Thanks to Twitter (go ahead and follow me) I am delighted to share the link below to a tremendous success story from Jared Spool.
Jared is one of the world's leading experts on usability. Many of the people I write user guides or online help systems for don't really know much about usability. They don't really know very much about the people who are going to use the products they work so hard to produce. That's a great shame, and a bit disappointing.
When I ask people if they have thought about including usability testing in their development plans they often say that the product has been through QA, or that they have allocated three days for User Acceptance Testing (UAT) at the very end of the project. Neither QA nor UAT is a substitute for usability testing.
QA testing is important, as it makes sure that when someone clicks on button A the programme displays screen B (or whatever). It doesn't test whether an ordinary user can find out if they need to get to screen B, and if they do, whether they'll know that the best way of getting there is by pressing button A. UAT is important, as it allows the client's representatives to verify that the product being delivered meets the requirements in the spec (that's always assuming that there is a spec). In my experience, UAT is normally a rushed job, and is commonly so close to the product delivery deadline that there is no time, or budget, for any remediation if a problem is identified. Moreover, UAT rarely involves any of the front line staff who are going to use the product, so it can't answer the question of whether the product helps them do their jobs.
I often spend time with product development teams and hear all about the many wonderful features of their truly amazing products. But when I ask them to tell me about the business tasks that will be easier to complete successfully by using their product, they don't have an answer. They don't have the user's point of view. Without understanding the user's point of view I can't write effective user guides and online help, and developers can't really create useful products.
Usability testing is all about the user's point of view, and the user's experience of doing their job with your product. It involves observing real users performing real tasks, and watching what happens. It involves being objective about your product, and listening and taking notice of what people who are totally unconnected to the development process - yes, complete strangers and total amateurs - have to say.
If you think that usability testing would be a waste of time and money, would delay your development timetable, and wouldn't bring you any tangible rewards, it's time for you to read Jared's story. Enjoy!