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.
Coaching Space Bach & Charrett

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).

9 thoughts on “In pursuit of coaching excellence

  1. I like the analogy to sports coaching. Having been one myself, I can easily resonate with most of what you wrote. However, here is a flaw in that analogy. When I was visiting classes to become a swimming trainer, there were about 30% of the attendees not having a background in swimming. That said, in sports you don’t have to have a background in the particular sport that you are coaching in. It helps if you have, and you don’t need to know the basics by yourself. We were asked to go through some exercises by swimming, but we didn’t have to go through a training session for maybe long distance improvements on our own.
    How much testing do you have to know to be a good testing coach?

    Anne-Marie: James & I discussed this topic this week and came to the conclusion that its important to have a testing syllabus and be competent in that area. By testing syllabus I mean a context driven testing syllabus. The reason for this is that one of our goals in coaching is for the student to be able to generate original thought, to work through problems themselves. If they have a syllabus that contradicts the essence of this, its going to conflict with the coaching style we propose.

  2. Nice Post Anne-Marie, thanks for sharing.
    I see what you’re saying about the different styles of coaching – I’ve had those who try to dominate, those who are more discreet & those who try to be you mate but are hopeless at coaching.

    Having had coaching sessions from both you & James (I’d thoroughly recommend both of you to anyone)you yourselves have very different coaching styles. This leads on nicely to my question:

    How have you found working with James to come to a common understanding on coaching Testers?

    I am in pursuit of becoming a better Tester. I haven’t defined ‘better’ yet, but I know the rough direction & that its going to be a long journey!



    1. HI Duncan,
      Yes, we’re working on a coaching methodology that’s skill based, directive and Socratic in nature. Its foundations are based on performing testing related activities to diagnose and treat common testing illnesses. A lot of what we’re working on is putting together coaching patterns which help identify coaching and student symptoms, and coaching and student actions.

      We’ve also discussed the use of voices in coaching. While James and I both use our coaching model, you might notice that our voices differ. He’s perhaps more commanding while I’m more supportive. I think one of the challenges in coaching is to develop a variety of voices and be able to figure out when’s a good time to use them.

      I hope that answer’s your question a little.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to respond Anne-Marie, yes it has. Its interesting to get more insight into how you’re building up a coaching methodology.
    Can’t say I’ve heard your commanding voice yet – don’t whether that is a good or a bad thing!


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