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The Mentor in Quality Coach

Last night I attended What Does the 'Coach' in 'Quality Coach' Mean?, a talk by Vernon Richards for the Ministry of Testing meetup in Brighton.

Vern described a common transition from tester through quality engineer and into quality coach on three dimensions: process, product, and team. In that view, a tester tends work in one team on one product and have influence on team-level process; a quality engineer is still team-based but takes a broader view on process; and a quality coach extends the process oversight further still and works across teams and products.

This would typically mean that the problems in front of a quality coach are less about the technology and more about the people.

How should a coach deal with that? By providing perspective to those fighting the fires, always taking a position of "unconditional positive regard" which is to say that the coachee has the right information and abilities to solve their current problem.

Coach and tester skill sets overlap. One example would be a progression through problem solving by exploring the context, defining the problem, and managing the outcome. A significant difference is that the tester seeks to understand, but the coach seeks for the coachee to understand.

In fact, it is not necessary for a coach to know anything about the problem domain in order to help the person they are coaching. (This is exemplified by The Coaching Habit, which gives seven context-free questions to structure a coaching interaction with.)

That's interesting because we might expect that a quality coach would need to know something about quality and, in fact, that was a key point in this presentation: the 'Coach' in 'Quality Coach' really biases more towards 'Mentor,' someone with expertise and experience in the problem space who can provide suggestions and frame problems in domain-relevant broader contexts.

For what it's worth, my own preference is to think of coaching, mentoring, teaching, and so on as conversational tactics rather than as a role straightjacket. Switching between them as the needs of the person I'm helping changes has been immensely valuable, in my experience.

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