When most people say 'coaching', they mean at least three concepts:
➔ Teaching, which is done by a subject matter expert
➔ Facilitating a larger group to accomplish some goal
➔ Helping someone work through a problem or grow personally.
Where a sports coach may need to know the game they are coaching and facilitate the team, a professional coach using the model from the International Coaching Federation may not;; they focus on the third part of the definition.
The ICF defines coaching this way: Coaching is partnering with individuals in a thought-‐‑provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.
When we say 'test coaching', we typically mean all three, as well as the ability to flip between roles to know which is appropriate.
A context where I used this skill:
Years ago I was working with a tester based several time zones away. He was asking me for help on a project which was your large, international, waterfall story. The testing work was being done by a different team than was doing main development which was different than component development, which was different than integration test ... and most of those were on different continents. Several of the pieces had aggressive deadlines, some things were late already. Of the things that had been delivered, everything was either buggy, or at least the piece didn't play well with each other. Because the teams spoke different languages to do the day-‐‑to-‐‑day work, each claimed their piece was working according to its specification, and the other team was the problem. My friend wanted to know what I thought. I told him my prediction of the future: The software would be buggy, and it would be late.
Not really rocket science, was it?
I think my friend knew things weren't going to work, but he was still holding out hope for some sort of divine intervention, that management would magically cut scope, change the date, or in some other way charge in on a white horse and save the day. Recognizing that things weren't working out was, for him the first step toward figuring out how he was going to respond to this reality, which was really the only thing he had under his control.
The next step was developing options -‐‑ things like transferring departments, changing roles, changing companies, blowing the whistle, or, perhaps, "keeping his head down and trying to stay out of trouble when people begin to realize the wheels are off the project." For that part of the conversation I moved for telling to asking questions. Ultimately, he made some tough decisions, and today is living a much more satisfied professional life.
How I'd recommend someone learn this skill:
If we defined coaching as a mix of at least three skills along with skill to pick a "stance" -‐‑ to know which is appropriate for the audience -‐‑ then students can go learn all three of those skills.
I'd also recommend the person who wants to learn coaching start by being coached and observing what the coach does. James Bach and Anne-Marie Charett offer free Skype coaching through the Association For Software Testing, and MiagiDo is a free, non-‐‑commercial, zero-‐‑profit school for software testing that teaches excellence in testing through study, (test) exercise, and coaching.
Becoming a Technical Leader , by Jerry Weinberg
Coaching Software Testers , by A Eurostar Webinar, Anne-‐‑Marie Charrett
Why You Many Need An 'Agile Coach' (Whatever That Is) , Matthew Heusser for cio.com
In Pursuit of Coaching Excellence by Ann-‐‑Marie Charrett