Testing Principle 3: Empathy

Melissa Fisher
3 min readJun 5, 2023

My third principle is based on empathy for your customers, stakeholders and colleagues.

Empathy with colleagues and stakeholders

When I was a Test engineer in a team, I would happily go away and explore testing a new feature. I would write down all my exploratory notes. What I observed, both good and bad, any problems, suggestions or questions. One area that I was particularly passionate about was usability testing, how easy a product is to use. I would use my emotions to my advantage. If I felt frustrated with the product, perhaps something was taking too long to complete, then I would write it down as part of my notes. Then I would approach the team and talk through my observations.

The reactions I received, especially in my early career were things like “You’re not the user” or “We’re not going to fix this”. I would get over frustrated and overall question my value .It was quite demoralising and I really started to soul search and wonder what my role was even for.

As I’ve gained more experience I have learned that you sometimes need to

  • Take a step back
  • Find common ground
  • Understand from their perspective

When I have questioned to understand I have realised there is more going on in software delivery. One time a product owner came back and said to me that they are getting a lot of pressure to deliver this feature from stakeholders. This made me think more from their perspective and how sometimes, other stakeholders are pushing the buttons.

Imagine what other team members may be feeling or thinking. For example, imagine developing a new feature. Spending hours and hours on creating it. Then someone else comes along and points out problems with it. The only way you’re going to react well is if the person pointing out the problems does it in a compassionate and supportive way.

Empathy with your customers

I did a talk at Nordic Testing Days in Estonia last year titled, Using brain science to build better products. You can check it out here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzOPt25lMMM One of the topics I talk about is emotions. How you can use emotions to drive your testing, which will help you find some interesting bugs.

Speak to your customers

Also, what I would suggest, is to speak to your customers if you have the option to. I was once reviewing a User Acceptance Testing (UAT) phase. Our customers would run through a set of tests on their pre-production environment before we did a release. I paired with a customer success manager and we had 1 to 1 conversations with customers to understand how we could improve. It was a really enlightening experience to hear what the problems were, along with what was going well.

Speak to people on the front line

If you can’t speak to your customers, find the people at the front line to speak to. Your support team members, account managers or sales. They will be able to tell you what is going on and will help you to build empathy with your customers.

As always, thanks for reading. My next on the series of Testing Principles will be on the topic of the role of the tester.

Previous posts in this series:

  1. Looking at the bigger picture with risk https://fishouthebox.medium.com/principle-1-looking-at-the-bigger-picture-with-risk-46feddd8f827
  2. Purpose — Why are we building this product and who are we building it for? https://fishouthebox.medium.com/principle-2-purpose-why-are-we-building-this-product-and-who-are-we-building-it-for-cd765f020e91



Melissa Fisher

Thinking outside the box and disrupting people's thinking.