STAREAST 2015 Interview with Parimala Hariprasad on Designing a Robust Test Strategy for Mobile Apps


Parimala Hariprasad on her STAREAST presentation. Look for more keynotes, sessions, and interviews at this year’s STARWEST conference in Anaheim.


In this interview, Parimala Hariprasad discusses her presentations that cover user experience testing, how to create a test strategy for today's mobile apps, and how analytics and user reviews can facilitate the creation of a good test strategy that evolves over time. 

Jennifer Bonine: We are back with another virtual interview. You may have seen her yesterday in the lightning keynotes, if you guys tuned in for those. I have Pari with me. Pari, thank you for joining me.

Parimala Hariprasad: Thank you. My pleasure.

Jennifer Bonine: You made a long trip to be here.

Parimala Hariprasad: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: You came all the way from Bangalore.

Parimala Hariprasad: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: In India. First time at this conference, you said. Right?

Parimala Hariprasad: Yes. Yep.

Jennifer Bonine: What do you think so far?

Parimala Hariprasad: It's been good. Great.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah?

Parimala Hariprasad: This is a very different conference, in my experience, in terms of organization, moving things around, and the kind of content that's being presented. I also got to meet a lot of old friends, and make new ones whom I knew on Twitter.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. You were following some of the folks, maybe, on Twitter before you came, and now you actually get to meet them in person, and connect with them.

Parimala Hariprasad: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: That's fun!

Parimala Hariprasad: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: In terms of—that's a really great point for those of you who haven't been to a conference in India. You said a little bit different experience at this, versus one there. What are some of the differences, just for folks that may be watching and have never been to one there?

Parimala Hariprasad: For one thing, there are many people in the European division, the American division, who are really great at what they do, in testing. People like James Bach, Michael Bolton, Paul Holland, and a bunch of others; whom we don't get much access to if we were to be in India. We have to fly to this part of the world—

Jennifer Bonine: To get them.

Parimala Hariprasad: —to get them. That's one thing. The second thing is in terms of how the conference itself has been organized and managed, has been a very wonderful thing to know, because usually there are some hiccups here and there; but I didn't spot a single thing in the last one week. So well-organized, and amazing volunteers.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. It's funny, right? It just goes so smooth. These guys are such professionals. I was talking to Dorothy Graham, who did the keynote this morning, and she was at the very first STAR conference there ever was, and she's seen them all along the way—and they've been going since the 1990s, so they've had lots of years of experience to get it right. One thing you get when you come to these—I think to your point, seeing it for the first time and not having US conferences experiences—they're very different, and they're very organized. Great speakers, and good people that you can connect with; and they're very accessible. So you see the Michael Boltons, and the James Bachs, and the Jon Bachs, usually when he's here. You've got all those people kind of readily available to you, to have access to.

You had a tutorial, and the folks who are watching in our virtual conference don't get a chance to attend the tutorials because they're not here, so maybe could you talk a little bit about your tutorial on UX and user experience, and kind of what you think is important to take away out of that around understanding UX and ...?

Parimala Hariprasad: Sure. I actually started studying design a few years ago, just out of curiosity. I started to feel that there were a lot of lessons in the design world that we could take back into testing, in the form of user experience testing. That's when I adopted some concepts like, affordances, signifiers, gulf of evaluation and gulf of execution. Concepts like those from the design world; and transformed them into testing techniques for user experience. I've been able to create some techniques like emotions testing, customer touch points testing and multi-sensory experience testing; and apply them to several projects in the last four plus years. What I saw was the kind of impact it was able to make with different types of clients.

I've tried these techniques with startups and also with large enterprises, and the response was really amazing, in terms of what kind of information we can provide to the stakeholders. A majority of us might think that emotions and decisions don't go together; but user experience testing just disproves that and says you have to have emotions, and you have to make good use of them to be able to build great products. Another thing that I would like everyone to know is that somehow there is this perception that user experience comes in one just small phase and design, or maybe in testing, if the product and the organizations are very mature; however, user experience is a very broader concept that engulfs the entire software development lifecycle, and you can begin with user experience in the visibility analysis stage, requirement stage, design stage; whatever you would like to do some user experience.

I think in the coming few years we should evolve this testing to be able to test wire-frames when they are ready, to be able to test paper prototypes, and so on. That way we get in early into the system, and secondly we become more sensitive, empathize with the way user uses products, and build that into the products.

Jennifer Bonine: Right. You give some examples for those that maybe didn't see it yesterday in your lightning talk about executives where everyone in a company getting in closer to the customers, getting in closer to what their feedback is, understanding their point of view. Maybe give some examples of where you've seen that in companies you work with, and where it really makes a difference.

Parimala Hariprasad: Yes. Yes. Companies like Flipkart in India, which is being touted as the next Amazon, is making sure that every executive on their board spends at least one day in a month with the customer touch-point teams. For example, if it's a call center, then one of the executives spends one full day in a month in the call center taking calls from customers to understand pain-points. One of the co-founders, Binny Bansal, went to the extent of accompanying the delivery boy to deliver a parcel to the customer, all by himself without mentioning that he's the co-founder of the company. Things like these help develop access to how the customer is being serviced and what are the areas where they can improve.

Now it's not enough anymore if you build great products; you need to build a great delightful and memorable customer experience around it. That is what companies like Flipkart have been doing. That is what every other organization should be doing to be able to create a good impact on the minds of the customers. That's what will make the product sticky.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, and to you point, that stickiness right around it of, loyalties have changed, to the point you made about, it's not good enough to just have a good product, you have to create that experience that gets them to want to stick with you, and want to stay with you, and want to be a fan of your product. A lot of people in the marketing space have been talking about it, and the people in the design space have been talking about it; but it's great to see; in the testing space we should be thinking about it, just the same way they are in making those products sticky and creating that amazing experience that says, "Why would I go anywhere else? I love this product. I'm just a fan of this product." You know, in having that.

In terms of differences you see in adoption of that, are you seeing certain types of companies more open to adopting that philosophy than others, or are you seeing it kind of across the board?

Parimala Hariprasad: Yes. In general, people have been very skeptical about adopting it, because it's like, "I'm a tester. Why would I test for customer touchpoints? That's not my job." So there's this push back all the time, especially with testers, because they're already overrun with so many things that they don't want to take one more thing to add to their working basket. However, in my experience in the last three, four years, I've seen smaller companies and startups being very open to it, and they're like, "If you're going to give me a different kind of an information using a different method or approach, I'm happy with it." Many startups are very open to it.

Some large companies have adopted it, only after several iterations of seeing positive results. If I went up front and said, "You know what, I'll do this and this will change your world." They're like, "No, no, no. Focus on what you've been asked to do." If I focus a little bit of time, and did something and showed the results, and the results were impressive and had a good impact; they're like, "Okay. Let's do this one design." It takes time. It needs a lot of openness. Usability and user experience in general, have been highly ignored fields, and need a lot of push. It's going to take awhile, but at the end of the day you need to keep at it, and keep nudging people around you to do it, and also do it yourself, and show the results around.

Jennifer Bonine: Where are some places if people want to learn more about it, and how to incorporate it into what they're doing, some resources or places they can go to get information on it?

Parimala Hariprasad: One of the places is my blog, where I've written a lot about it. There are also websites like by Don Norman. Don Norman, Jakob Nielsen, Steve Krug—these are the people that have done extensive work on usability and user experience. The website at Smashing Magazine, as well, are really good for resources.

Jennifer Bonine: Okay. A couple of things for those of you watching out there, if you're saying, "I'm interested. I don't know how to do it. Where do I go?" Those are a couple of places they can go. You mentioned your blog. How do they find your blog?

Parimala Hariprasad: Just Google my name and they'll get it, first thing.

Jennifer Bonine: Okay. Perfect. We didn't spell your last name, so ...

Parimala Hariprasad: This is Parimala Hariprasad.

Jennifer Bonine: Okay, perfect. Hopefully they got that.

Parimala Hariprasad: Do I have to spell it?

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. That'll be great.

Parimala Hariprasad: P-a-r-i-m-a-l-a H-a-r-i-p-r-a-s-a-d.

Jennifer Bonine: Perfect. Just in case; so we get it. Perfect. So just kind of your background, we didn't talk about where you came from and how you got so interested in this, and took this up.

Parimala Hariprasad: I started testing about twelve years ago, started out as a tester. A few years ago in one of my previous companies, one of my bosses called Pradeep Soundararajan, Pradeep was my mentor and teacher; happened to push me onto one project which asked for user experience testing. That's when I started to study a little bit around it, and got too interested in it, so much that most of my weekends would go in studying the subject because once the project was over, it was nowhere related to any other project. I kept working on it, kept working on it.

Jennifer Bonine: It became a passion of yours.

Parimala Hariprasad: Yes. Presented it at different conferences, including testing conferences and UX conferences, and design conferences, and started evolving it. Eventually it became so interesting, I moved to a full-time UX architect job.

Jennifer Bonine: Wow! You were that interested in it, you decided to move into it. We have run out of time. It goes so fast! It was so great talking with you. If people want to get a hold of you after this, go to your blog?

Parimala Hariprasad: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: One way to find you, be able to connect with you, if you have more information; go there. You can get lots of information. Thank you so much for being here with us. I appreciate it.

Parimala Hariprasad: Thank you. My pleasure.

Parimala Hariprasad

Parimala Hariprasad spent her youth studying people and philosophy, and in the workplace she applied her learnings to helping create skilled testers. Parimala has been a tester for more than eleven years in domains of CRM, security, e-commerce, and healthcare. Her expertise lies in test coaching, test delivery excellence, and creating great teams that ultimately fire her because they become self-sufficient. Parimala has experienced the transition from web to mobile and emphasizes the need for design thinking in testing. She frequently rants on her blog Curious Tester, tweets as @CuriousTester, and is on LinkedIn.

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