Where Should Moderators Come From?


Moderators surface by "natural selection" sometimes. They are often project members whose ability to facilitate a meeting sets them apart. Sometimes they fall into that role simply because they have the most credibility, for a variety of reasons. This article explores different organizations' and different individuals' experiences in how moderators were selected for their respective projects--and offers insight into where moderators should come from.

Human beings develop and test software. The SHAPE forum (Software as a Human
Activity Practiced Effectively) emphasizes that fact. In this forum, the subject of technical reviews often comes up. On a recent thread, the question was a rather simple sounding one: 

"Where do moderators come from?"

But the answers varied all over the place. Since we can benefit from learning what others are doing, let's take a look at some of the responses that were offered.

Respondent A says, "At our organization, moderators usually come from either Quality Assurance or the development organizations. In either case, the funds to support moderators' time come directly from the project."

Respondent B says, "We are careful to select 'strong moderators.' The moderator is expected to have domain knowledge in all other inspections. There was also a natural selection process over three to four years. Projects paid for moderator time."

Respondent C says, "In our development organization, several years ago, moderators were project members selected for their capability to be moderators (reasonableness, technical competence, ability to run a good meeting, etc.). The cost of inspections, including cost for moderator time, was a project expense along with all the other development activities."

Respondent D says, "When one of our divisions first starts to use formal inspections, the moderators usually come from the software quality group. The QA group has the responsibility to help the R&D projects with process improvement...After the projects start to do inspections the volume is then usually too high for the limited number of QA engineers to moderate, and then the projects train additional moderators. We do try to have some project engineers trained from the beginning as moderators, but sometimes we don't get any.

"In either case, QA or project engineer, we try to select someone with the following skills:

  1. Must be willing to moderate
  2. Must have (or be willing to develop) facilitation skills for both meetings and situations
  3. Must have (or be willing to develop) planning skills
  4. hould have good people skills
  5. Must have credibility with the engineers--the team must allow the moderator to facilitate (note: we didn't say "technically knowledgeable of the project domain," we said "credibility with the

engineers." We like to get moderators from other projects. That way, the moderator will tend to moderate instead of being a technical lead to the meeting and add content.)

"As far as who pays for the moderators, the projects get charged for any A engineers, so in either case the project pays for moderators.

"Our bigger problem is finding and maintaining a good Chief Moderator within each division. We have found that having a strong champion and credible person with both management and engineers as Chief Moderator within each division is critical to maintain the process."

Respondent E says, "As we have worked to transfer the Formal Inspection Technology to other divisions, we have started with moderators from the centers' support organization (sometimes the assurance group, sometimes project people). In some cases, we were able to take advantage of project people who brought experience with them from outside organizations.

"Whenever possible, when the moderator was new, we tried to provide support by sitting in on the first inspection they moderated and give feedback directly as to how the inspection went.

"The key for the moderators was experience with inspections and the ability to be objective during the inspection meeting. One of my own experiences, I moderated for a rapid development project and came in as the only person from outside the development team. Without the development background, I was wondering if I was truly needed for their inspections. After

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