Tag Archives: user experience

Why we need a better tool set for building software

At the end of my last blog, I asked, “So – why is technology flawed? Why not build it well in the first place?” There could be several reasons, today I want to discuss just two of many:

  • Limited types of people in the industry: The software engineers do not always understand what is needed because they may not understand the people who will use the technology. Because of this they may deliver software that is the product they themselves want to use. This means technology can be biased towards the type of people who are already software engineers.
  • Automation bias and poor decision making: The software engineers and the non-engineers on the project team may have a toolset that does not enable them to make good decisions. Yes, all the flaws in technology that I talked about in the previous blog are also true for the tool set that software engineers use. The tools are intended to help decision making in the project. Is the software ready? Has it been tested? Does it work? Are there any risks in delivering it now? But if the tools are flawed, and hard to use, people are more likely to make poor decisions with poor outcomes. That will lead to flawed software and potentially an ugly UX for everyone else. Note that technologists and software engineers also suffer from software with flaws in it, software that is hard to understand, and tools that prompt them into automation bias.

Two sayings that come to mind here “a fool with a tool is still a fool” and “a poor workman blames his tools” and it would be easy to stop at that. But the industry has spent too long building up some traditions around old mind sets and old tool sets that favour old ways of doing things. If technology and software is to serve and reflect the widest population, to everyone’s benefit, then the teams need to reflect society. If the teams reflect society, then the tool set needs to be easily used by a wider range of people, not just the obvious technologists.

As Seth Godin remarks in [Demand Guardrails] “If peer pressure and short-term urgencies set us up to do things we regret, we come out ahead when we support cultural changes that remove that peer pressure and lessen those short-term urgencies.” This blog is a call for a change to the tool sets used by software engineers, to make them easier to use, easier to understand, and supportive of good decision making that tends to a beautiful UX for everyone. We need to support cultural changes in the world of software engineering that remove the peer pressure of being the same as we’ve always been. We need to support cultural changes that remove short term urgencies that stop us mending out tool set. We are the cobblers, and we are the cobblers’ children with no shoes.

Old tools sets are hard to use. Early sewing machines required skills with the machines that are not needed by modern machines; a sewer today can concentrate much more on the project, and less on the tools. Early cars were hard to drive, with starting handles and double de-clutching to master. Modern cars are easy to start, easy to drive, automatic gears and power steering. The driver can concentrate on the journey and the destination. More people can use a sewing machine now, and make their own clothes. More people can drive, and have the independence to make journeys. [Rise of the female petrolhead, Car electric starter, Treadle sewing machine difficulty]

I would like to move software engineering tool sets to beyond the treadle machine and the car with a crank handle starter to a modern, smooth system where automation and tools serve the project team rather than being a hindrance. This will address both the problems above:

it is like working with something designed to be used by a 12-year-old boy in his bedroom in the 1980’s”.

“Why would I want to use a tool called Github?

But this is not just a problem about gender or culture; the tools are themselves flawed and old-fashioned.

  • Tool flaws: IT teams are themselves beset with the same problems and frustrations with the tool set they have to use, and this leads to the release of highly flawed software. Many IT tool sets are almost deliberately arcane and are gender biased. Many become “shelfware” – purchased but hardly ever used. Others are used with automation bias – the results are wrong but are treated as correct. Here are some more quotes from developers, testers, and researchers about flaws in tools

Developer: “I spend 50% of my time wrestling with the technology instead of solving the problem I am working on” Quote from WII meeting

Software tester finding decision making not supported by IT toolset: “The test tool marked all the tests as passed except 1, but in fact none of the tests marked “passed” had actually run” Quote from Fewster and Graham “Experiences of Test Automation”

Problems with customer support tools: “Ethnographic research paints a sad picture of the current state of the ITSM market.   …vision is to build a solution designed for humans, not processes” [http://blogs.ca.com/2016/01/27/moving-itservice-management-to-the-21st-century/]

Evidence that developers do not find tools easy to use: “…so now I wanna know why raising a string exception is bad. Like what should I be doing instead? Since it thinks it’s a problem. And so none of these really help me…” (Why Don’t Software Developers Use Static Analysis Tools to Find Bugs? By Johnson, Song, and Murphy-Hill).

Evidence that tools do not work for IT people “…a lack of consideration for how people work and think … basically it’s still the mindset that the human adapts to the computer, not vice-versa.” (A Taxonomy of Tool-Related Issues Affecting the Adoption of Model-Driven Engineering by Whittle, Hutchinson, Rouncefield, Burden and Heldal)

In the previous blog I said: The reasons that technology and software may prompt poor decision making include defects in the software […or that it…] may function correctly, but in a way that does not aid people in making good decisions. … dealing with frustrations, defects and consequences of poor engineering is a bad experience for the people using the technology; a flawed, ugly UX. That is true for tools used by the teams delivering software, and is a key root cause for the problems we all experience with delivered software.

What I will propose in my next blog is a solution to these problems.

Why everyone needs a better experience of software

If someone makes the wrong decision what might be the impact? It could be frustrating, or dangerous, or even fatal. We all make decisions all the time – what to eat, what to wear, what to read or watch. And frequently we make very important decisions – financial decisions, life changing decisions. We also rely on experts and professionals (nurses, doctors, pilots, financiers, politicians) to make decisions for us.

Apart from our own knowledge and brains, the tools we have to help us are technology, and software. Technology is cheap, and has become the basis for much of people’s decision making.

Software as part of that technology is now ubiquitous, but often fails to delight us. It fails to support good decision making. When the technology goes wrong, when the software is flawed, what is the impact? For example, a satnav that is out of date may give us directions that take us into a road that is no longer driveable. As humans we then need to engage our own brains and override the suggestions of the satnav. But often when automated decision making is provided, people will over-rely on it and fail to over-ride flawed decisions – the [automation bias].

This is important because of the breadth and scope of the decision making that technology supports. Many people are using a wide range of different systems to make many types of decisions:

  • The impact of our decisions may be personal (shopping, dating, entertainment, directions for travel) and important to us, an individual.
  • The impact may be organisational (financial forecasting, data analytics for marketing) where the outcome of the decisions is important to a board and shareholders.
  • It may be geographical, political and global (weather forecasting, border controls, international policing) and important to citizens of many countries.
  • One country’s politicians may use decision making systems local to one country (medical/health population trends, voting systems) and the impact will be on the politicians and the general public.
  • The people using technology may be experts / professionals (doctors, nurses, pilots, farmers) or lay people (patients, travellers, shoppers).

The reasons that technology and software may prompt poor decision making include defects in the software that mean it does not function correctly. If we are lucky, the defect will be sufficiently bad that it is obvious the output is wrong, and so people will correct the software, or ignore/override it. Sometimes, the software is wrong, but it is difficult to see that it is wrong. In that case, people are misled into trusting it, and so may make poor decisions based on flawed advice. More subtly, the software may function correctly, but in a way that does not aid people in making good decisions. The software may be slow, insecure, hard to use. The “user experience” (UX) that a person has when using technology and software should be beautiful, that is what is intended. But dealing with frustrations, defects and consequences of poor engineering is a bad experience for the people using the technology; a flawed, ugly UX.

So – why is technology flawed? Why not build it well in the first place? I will discuss  a couple of the reasons for that in my next blog.

Quality in Use tutorial: SEETEST Bucharest

Quality in use is a really important concept for IT teams to understand. We get very focused on building, testing and delivering functionality. We also put some emphasis on what testers call “non functional testing” in other words testing quality attributes other than functionality. In particular, performance and security testing are a focus for many teams. However, customers choosing a product will be looking at whether it is usable, flexible and safe – they assume it’ll work functionally. They will also be drawn to products that provide the right experiences – we use words like excitement, flow and trust to describe how someone experiences a product or service. Attributes like functionality, security and performance are important because they are the foundations that underpin great quality in use, and a beautiful user experience.

I’m really happy to be going to Bucharest in September for SEETEST, where I will present a half day tutorial on Quality in Use and the user experience. It’s my first time in Romania, so I’m taking a few extra days to look around Bucharest. Looking forward to that, and to the conference. The tutorial summary is below.

Quality in use

… the beating heart of the user experience

Public presentation

  • Half day tutorial for SEETEST 15 September 2016
  • Also available as an in-house 1 day tutorial on request


The class is principally aimed at practicing testers and test managers who want to improve the alignment of their testing to the business and user needs.  This includes people in roles such as system testers, test analysts, test engineers, test consultants, test managers, user acceptance testers and software developers. No prior knowledge is assumed and attendees do NOT need a PC for this course.


As testers, should we focus on details or on the big picture? Our skill set and comfort zone is often in the detail; we find excitingly obscure bugs and report these problems in detail. But does our zeal sometimes cause us to miss the big picture of what the customer and the business really needs? Do we focus on software defects at the expense of human and commercial factors? In today’s business environment, the user experience and the commercial imperatives have become overwhelmingly important. As testers it is vital that we understand quality in use and the user experience, in order that we focus our tests correctly.

“Quality in use” measures products and services looking at human, business and societal impacts; this includes usability, accessibility, and flexibility for the customer and business, as well as commercial, human and environmental safety. These are underpinned by technical and engineering attributes of a product, and build together into a “User Experience”. For the people selling, supporting or using the products, this is the beating heart of the customer experience. How well are people supported to effectively and efficiently carry out their tasks? Is the product accessible to all the people who want to use it? Does the experience of using the product generate human reactions of trust, excitement or other reactions that will encourage users to continue using and to recommend the product? Do we reach the customers’ hearts as well as their purses?

Without these “big picture” attributes, delivered software will not be acceptable, will not keep our organizations in profit, and may not be legal. The benefits of designing in and testing these attributes will make the users more effective, more efficient, and increase the marketplace for our products and services.

In the tutorial, Isabel will use examples from ISO25000/ISO25022 and from real projects to discuss how testers design tests derived from the user personas, contexts of use, and acceptance criteria.  This requires testing during early testing of concepts and designs and later testing on built products.

Standard ISO25000/ISO25022 defines a group of attributes and metrics that build from the internal engineering qualities and attributes, such as the functional attributes, performance measures and security, to the Quality in Use attributes of usability, context coverage and freedom from risk, with the user experience attributes such as trust, excitement and flow are at the top of the pyramid. Trust, excitement and flow in a task all affect the human heartbeat – user experience is the beating heart of the user experience.

Participants will learn:

  • To distinguish the layers of quality that must be designed and built into products, and tested;
  • How to understand and meet the context of use for each customer persona, from the internal quality through quality in use, to the user experience;
  • How to focus testing on customers, end users and the business;
  • How to select attributes from each layer of the user experience pyramid to track and measure during testing;
  • How to agree acceptance criteria for testing internal quality, quality in use and the user experience.

UX? What about TX for Test Automation?

Test automation is intended to increase speed and accuracy of information about the SUT partly by allowing engineers to improve the speed and usefulness of their communications.

The best possible interfaces and user experience for the person testing are required to support this otherwise the use of automation will decrease rather than increase velocity of projects.

If the speed and accuracy of test information provided to teams is lowered, with poor test reporting and inaccurate decision making, engineers and managers will become frustrated. It may even lead to disaster.

Good automation tools will help us make good decisions about the SUT and maximise the value of the limited time we have to deliver software products to market. Poor automation tools will delay decision making, increase the likelihood of errors of judgement, and they frustrate both engineers and managers.

Current practices (agile, build pipelines, devops) arise from a need to address delivery speed and accuracy as well as engineering quality. But automating the tests and then forcing people to spend time inaccurately and slowly interpreting the outcomes simply is not cost effective or helpful.

There are many examples of poor interfaces and tools contributing to, or even forcing, humans to make bad, even fatal decisions. Examples such as the London Ambulance Dispatch system (http://bit.ly/1tr2TJZ), and the EU Farm Payments online application system (http://bbc.in/1xEoUE3) show us that poor interfaces can be time wasting, expensive and dangerous.

This matters for test automation because, although automation tools are written and serviced by engineers, the people who use the automation can be non-technical for example user acceptance representative, product owners, business sponsors, managers or end users. Does the information they get from the automation and provide to engineers improve in speed, accuracy and usefulness as a result of the automation or not? What will maximise our ability to get the most from the test automation? What will maximise the accuracy and usefulness of the information provided to engineers, managers and others?

There is a need for TX for Test Automation: that is, the Test Experience for those people who will request, design, and review the results of the automated tests and monitoring. This requires information design and delivery (arguably the purpose of our industry).

Attention to detail “front of house” for the UX for customers and end users can be extended behind the scenes to TX for the engineers, benefiting all. TX can be improved, by consideration of the UX for the automation tool and the tests so that methods and lessons from User Experience Design (UXD) and User Experience Testing (UXT) may be applied to test automation.

We need to consider human factors (as the engineers are human too) as well as the support of improved decision making around quality, speed and accuracy of responses to issues.

My three key points?
– Test automation requires consideration of the UX for the tool and the tests;
– People who use automation might not always be technical but they are always human;
– UXD and UXT for test automation supports improved decision making and quality.

(This post also appears on my “Isabel Evans Writing” blog.)