We, Nicola and Johanna, recently delivered a two day workshop about SBTM (Session Based Test Management) for a large group of about 45 testers.
Both of us were happy and nervous about planning and holding the workshop. Johanna had some experience with delivering workshops since she has teached a class of developers about software testing, but she didn’t write the material on her own at that point.
Nicola had given talks at conferences, mentored testers and been a co-instructor for the BBST Foundations course multiple times but this was her first time co-writing and presenting a workshop.
The participants were all in different levels of experience, some of them were new to testing and some of them had been in testing for over 10 years.
Which level should we then put the workshop on? How could we try to please them all?
We began to prepare for the workshop by having a discussion with the organizer of the gathering we were going to. We needed to know where to focus our efforts on - so they would benefit the most. We also discussed any topics they wanted us to add to the workshop outside of SBTM.
It was good to have the dialog with the organizer, it gave us an opportunity beforehand to make sure we were going on the right track and were giving them what they actually wanted. The organiser told us that some of the participants were familiar with SBTM and for others, it would be a completely new concept. Another thing that the organiser told us is that most (if not all) of their testers have done BBST courses - something both Johanna and Nicola have also done.
We had colleagues, who were more experienced in giving workshops, give us feedback on the PowerPoint slides and exercises that we were preparing to help us to stay on the right track and make any necessary changes. One of the feedback we received was to add some Youtube videos so people have a bit of a mental break at times (we had about 4 videos which were all less than 4 minutes).
We had around two weeks to prepare for the workshop. This was a short amount of time to prepare a whole new workshop, but we did it!
During the planning of the workshop we tried to see how long every slide should take and included these time estimates in the notes section of our presentation. We ended up with adding some extra time in some slides in case discussions went on longer than we initially planned or people took longer to come back from group discussions/activities. Since people split up and went into 5 different rooms for the group activities during this workshop - the time buffer turned out to be a very good idea.
At the start of the workshop’s first day, we decided to arrive at the conference room a bit early so we could set up and see that everything worked as it should. (We didn’t want to encounter any technical difficulties in front of 45 workshop attendees if it could have been prevented). This turned out to be a very good idea! Johannas’ laptop only have HDMI, but their projector only had VGA and she didn’t bring a converter. Nicola have a MAC and no converter to VGA with her. We went to ask the technician and we were relieved when they did have a converter for VGA to MAC (we didn’t have a contingency plan for a 2 day workshop without a projector).
We were surprised when walking into the room to see only chairs, no tables. We were expecting tables and chairs in one room so they could do some exercises with their laptops in groups. There were 5 other rooms that were called workshop rooms which had both tables and chairs.
We got a bit worried since that would mean extra time to get settled before and after every exercise.
The workshop started 20 minutes late as we had to wait for people who didn’t arrive on time. We thought it was a good idea to have everyone start together and not have attendees fall behind from the start. We started off by telling them what we were going to talk about, who House of Test is and who we are.
We had a few slides about SBTM and charters.Then we started some exercises. The timings here were repeatedly adjusted while we checked how we were going for time.
The exercises were as follows:
- 20min charter writing
- 30min test session
- 15min debriefing
We used their own product for the exercises as requested by the organizer. For the first exercise they were working with an area in the product that they were all familiar with.
We ran this exercise several times, but we changed the timing, areas of focus (as in charter, debriefing, note taking etc.) and also which part of the product they were testing, They got to try out their testing skills on both areas they were familiar with and unfamiliar with, along with areas we specified.
During the exercises we could see and feel that the interest for doing exercises went down a bit, not for everyone, but for some of them. At the start they liked it, but after some time it felt like some of the people didn’t really want to do it, or they just wanted to sit and listen to us talking instead.
One feedback after the exercises was that it was good to do them because they got to work with people they usually don’t work with.
We put a lot of focus on debriefing and specifically PROOF (Debrief for Session Based Test Management).
We had a exercise where they were in groups and had to tell each other within 2 min about what they did in their last day at work before coming to the workshop. The groups timed themselves and tried to stay within 2min, but some of them struggled and some didn’t.
During the whole day we changed and moved around some slides, added things that we thought would beneficial and removed things that we thought were not necessary. Time was a massive factor in our decision to edit our presentation.
When it came to time our main limitations were the expected finishing time and the scheduled lunch time at 13.00. We had the flexibility to choose when everyone had coffee breaks - however since we were in a big group and there was a table set up with coffee and biscuits, it seemed that coffee break happened every hour whenever people moved from being in the main workshop area to their own groups or vice versa.
Day 2 also started a bit late even though we postponed the starting time by 1 hour.
We started off by going over what we learned in day 1 and then continued on to note taking and how to extract highlights from your notes.
After doing the last test cycle exercise, we continued on to an exercise which focussed mainly on debriefing and using PROOF. Put simply, everyone seemed to really like PROOF and based on the feedback we got - it was one of the biggest takeaways from our workshop.
We asked a few of groups to come up and show what they’d done during the exercises in day one and how they improved to the last exercise. They also showed some of their real test sessions that they’d done before the workshop. This was very appreciated by everyone - the participants were able to ask the presenters (from the groups) questions and seemed to also learn some new things from their fellow colleagues.
The last part of the workshop was about feedback: What to keep in mind when giving feedback and different ways to give it. We had an exercise where the participants gave feedback on each others test sessions that they did during the workshop. They also gave feedback on at least 1 test document that was produced before the workshop. We also gave them the opportunity to receive feedback from us, but only 2 persons actually took us up on that offer. This surprised us somewhat as we thought they may be interested in an outside perspective, but at the same time we could understand it as they may have not felt comfortable receiving feedback from people who weren’t as familiar with their product.
Later on the evening the team invited us to join them for their team building exercises and both of us really enjoyed it. It was interesting to see how competitive putting together puzzles can get! Johanna finished the night by having some drinks with people at Unity in the Skybar and Nicola played a game called Secret Hitler (which is very similar to Resistance, Mafia and Werewolves).
Final impressions and reflection
During both days we had a lot of questions, ideas and discussions. Some questions started with “At our company, we don’t do it like this so…?”. Or we got it as a statement “This is not how we do it”.
We wanted to share some ideas with them that they could use in their daily work - so that they could do their job more effectively and report (and tailor) their test results to the listener. When having 45 testers, all on different levels within the company, it was very difficult to tailor the workshop for them all. Everyone was supposed to understand what we talked about.
How could we have tailored it more?
Looking back, we felt like we had done the best to tailor our workshop to the participants given the information we had at the time. Mind you, hindsight is a powerful thing. Now that we have done it and can look back on the workshop itself and the feedback we received - paired up some of the more advanced testers with groups more new to SBTM so they could share their knowledge with their fellow colleagues.
Overall, we’re glad we did it. We won’t deny it was challenging and a bit nerve-wracking knowing we’d be teaching SBTM to not only a large group of people but also a very smart group of people who asked intelligent questions throughout the workshop.
One of the key things that we kept in mind was the fact we had to be flexible - a workshop has a lot of moving parts. While preparing the workshop we knew that some parts would be edited, added or removed based on how we saw fit during the workshop.
Giving this workshop was definitely a great learning experience. We received lots of useful feedback on both what we did really well and what we could improve on for future workshops.