ARTICLE: Julee Peterson

Why your engineering team should regularly attend your user testing sessions

When your engineering team is in the midst of an agile development sprint, they must be laser-focused on the tasks that comprise the next leg of their work. That sort of tunnel-vision is a good thing. Good, that is, so long as it’s tempered with an appreciation of your users’ needs. 

You see, unless engineers intentionally approach their work from an empathetic, user-centric perspective, they will naturally prioritize technical limitations and considerations over other factors — sometimes at the expense of user needs. 

In order to properly prioritize users (and the solutions that best serve them), product teams must give engineers ample access and exposure to user testing sessions. Doing so helps to build empathy for users, strengthens your team’s internal partnerships, and enables them to keep the larger product goals in mind even when they are in production mode.  

Why Your Engineers Need to See User Test Sessions

Even on product teams with good communication, engineers can sometimes perform their work in a bit of a vacuum. This is especially true when they don’t have a detailed understanding of the work your UX team is doing. 

When that’s the case, they are liable to feel as though designs are being thrown at them over a wall. They may have little context beyond a list of desired outputs. And when your engineers don’t understand the bigger-picture goals, they are much more likely to become myopic in their work. (The same is true for everyone on your product team, by the way). 

You want members of your engineering team to be thinking, “how can my work serve the user?,” not “how quickly can I find a solution and check this item off my to-do list?” 

The best way to get engineers to keep users top of mind is to involve them in your user testing sessions. You may be hesitant to do that. After all, your engineering team’s production time is precious. And they already receive tickets with user stories that are specially constructed to communicate users’ needs. So why interrupt their flow? 

Here’s the thing: When engineers get to see actual users of the product interacting with their solutions, the whole thing becomes much more personal. When they see someone struggling with a piece of the product they’ve worked hard to build, they typically take it to heart. More often than not, the result is a newly heightened sense of ownership and a desire to make the user’s experience better. 

How to Engage Engineering in User Testing

There’s no one right way to loop engineers into the user testing process. Some teams may take a more structured approach (in which engineers are required to attend certain testing sessions). Others might be more loose in an effort to protect their schedules. However you structure it, the important thing is for your engineers to have easy access to user testing sessions, whether in real-time or in the form of recordings. 

Remember, your goal is to develop a culture of collaboration between your UX team and your engineering team. The more points of contact you develop between the two groups, from the initial kickoff meeting to new product launch or update and everything in between, the richer that culture of collaboration will be. 

There are several ways to encourage your engineering to engage with user testing. These include: 

  • Routinely inviting engineers to user testing sessions. 
  • Recording user testing sessions for later viewing. 
  • Creating an open archive of participants and their recorded test sessions and making the archive accessible in a centralized repository. 
  • Sharing key insights from user testing sessions with the engineering team. 
  • Building tickets for engineers that are framed as user stories and structured as “user + action + benefit,” not “intended technical solution.” 

In many cases, it makes sense to adopt all of the above-mentioned tactics. Some are duplicative (an engineer who attends a test session isn’t likely to also watch the recording, for example). That’s OK. The more options you give for your engineers to engage with user testing, the more likely they are to attend or review test sessions as part of their normal process. 

Ideally, once your engineering team has viewed a few user testing sessions, they will start to understand why the UX team’s process is so important and want to continue investing in that partnership. 

The Benefits of Exposing Engineers to User Testing Sessions

There are many other benefits of looping your engineers into your user testing process. By paving the way for a more collaborative stance, you can: 

  • Get engineers out of their silos. When they are able to regularly witness user testing sessions, they naturally become more attuned to your users’ needs. And they are also more likely to keep your bigger-picture product goals in mind, even when they are in heads-down production mode. 
  • Build empathy for users. Without exposure to real people using your product, “users” may be nothing more than an abstract idea for engineers. By regularly looping your development team into your user testing sessions, you can help them build up and maintain empathy for your users. Empathy is like a muscle; the more you flex it, the stronger it gets.
  • Strengthen your overall team. Teams that frequently collaborate together build empathy and camaraderie and are more likely to be in alignment around shared goals. Bringing engineers in closer contact with the UX team’s work can serve to improve internal team dynamics, with engineers gaining a deeper understanding of their UX colleagues and vice versa. When that happens, your engineers are more likely to be receptive to the UX team’s recommendations and acceptance standards. 
  • Drive creativity in generating user-forward solutions. When engineers get to see the problems their product’s users face first-hand, they may be able to offer up solutions, that are already a part of the systems architecture, that you may not be aware of. They can then collaborate with the team to come up with solutions that can help get the team across the finish line faster.

If you aren’t already regularly including your engineers in your user testing program, now is the time to begin. Encouraging a deeper partnership between your UX and engineering teams will result in a stronger, more aligned team that keeps users top of mind and achieves best-in-class results.

 

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    Julee Peterson

    As Senior UX Designer / Accessibility Lead at Openfield, Julee brings a tireless dedication to creating stellar user experiences that work for ALL users by leading our efforts to stay at the forefront of ADA compliance and inclusive design practices. She holds a Master of Science in User Experience Design from Kent State University. Outside of the office, Julee enjoys cruising on her motorcycle when the weather’s nice, gardening and furthering her love of cooking and baking with challenging new recipes. She is currently satisfying her thirst to learn new things by teaching herself to play the cello and speak Korean. 반갑습니다!

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