MOT Bloggers Club March 2022

??? is an underrated skill in testing

Another interesting topic and a revival of the bloggers club courtesy of Nicola Lindgren. As you’ve probably guessed by the title, I believe facilitation is an underrated skill. A skill that is useful not just for testers, but anyone who works with other people. Basically everyone.

What is facilitation?

to make easier : help bring about

Definition from Merriam-Webster

Good facilitation enables good collaboration. Working together can be difficult. It can be hard for people to reach a shared understanding. We all explain and interpret things differently, with our own viewpoints and biases.

When I think of facilitation, my first thoughts are of meetings. This is where good or no facilitation can make a big difference. Which I’ll discuss shortly.

We can still facilitate when we’re not in meetings. There are so many ways we can make things easier, or bring about positive changes:

  • Sharing ideas or tips
  • Peer review
  • Pairing with people
  • Taking on small jobs that benefit the team
  • Experiments
  • and so on …

How about meetings?

I’ll use these as general examples. I’m aware short meetings can also be badly run, and a poor experience for everyone.

The good

Like most people I have meetings in my calendar. Most are well-defined and the purpose understand by the attendees. e.g. daily stand-up / scrum. These I don’t mind. We’re well practiced, and know why we’re there. In a stand-up we’re there so share our progress and the environment is positive. We want to progress our tasks and remove any blockers.

The not so good

We’ve all have been in meetings which have left us feeling less than thrilled. I’m not saying we can walk out of every meeting feeling joy. But some experiences are better than others.

Being in those meetings I’ve found myself asking questions like:

  • What was the point of that?
  • Did I need to be there?
  • What happens next?
  • Why did X talk so much?
  • What point was Y making?

Some of which are very relatable.

What’s the difference between the two?

In general, things were not facilitated well. Good facilitation happens before, during, and after the meeting.

Before the meeting

A meeting is an investment of people’s time and energy. Both should be respected. The audience should be right people, and no more. Where possible an agenda should be set out in advance so people know what the meeting is about. This may not always be appropriate, but even a brief meeting purpose sets the scene, and manages peoples expectations. It’s not fair to expect people to contribute without any upfront information.

During the meeting

A meeting that flows well, and includes people in a conversation, is going to feel better than watching one person update a document. I don’t believe only one person can facilitate at one time. There are many opportunities to make things easier, even if it’s not your meeting.

Good facilitation keep things moving:

  • involve people
  • ask questions
  • playback your understanding
  • take notes
  • raise actions

After the meeting

People have invested time and effort. At a minimum they should be thanked, and next steps agreed.

Why is this useful for Testers?

If we consider the places Testers often find themselves:

  • Working with developers on stories
  • Working with business analysts
  • Questions about requirements with product owners
  • Talking to other testers

All of these interactions need collaboration to achieve shared goals. They are often trying to solve problems, or uncover information. These things help understand risks and influence our testing.

I would rather be part of the conversation, and try to make things a little better, than do nothing and deal with the consequences.