The (new) skilled art of QA

Professor Reinhard Stelter of Copenhagen University has a book out titled The Art of Dialogue in Coaching; Towards Transformative Exchange.

I’ve found it seriously inspiring as the skills Stelter teaches enhance those everyday dialogues and conversations that’s becoming more and more important in modern testing, QA, and quality coaching. I’ll come back to that.

I have read Stelter in Danish before, but this book in English has new material that I wanted to dive into.

From the backcover:

In The Art of Dialogue in Coaching, Reinhard Stelter invites readers to engage in transformative end fruitful dialogues in everyday working life, and provides the theory and tools for them to be able to do so.

Professor Stelter has worked on transforming coaching from its instructive and directive roots in sports where the coach helps the coachee get from A to B, over the psychological focus on helping the individual removing mental blockings for her individual development, to a new and third level in which the asymmetry betwen coach and coachee is used to drive meaningful dialogues in which co-learning can take place.

Stelter has written the book in three parts, one on the theoretical basis of his work, another on meaning-making, values and narratives, and the third part on dialogue practices. The middle part seems to me to be the most important, but the two other parts contain interesting stuff too.

So why do I think skills for having good coaching dialogues would matters to testers?

As testers we’re really experts asking “why?”. I find a lot of good testing starts with that question. But just asking “why?” and testing isn’t coaching. However, I’m seeing the meaning behind the “why?” questions we ask change. It’s no longer only triggering our testers’s curiosity, but feeding something deeper.

What I’m seeing is that our why’s more and more are a help for our stakeholders, colleagues, team mates etc to grow their couriosity. This has always happened, of course, testing is inspiring, but I still see a change being needed so that we can more systematically and perhaps even strategically help them better understand their own situations in terms of quality and make wise decisions based on those understandings.

I’ll be talking about that at STPCon in Boston on September 25th, where I’ll be looking back on how testers probably learned to ask value based “why?” question from marketing to learn and identify the factors that makes users and customers feel that the products we test have value so we can test for these factors. But I’ll be looking also on the new “why?”, the one that triggers coaching instead of testing. .

To me, the need for the new “why?” is a reflection of how organizations are rapidly changing: We used to have IT as cost centres, smaller separate hiearchies in hierachical organizations. I’ve consulted for a few organizations like this since I started full time test consulting in 2003.

ITcostCentre

Today, organizations look more like this:

ModernITAsDevOps.png

The DevOps movement is driving this transformation, I think: We increasingly network with people and processes, and have no hiearchies: Quality is owned by everyone. That correlates well with Danish management culture and the very low power-distance we have between managers and workers.

Therefore I’m shifting from asking my tester-“why?” questions and instead I’m asking why to help the team become just that: Expterts in what quality means to stakeholders, customers, and users.

This is actually a bit like what Henry Mintzberg, professor of management at Mc Gill calls “adhocracies,” a type of organization where business power is in the body of the organization, not centralized near the top.

Things are often more messy in the real world where we’re practicing testing. There are still hiearchies and a lot of goal keeping still needs to done around the world, but what’s interesting is that the development the importance of coaching more and more important, and therefore also makes the skill of having meaningful dialogues more important.

To facilitate work on that abstract thing we call quality, we need to coach people on finding out what quality is in the context in which they’re working. We can’t guarantee the effect of that work, there’s no direct quality assurance happening.

Stelter argues that modern generation coaching is rooted in situational ethics, where outcomes of our coaching are only hoped for, and work we do is not about pointing out what’s important to the individual. I’d say the same: Modern Quality Coaching is ultimately about helping the other person find meaning in her goals.

I have to admt something: All this is forcing me out of my comfort zone. It’s not a transformation I can do myself.

That’s why I read litterature on coaching, speak at, attend, and help organize conferences like Test Leadership Congress, STPCon, and EuroSTAR and in as many other ways as I can seek to establish communities of practice with peers in which we can coach each other to make the jump from the expert-role, to the co-learner’s role.

As a QA person, I still need to have a fairly good understanding of what quality is in the context, but as I’m more more hands-off with the product and the actual testing these days, I need a new search for meaing as a tester and test manager: Helping people in the team to find that bigger meaning behind their work and remain courious about the values they help create.

And that’s where Stelter has a strong message to us:

A search for meaning, which always involves a focus on values, is a search for a personal existential foundation and whatever makes our lives and our actions meaningful. […] I have expressed my disinclination to focus exclusively or excessively on specific goals or problems. […] Goals and objectives can lock a person into a particular societal discourse: this, ultimately, represents the polar opposite of the purpose of a good dialogue, which is to enable novel perspecitves. […] [p.43]

Stelter doesn’t exclude goals or problem solving. They are important and even foundational.

But his thinking is totally unlike what we often encounter in tech, where goals are in an iron triangle, about deliverying expected quality, on time, and on budget.

Instead he thinks of goals and objectives as possible outcomes by a series of human events with a particular effect and desired purpose, and actions oriented towards acthieving a specific actionable goal (Stelter suggests a goal to loose weight, but in our contexts, it could be about delivering a bug fix, feature, or user story to production.)

R. Stelter: The Art of Dialogue in Coaching, Towards Transformative Exchange. Routledge 2019.

 

Reklamer

What I learn listening to myself

Years ago, I was hired as a tester on a large project. After a week or so, my manager came to my desk to hear how I was doing. 

I wanted to explain her all the details about the tests I had carried out, what I had found, and my plans for what I should test next week, but she asked a question which totally surprised me: 

“What is your gut feeling about this software?”

I realized that my mind was so filled with details that I had completely lost track of what I was up to and how my feelings were. Thankfully, her question brought me back to my senses, so to speak. 

Stressful life with autism and ADHD

My two oldest and my youngest son have diagnosis in the autistic spectrum. The third of my four sons has ADHD. 

Family life with neurological disorders can be stressful, and I have been living on the edge of stress and in periods even nearing depression for years. 

Exercising is a daily practice to me to stay healthy. Coaching works too. I find, the most important thing is to remain true to my senses.

So I have learnt to listen to myself: My thoughts, ideas and what I say and do. I sometimes write it down in my diary and make mental notes. 

And I ask the question: Why do I think like I do?

Acceptance and appreciation

It is not about analyzing myself, self-therapy or dissecting my mind, feelings or personality.

But the “why” is important: Asking myself, why I have certain attitudes and opinions directs attention towards what’s shaping me.

Fundamentally, I learn to accept and appreciate my thoughts, ideas, and actions, and thereby appreciate myself. It is, as Kierkegaard has reminded us, a daily activity. It is something that somehow has to be relearnt every day. I’m not starting over from scratch, but remaining true to my gut feelings is a daily choice.

29. august: Protreptisk samtalesalon 3, “Hvem er jeg?”

Vi inviterer hermed til den tredje protreptiske samtalesalon. Første gang talte vi om dømmekraften, så om selv-ledelse. Denne gang bliver emnet det helt personlige, idet vi lader samtalen dreje sig om spørgsmålet:

Hvem er jeg?

I det danske sprog anno 2016 er identitet det vi signalerer og viser frem. Måske er det en måde at retfærdiggøre os selv? Måske vi kæmper for at få lov at være noget for andre?

Men jeg er ikke kun ydre. Jeg har en indre oplevelse af mig selv. Har jeg mon en kerne, der er mig og som jeg kan finde? Kierkegaard taler om at jeg er forholdet til forholdet og jeg skal vælge mig selv. Der er mange perspektiver på det. Ole Fogh Kirkeby har skrevet en lille bog om det man måske kan vide om sig selv. Den er næsten et katalog over perspektiver på det filosofiske spørgsmål som vi i tiden er nok mere optaget af end nogensinde før: Hvem er jeg?

Lad os denne gang tage en runde omkring de grundlæggende menneskelige værdier for at finde ud af om de kan tegne et billede af ”mig selv” som det kommer til udtryk gennem mine tanker, handlinger, valg, fortællinger, digte, kunst…

Hvis du har noget du værdsætter og som måske siger noget værdifuldt om dig selv – det kan være noget håndgribeligt som en tekst, et digt, et kunstværk, men det kan også være en fortælling eller et stykke musik – så tag det endelig med så vi kan bruge det i samtalen.

Du er velkommen til at tage en ven eller bekendt med. Nye såvel som tidligere deltagere er meget velkomne.

Dato: 29. august 2016
Tidspunkt: 16.00 – 18.30
Sted: Gjesing Coaching, Prinsesse Charlottesgade 31, kld, 2200 København N
Tilmelding til: karengjesing@privat.dk (obligatorisk af hensyn til forplejning)

Venlige hilsner

Karen Gjesing
Gjesing Coaching
karengjesing@privat.dk / 35 37 82 04

Anders Dinsen
ASYM APS
ad@asym.dk / 28 18 49 25

Hvem er jeg

Communicating models: A psychological perspective

Simon Morley posted a very interesting post about Challenges with communicating models about two weeks ago. Mental models are what we unconscously use to understand a situation, and communicating models to others is an interesting challenge: “[…] models do not transmit themselves – they are not necessarily understood on their own – they need the necessary “synch’ing” to align both parties to achieve comprehension, communication and dialogue”, as Simon summed it up in a comment on the blog post.

Simons post and the very good discussion he and I had about it started me thinking on the psychological perspective and how important empathy is: The “synch’ing” relies on empathy.

I really liked Simons blog post because above all it highlights the subjectivity of mental models. Models are not something you can implement in an organisaton just by e.g. e-mailing them to all employees. If you want someone to ‘get’ your model, you need to actively communicate it. Which is not possible without empathy.

Empathy is something that we associate with friendship and love, but it plays part in all communication processes between human beings, including those we as testers engage with at work.

From time to time we come across people who seems to have a total lack of understanding of what we’re doing: Colleagues, managers, customers. Most of the time, people who don’t understand need only a good explanation of the situation and our point of view. But sometimes, an explanation isn’t enough: Some people just don’t seem to want to understand.

People under pressure or in stress can be like that, and we often associate this with aggressive behaviour, rudeness. Or maybe we just see the rudeness, and only later realise that maybe there was a problem with understanding.

Empathy seems to exclude this behaviour. Empathy relies on a cognitive ‘feature’ of our brain which attempts to copy thoughts and feelings of other people: It tries to decode what those who you interact with are thinking based on verbal as well as unconscious ques, e.g. body language. It’s quite obvious that having ‘a notion’ of what someone else thinks and feels can make communication much more successful – if you feel sympathy for the other persons feelings and thoughts.

This can work both ways: Loss of empathy in a situation can mean that you think everybody else thinks and feels the same as you, and it can cause quite a lot of confusion and frustration when you realise that other’s are’nt thinking the same as you.

It can happens to all of us: The brain is not a perfect and consistently operating machine, but rather a very adaptable and flexible organ. For example in situations of crisis, empathy is one of the first things to go. A person in a crisis shift from being a social creature to goal oriented and focused, typically on survival – at any cost.

There are people who don’t want to understand, e.g. due to politics. But there are some people who involuntarily just aren’t able to get to ”the other side” of the argument, for example because they’re having ”a bad day”.

(Some people with autism and ADHD can be characterised by having problems with empathy. This is a quite severe handicap for them, since not only do they have problems decoding what other people think og feel, they can also have problems seperating their own thoughts and feelings from what other people are thinking and feeling. The sad situation for empathy impaired people is that they often don’t have a choice: Even when everything is good is it extremely difficult for them to decode other peoples thoughts, feelings and intentions – and therefore extremely difficult for them to communicate and interact successfully. Noticing how successfully others interact often just makes them feel plain stupid. This can lead to severe depression.)