Bringing Empathy into Quality Engineering | TechWell

Bringing Empathy into Quality Engineering

Graphic of two people's minds overlapping, showing empathy

Testers have traditionally been advocates for the end-user. Although recently the role of a tester has changed drastically, the user advocacy perspective will never change.

This role as custodian has introduced new attributes to software quality engineering, including the need for emotional intelligence-based testing and role-based testing, which form a critical piece in empathetic testing.

The book Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft's Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone, by Greg Shaw, Jill Tracie Nichols, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, talks about the need for a clear purpose for each one of us in whatever we do. Nadella says his purpose is to give shape to great user experiences, with a focus on user empathy.

While this is a great message for testers to understand the true meaning of quality beyond day-to-day testing, a closer look shows that empathy for users also may have a significant impact on some core business goals, including faster time to market and reduced overall engineering costs. This is one of the main reasons agile as a delivery model has become relevant globally. Being agile allows us to provide end-user focus, be receptive and nimble to feedback, and still be able to meet the business goals and key performance indicators. Empathetic development is also gaining momentum.

That said, it is also important to understand that end-user empathy cannot be viewed in isolation. It needs to be balanced with other product, engineering, and business priorities so there is healthy elasticity amongst each of them.

The industry is embracing new strategies to be able to achieve this balance. One such practice is design QA, a practice based on the belief that great customer experiences don’t happen by accident. While design QA may sound simple, it can be challenging to start with because it needs not just stakeholder acceptance, but a change in mindset and workflow.

Design QA is a new step that comes in after development to ensure the implemented design is tested and signed off on, so it brings additional cycles to the overall engineering flow. However, these additional cycles can go a long way toward reducing design debt and ensuring that the end-user empathy that was intended has truly been translated at an engineering level. Design QA can be a step taken by designers, developers, and testers to ensure the overall cycle is short yet diverse, with varied sets of eyes looking at the UI implementation.

End-user empathy will continue to play a critical role in differentiating a product’s market reach and acceptance. Balancing it with other business and engineering performance indicators is a role a tester has to increasingly play in the coming years.

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