13 April 2014

SWET 7, peer conference on test coaching

SWET 7 (Swedish Workshop on Exploratory Testing, a software testing peer conference) has just come to an end and here is the promised summary and lessons learned from the event. The topic this time was "test coaching".

Don't worry Sweden

First of all, knowing that SWET 6 had few attendees, SWET 7 was almost cancelled and the group that finally signed up had far less experience than groups from previous iterations; you might be concerned about where context driven testing is heading in Sweden. Well, don't! There's a ridiculously talented group of up-and-coming testers. I feel fortunate to have met some of them already!

The venue

Villa Mälargården was a great venue. We had the conference center all for ourselves, it was well set up and the chef's passion (and skill) was a perfect fit, both for our palates as well as for a conference with passion being a common denominator. Thank you Michael Albrecht for doing all the arrangements, you did an awesome job!


Before the experience reports (which I will call sessions by the way) we went through practical information like how to use K-cards, what goals we had as well as making a check-in. Interesting this time was James emphasized stating possible distractions during the check-in. In at least two cases this definitely provided valuable information; Michael telling us about illness at home which he later had to, very abruptly, leave to attend, as well as Annie telling us about her migraine and how that could affect her which made me better understand her reaction when I tried to start a couple of discussions.

Before starting, James also showed and explained his view on coaching, a great way to ensure we all had a common ground to at least refer back to as well as for many of us to better understand what coaching can be.

Session 1, Michael Albrecht

Michael Albrecht started by speaking about a consulting job where several groups within a company needed coaching and training to change their testing process.

  • Set the goals with everyone involved (e.g. manager ordering and participants), follow up these goals with the same group.
  • There are many aspects of coaching to look at (and improve); e.g. facilitation, set up/preparations, actual questions/exercises, follow up, session quality evaluation etc. 
  • Coaching is not necessarily a one on one activity.
  • Propose a radical idea and ask why it wouldn't be a possible substitute what's currently implemented, to force people into thinking differently/see beyond what exists.

Session 2, Erik Brickarp

I want to discuss this a little further with Helena Jeret-Mäe, whom I share this experience with, before posting. But it revolved around Transpection Tuesdays, how, and why, we've integrated more and more coaching into them, the format we use and lessons learned.

Session 3, Liza Ivinskaia

Liza spoke about her first test coaching experience and lessons learned from this.

  • Survey's can be used as a quick way of reaching out to a lot of people for some simpler coaching and/or as valuable input to coaching/coaching decisions (e.g. who to focus on).
  • Spend time with the people you are about to coach to make sure you understand their context
  • Make sure you focus not just on what's wrong but also point out what people are doing right
  • Presenter technique: Draw a big mind map (e.g. on a whiteboard) to help audience "navigate" your presentation. To enhance, create or highlight the connections as you present.
  • "Don't look at it as a problem, look at it as a challenge"
  • Everyone has coaching experience. You've most likely helped a friend/sibling/child/partner in a challenging situation or tried to help someone understand something in school for instance. Some of that is likely coaching.

Lightning talks

Annie Rydholm
Talked about her coaching sessions with Carsten Feilberg and how these have helped her.
  • Find out the missing "because" by asking "why"
David Högberg
Talked about his failed attempt to teach a student taking notes and lessons from that.
  • Taking notes is a vital skill we need to practice
  • We all take notes differently, teaching someone "their style" is hard
  • Take notes throughout the day and at the end of the day, collect them in a mind map
Björn Kinell
Talked about a mistake when coaching, where he had been too impatient to let the coachee figure out an answer for himself.
  • It's easy to get impatient and just give someone your answers. Coaching requires patience.
Amanda Johansson
Talked about how she basically made herself obsolete in a team.
  • Making yourself obsolete in a team is an interesting goal to get you to coach and help people take their responsibility in building quality in as well as finding bugs.
Meike Mertsch
Talked about her coaching session with James Bach and how what she learned unexpectedly became valuable much later.
  • You never know when and what experiences/knowledge will come in handy
  • Explaining exactly what you do provides insight for yourself

Lesson: "Innocent girls"

I heard at least three times, by different testers and in different settings, "I was surprised this innocent girl was so tough". I think that is an indication we should stop assuming innocent girl (or well, any girl) equals weak/fragile. My own experience in life is boys might be better at hiding/faking but we're not tougher.

Lesson: Admitting being human

I heard David Högberg in several open seasons, as well as in between sessions say things like "did you admit?", "it's okey to be human", "admitting can build trust" etc. He definitely hammered in a valuable takeaway from SWET: There is nothing wrong with being human, in fact it often helps strengthen relationships and build trust!

The mentor

I want to give a special thanks to James Bach. I had tremendous respect for the man who help me find my way into testing, already before SWET 7. But after seeing him work with all these rather fresh participants (including myself) he has raised my admiration even more. He inspired, he encouraged, he supported, he taught, he lead by example all and all, he did everything to make sure we all got the best out of every single participant, rookie or veteran (or at least that's my view). That on its own was a great and valuable experience for me in community greeting and group mentoring. Thank you James!


If you look closer you likely know/have experienced much more coaching than you think.

... and there are plenty of up-and-coming testers to keep an eye on!


These are the people who taught me the lessons shared in this post; all being curious, brave and smart testers, worth listening to.

Amanda Johansson
Annie Rydholm
Björn Kinell
David Högberg
Liza Ivinskaia
Mikael Ulander

Thank you!