Involving users throughout the software-development cycle is touted as a way to ensure project success. Does usability testing count as user contact? You bet! But since most companies test their products later in the process, when it’s difficult to react meaningfully to the user feedback, here are two ways to get your testing done sooner.
Prioritise. Help the Development team rank the importance of the individual programming tasks, and then schedule the important tasks to complete early.
- If a feature must be present in order to have meaningful interaction, then develop it sooner.
- If a feature need not be present or need not be working fully in order to have meaningful interaction, then provide hard-coded actions in the interim, and add those features later.
- If a less meaningful feature must to be tested because of its importance to the business strategy, then develop it sooner.
For example, email software that doesn’t let you compose the message is meaningless. To get meaningful feedback from users, they need to be able to type an e-mail.
Developers often want to start with the technologically risky tasks. Addressing that risk early is good, but it must be balanced against the risk of a product that’s less usable or unusable.
For example, if the email software lets users change the message priority from Standard to Important, hard-code it for the usability test so the priority is always Standard.
For example, email software that lets users record a video may be strategically important for the company, though users aren’t expected to adopt it widely until most laptops ship with built-in cameras.
Schedule. For each feature to be tested, get the Development team to allocate time to respond to usability recommendations, and then ensure this time is neither reallocated to problem tasks, nor used up during the initial development effort of the to-be-tested features. Engage the developers by:
- Sharing the scenarios in advance.
- Updating them on your efforts to recruit usability-study participants.
- After developers incorporate your recommendations, retesting and then reporting improvements in user performance.
Development planning that prioritises programming tasks based on the need to test, and then allows time in the schedule to respond to recommendations, is more likely to result in usable, successful products.