Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Five Techniques for Getting Buy-In for Usability Testing

Getting buy-in by management and others ...

"For more than seven years, I’ve been teaching and coaching design teams on how to conduct usability tests and gather user feedback early on in the development process. One of the questions that comes up time and time again from clients is, “How can we get buy-in for usability tests from management and other team members?”

Through our own research at UIE, and in our ongoing discussions with expert usability practitioners, we’ve identified several proven techniques for getting stakeholders onboard.

1. Start Testing Right Away

Start testing. Start doing it right away. We’ve found there isn’t any one experience more beneficial to design teams than running a usability test. I’m still amazed by how quickly development team members recognize the benefits of usability testing once they’ve actually seen it in action.

When I’m teaching courses on usability testing, I’ve found that no amount of lecturing about the benefits of testing gets development teams onboard and past their skepticism. Instead, people only truly comprehend the power of testing once they’ve observed a user interacting with a design.

If you’re struggling to communicate the value of testing to your management or fellow team members, stop explaining the benefits and start demonstrating them. I’ve yet to see a test where the design team fails to gather some new piece of valuable information about the users’ needs.

When development teams start watching users interact with their designs, they’ll typically see two possible outcomes, both positive. In some instances, usability tests confirm the team’s existing beliefs about how users will use their products. But, in the much more common outcome, teams observe users experiencing problems with the design and identify gaping holes in their assumptions.

2. Debunk the Myth that Usability Testing Is a Big Production

One of the biggest obstacles design teams face when trying to sell testing is the perception that usability tests need to be a huge production.

The best way to tackle this resistance is by debunking the myth that testing has to be a big deal. Usability testing isn’t rocket science. The organizations that do the best job of incorporating usability tests into their existing process understand that testing is not a big deal.

The best organizations make usability testing a part of their everyday culture. To convince management that testing doesn’t need to be a huge production, we recommend design teams start simple. You can start by testing 3-5 users and disseminate that information throughout your organization.

Other experts agree. In an interview I conducted in 2002 with Rolf Molich, one of the world’s most respected usability practitioners, Rolf suggests:

“If your goal is to “sell” usability in your organization, then I believe 3-4 users will be sufficient. Much more important than the number of users is the sensible involvement of your project team in the test process and proper consensus-building after the test.”

Many teams are resistant to usability testing because of the belief that they need to spend money on state-of-the-art usability labs, or they are concerned they won’t find the right users. Again, our recommendation is to start simple: Test on a computer in your office cubicle and start testing with someone, even a co-worker, to begin gathering data. A usability test doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to happen.

3. Start Testing Early in the Process

Many organizations are concerned that testing will disrupt project timelines because it may necessitate major design changes before launch.

However, time and time again, we find that design teams actually save time (and money) when they start testing at the beginning of a project. By finding usability problems very early on, teams prevent themselves from going in the wrong direction, leading to wasted time and resources.

The most successful teams have learned that the best way to create usable designs is to make informed decisions from the beginning of a project. They view testing as a technique to gather information to create great designs in a more timely and efficient way.

One of the best techniques for getting early feedback on a design is paper prototyping. Using common office supplies, development teams can build a working prototype of a design in a matter of days. We recommend that teams use this technique in the first few weeks of development. By identifying usability problems early, stakeholders very often see that the technique saves valuable time in the long run."    (Continued via uie, Christine Perfetti)    [Usability Resources]

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