bit of a field hockey superstar (I joined the grade A hockey team two years ahead of time, making me the youngest player). My coach however was incredibly overbearing, shouting and yelling at us and telling us how hopeless we were. I’m not sure if we were hopeless or not, but I know we failed to win many games and left the season completely demoralised to the point I gave up hockey for four years. I was persuaded to pick up hockey again and this time we had a different coach. She was quiet, never said too much and let me play my free style. One day she came up to me and be a quietly suggested I move back 10 metres to be able to better angle my shots ( I was in a midfield position). Very quickly I realised the power of such a move, I was in a better position to be able to control the game. I was 16 when that happened and I’ve never forgotten the power of that one statement.

For me that’s what coaching is about and its the type of coach I aspire to be. Its directive but the direction is about the skill and how the student is performing that skill. Where its non directional is that I challenge the student to think for themselves. It’s paradox at play but one that works.

Its also powerful because it’s watchful, ready to tap into what a student is doing at an appropriate time, using pressure and energy as tools to make direction powerful to the student (just like my second sports coach did). The aim is to help the student feel empowered to achieve more.

But the energy is not only in one way. The coach is getting energised by the coaching session too. I’m constantly evaluating my coaching and testing ability. I become a better coach by doing this. My aim is to become the best coach I can be.

I can only do this by coaching lots of testers, evaluating the transcripts and also working with colleagues who inspire and want to become better coaches too. I’ve been doing that this week with James Bach. We’ve been working on our book on coaching, identifying ways in which we coach, syndromes that both student and coaches encounter (we need to do more of this) and also finding ways to better evaluate coaching transcripts.

I think an aspiration of excellence in any field is such a worthy goal. I was watching Ron Ben Israel who is a master baker of sugar dessert flowers. You can see his passion the how is pursuit of excellence has led him to create masterpieces in sugar. Who would have thought that you could become excellent in such a small field?

Excellence I think is different to perfection. Perfection to me sounds more absolute, perhaps a little unrealistic. Excellence however, is within my grasp but also always one step ahead of me. I can be excellent at one point in time, but I can always strive to be more excellent. I think this is a worthy pursuit and a good use of my time and energy.

What are you in pursuit of?

(if you want a coaching session on software testing, please contact me on Skype. My id is charretts, please include the word “coaching request”. I offer free skype coaching to testers as long as you’re willing to allow your transcripts to be used in my research and perhaps in the upcoming book. This means the transcripts may be published, though I do conceal the second name and any potentially sensitive data).