By Doug Hoffman

Mentoring is an interesting concept to me. Providing guidance is a lot of what I do for a living. Mentoring upwards and across an organization comes in the form of educating people about their needs and ways to satisfy them. Generally, I don’t just tell clients what they need or what they should do, but rather I guide them to their own solutions. (OK, sometimes I plant the seeds of understanding because they’re clueless. But, by the end of the process I’ve guided them to articulate and understand the issues and solutions.)

I use a Socratic method to guide people. I ask leading questions that surface the issues and elicit proposed solutions. The people in the organization are experiencing the problems, so they know what they are even if they may not have pinpointed or articulated them. (If they already clearly recognize the issues and solutions then they don’t need to hire a consultant.) The issues are among the stated problems and appropriate actions are usually some combination of the numerous proposed solutions. The mentoring occurs because the questions I ask guide people to think about and understand the root issues and approaches to solving them. I do this across the organization and up the management chain, so they all learn about issues and solutions.

The final step in this mentoring process is my figuring out the roots of the issues and putting together solutions. I use an iterative process to clarify the issues and “socialize” proposed solutions. By socialize, I mean soliciting feedback on hypothetical solutions in order to refine them and guide people to understand what the solutions might look like. By prompting people with leading questions they themselves draw the conclusions. By the time I write up my findings and proposed actions there are very few surprises. In most cases some of the actions have already been implemented before I formally document them.

A second form of mentoring is more personal. This mentoring happens with other peer professionals who reach out to me for guidance. By “peer” I don’t mean only people with my level of experience, but I consider any software test or QA professional to be my peer in some ways. I’m generally open if someone reaches out to me for advice or guidance (even strangers). Our discussions often draw on my knowledge and experience, but whenever possible I use a Socratic method to help them delve into their issues and lead them to their own answers. With people I know well it is often a two-way street, with my sometimes reaching out for information and advice from a person I’ve mentored.