Tomorrow will be an interesting day for me, not so much by what I will be doing, but for what I will not be doing.

So far, only once in Weekend Testing Americas history have I physically not been part of a session, and that was because I had just been released from the hospital with a broken leg. Albert Gareev gamely stepped up and took my place for that session, and I’m grateful to him for doing that.

This time, while I have something else I need to do, as I was considering postponing the session until I was available, Justin Rohrman contacted me and said he had a session plan, and wanted to know if he could run with it. I realized that, if I was actually going to have others be facilitators, I had to actually let them facilitate. Thus, rather than wait and postpone until I could be available, I’ve asked Justin to take the lead and facilitate tomorrows Weekend Testing Americas session completely in my stead. Just as Ajay and Markus had to finally decide I could lead sessions on my own, now is the time to for me to put my faith in Justin and let him lead this one on his own.

I’m sure he’ll do fine :).

I shared some thoughts with Justin, and I realized that a lot of the advice I gave him was appropriate to any other testing endeavor, and wasn’t just specific to our Weekend Testing environment. With that, I offer the following.

A Facilitator for Weekend Testing events is really responsible for just three things. They need to manage time. They need to articulate the session goals. They need to encourage participants to get involved. That’s the core of what we do. The rest (setting up sessions, promoting them, adding people to the Skype chat, typing up an experience report, etc.) that’s all mechanics and “busy work”. It’s important, don’t get me wrong, but the first three items really are the most important. Manage the clock. Articulate the goals. Encourage participation and effort. Any test manager in any organization is really responsible for the same things.

Managing time: This is important because we have a two hour block of time. We could do longer, I’m sure, but then it cuts into people’s other commitments, and really, we’re already asking a lot to get testers to willingly give up part of their weekend as it is (don’t get me started on the testers in India that join us at 12:30 a.m. for these sessions… yes, that’s after midnight their time. That puts a whole new spin on dedication in my book 🙂 ). Thus, it’s vital that we keep a focus on the time that we have, and that we accomplish what we set out to do in that short time period with focus and clarity. That leads to…

Articulate the goals: I remember well a couple of years ago when James Bach attended a session and he, rightly, called me out for our sessions being too vague. Since we had such a short time together, it was vital that we were able to make missions and charters that were clear, specific, and targeted to specific tasks. I was worried that such targeted missions and charters would be too limiting. He proved to me that, in most cases, that’s not the case. Even with just testing one simple area of a site, we were able to have a conversation that spanned almost two hours of active dialog, and that was with us looking at just one screen. It wasn’t that the screen was any different than any other, but that the goal was focused and specific, so that we were able to discuss and consider the aspects of that one screen without distraction or loss of direction. It was a worthwhile lesson, and one I try to practice still.

Encourage participants: Some people are just not comfortable with talking out loud, even in chat clients. There may be many reasons for this. Some may be novices, some may have language barriers, and some might not want to be seen to “appear the fool”. I’ve learned to never underestimate the terror of that last one. For many, they fear that they will say something foolish, or appear to be “less smart” among their peers. For this purpose, I often put my own ignorance on display in these sessions. Yes, I’m facilitating, but that doesn’t mean I’m an expert on the topic. Often, I know less than most of the participants… and that’s OK. My goal isn’t to be the one saying everything, it’s to encourage dialog and learning. I can do that best by asking about things I genuinely don’t know, and often, that’s a lot. By my doing so, in many cases, it helps others open up and ask questions, too. We’re not here because we are experts. We’re here because we all can learn from each other, and that’s the whole point of Weekend Testing. We learn from each other, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in much larger ways.  As long as we each learn something to bring to our craft, that’s what matters.

Tomorrow is a new day. A new facilitator will step up and run with the session, and I will not be there. I do, however, want to encourage all who can be there to do so. Details on tomorrow’s session can be found here.