Friday, November 14, 2014

On Coaching Agile: Techniques - Make a Bold Statement

In coaching agile methodology or coaching in general making people to leave their comfort zone or pushing them out of it would be key to get your message across, to bring about a change. You want to make them think, open up their minds to the new concepts and ideas. There are several techniques to achieve this. Last time I was talking about the power of a simple question: What do you want to test?

This time I want to focus on another technique I use a lot: Make a bold and simplified statement.

What do I have in mind by that? Well a bold statement would be something that stands middle of the road, massive, hard to get around, a bit provocative too. You have to deal with it when it happens on your way. There is no way of slipping through unnoticed.

When coaching you want to make the people that attend the training or that you coach on the job understand what you have to say. I guess it is a common observation that people that attend a training at some point or the other tend to drop out of it for different reasons. So every now and then it is required to retain their attention, distracting them from whatever they would do at this very point in time. Making a bold statement or repeating it could do the job very well. Here are some examples of what I have in mind: J.B. Rainsberger claims Integration Tests are Scam and David Heinemeier Hansson declared TDD is dead. Long live testing.

One I would use very often would be: "There have to be unit tests". Well, sure it is not as bold as the two prominent examples above. It was meant for a different audience. But what they share, all of them are catchy and promise a message that would make people listen. Either for they think they would agree or not. But whether or not a statement will be received as bold or even disruptive or not very much depends on the context. In a context where there are only a small number of unit tests around but a huge number of long running UI click tests a simple statement like "There have to be unit tests" could be a really bold statement that would get a lot of attention, positive and negative of course. Tell you what, it really did.

If the bold statement you are about to use works or not depends on how well it fits the context you would like to use it in. It is supposed to put emphasis on a hot topic or a pain point the trainees experience in their daily work so they are able to relate themselves to it. It should be simple and rather short to be remembered. It should wrap up a message you want the trainees to understand. And of course there has to be a message in the first place and you should be able to explain it at every length at every time. As coaches we are not supposed to resemble the yellow press - just punchlines and nothing else. A good punchline helps but there has to be more to it.

The statement "There has to be unit tests" clearly is short and one could remember it quite well. But it clearly has an offensive touch to it when presented to a team that works on a code base that is so highly interwoven that it is not at all unit testable just like that. In order to bring in unit tests there have to be major refactorings prior to it. It simplifies the message, which would be to incorporate a test portfolio that resembles the testing pyramid we all know. So, what it definitely does not say and not even mention is that integration tests would be forbidden for all times. But it has been received like that and there were huge discussions following along. To be honest that has been the best that could possibly happen. Out of a sudden I've got all peoples attention. Most of them were disagreeing. But finally I was able to make my point.

Suppose you do have a message, sure you have. You wouldn't be coaching if you wouldn't have any, would you? So, you've got your message. And now? When coming up with your punchline be cautious to make it bold enough otherwise it would go unnoticed. You would not get the attention you want to get. You would not get people out of their comfort zone at all. If it is too bold, on the other hand, it either will be noticed but it does not grab hold in peoples minds for they do not relate to it. Or they will feel really offended which would spoil you as a coach.

There is one side effect I should mention here. A bold statement tends to become a synonym for you. It is like there is a sticky note on your forehead with this statement written to it. You will be cited and you will be misunderstood. People take the statement and try to turn it against you. You have to stand it. You have to preach over and over again. Repeating the message all over again.

A checklist to summarize:

  • distracts people
  • makes you get peoples attention
  • wraps up your message in a memorable little piece
  • annoys and breaks indifference
  • needs the right tuning for the audience you would like to address
  • easy to be misunderstood
  • could be offensive and repulsive

Read also:
On Sporadics - How to deal with intermittent tests in continuous delivery

The opinions expressed in this blog are my own views and not those of SAP


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