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Practicing Empathy Driven Development (EDD)

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Ravi Verma, Professional Scrum Trainer and Founder of SmoothApps in his recent blog introduced the concept of Empathy Driven Development (EDD). Ravi describes EDD as an approach to develop software that relies on team members making decisions based on empathy towards impacted stakeholders.

This approach requires development teams to creatively self-organize within the constraints of their organizations, to work around the barriers that isolate them from their stakeholders.

This approach requires development teams to creatively self-organize within the constraints of their organizations, to work around the barriers that isolate them from their stakeholders.

Chris Svec, senior principal software engineer at iRobot defines EDD in software engineering in his blog as:

Empathy Driven Development is my attempt at making software engineering (and other types of engineering) better, specifically for the engineers who do the work. 

Ravi said that EDD is complementary to Agile software delivery with scrum. EDD is a key to scrum activities and events like backlog management, backlog refinement, sprint planning, daily scrum and sprint review. He shared some of the common obstacles to EDD as follows:

  • Stakeholders inaccessible to development team
  • Un-validated assumptions about stakeholder needs
  • Layers of proxies between stakeholders and development team
  • Distrust between stakeholder proxies and development team
  • Cynicism / apathy towards stakeholders
  • No time / money to connect with stakeholders

Ravi suggests using the stakeholder empathy map as the beginning step of using EDD. He explains the process as:

  1. Create a grid with flip-charts and tape.
  2. In the first column, team members put posts-it for all stakeholders then review and refine as a group
  3. Now, team members put posts-it to capture in 140 characters or less for each stakeholder’s…
    • Accountability: what outcome are they responsible for?
    • Most valuable: what do they consider to be most valuable in the software they use, to help them deliver on their accountability?
    • Most painful: what do they find most painful and frustrating in the software they use to deliver on their accountability

Ravi shared that exercise of stakeholder empathy map results in good conversations, un- validated assumptions, action items to connect with stakeholders and many follow-up actions and conversations which increase stakeholder empathy.

Chris gave a talk on EDD at the embedded systems conference Boston 2015. In his talk he says that empathy is not a new tool.

Empathy is not a new tool in the engineering world. Our colleagues in the user experience and design worlds have been using it for years to put themselves in the shoes of their end-users and customers. What I am trying to do is to bring it inside our engineering teams so we can have empathy for each other, as well as our future selves.

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