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Usability testing

Paul Sturrock
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Joined: Apr 14, 2004
Posts: 10336

Do Lisa or Janet (or anyone else for that matter) have any experiences fitting usability testing into an Agile project?

I know Agile stresses that business representatives are a key part of the software development process, so presumably some ad-hoc usability review goes on as the project progresses. But is there a place for proper, controlled usability testing? How do we avoid the business users with the strongest opinion pushing the application down an unusable route?


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Ilja Preuss
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Sheriff

Joined: Jul 11, 2001
Posts: 14112
Paul Sturrock wrote:
I know Agile stresses that business representatives are a key part of the software development process, so presumably some ad-hoc usability review goes on as the project progresses. But is there a place for proper, controlled usability testing? How do we avoid the business users with the strongest opinion pushing the application down an unusable route?


No Agile approach I know suggests to simply follow the business user(s) with the strongest opinion. In contrast, most advice to assign a specific person to be the business representative, who then has the responsibility to make final, binding decisions; in XP, he is called the Customer, in Scrum the Product Owner etc. This business represnetative naturally should take his responsibility serious, and might have a team of experts at his help - possibly also including usability experts.


The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny - it is the light that guides your way. - Heraclitus
Paul Sturrock
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Joined: Apr 14, 2004
Posts: 10336

True. No Agile approach suggests this, its just reality. In non-agile projects we often got bad design suggestions from the customers even though it was their product we were producing. Our interaction designers would then perform proper, controlled usability testing prove the particular choices the customer favoured worked (or otherwise) when put infront of real users. I'm just wondering if there is a way do simmilar stuff in Agile. Do we need an interaction designer as a business representative, even though they are not really a business representative?
Ilja Preuss
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Sheriff

Joined: Jul 11, 2001
Posts: 14112
Paul Sturrock wrote:True. No Agile approach suggests this, its just reality. In non-agile projects we often got bad design suggestions from the customers even though it was their product we were producing. Our interaction designers would then perform proper, controlled usability testing prove the particular choices the customer favoured worked (or otherwise) when put infront of real users.


How well did that go with the customer? Just curious...


I'm just wondering if there is a way do simmilar stuff in Agile. Do we need an interaction designer as a business representative, even though they are not really a business representative?


I can see at least three ways of how you could see this in an Agile context:

- have short iterations and at the end of every iteration release the system to real users. Assume that the team will inspect and adapt to the feedback they get,

- treat usability as a business need and make usability expertise available to the business representative, or

- treat usability as a part of technical excellence and therefore just make it an ingrained job of the development team. Let the business representative specify what the users need to be able to do, but not how they will do it.

Depending on context, I could see all three approaches work well for a project - actually, probably best a flexible mix of all three. The most important thing is that you keep reflecting on how well what you are doing works for you, and adapting to your specific needs while keeping the values and principles of Agile Software Development in mind.
Paul Sturrock
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Joined: Apr 14, 2004
Posts: 10336

Ilja Preuss wrote:
Paul Sturrock wrote:True. No Agile approach suggests this, its just reality. In non-agile projects we often got bad design suggestions from the customers even though it was their product we were producing. Our interaction designers would then perform proper, controlled usability testing prove the particular choices the customer favoured worked (or otherwise) when put infront of real users.


How well did that go with the customer? Just curious...


It usually goes well; the interaction designers here are good at what they do, and particularaly good at getting buy in from the customer about the interface choices that come out of this process. Its hard to argue against the test results, especially if the customer (or we, its not just them that have bad ideas!) come up with a stinker of a UI idea. A transcript of several dozen users saying "I'm not sure what this is for...", "No idea what I'm supposed to do here...", "This looks ugly..." etc. has a very sobering effect on anyone.


I think we have started to gravitate towards your second suggestion and we are pestering our product management people to do the first. The third is harder, since we are not the target user for this application and so can't really think of ourselves a usability experts. It would be nice to have some sort of testing in our approach to verify we are not just heading down a cul de sac of a functionally perfect but ultimately unusable application.

Thanks for your input as always Ilja.
Janet Gregory
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Joined: Jan 25, 2009
Posts: 31
Jeff Patton has been doing a lot of work in the user experience and agile world. I attended a workshop quite a few years ago when he first proposed how User Centric Design could fit into agile methods. His website has quite a few articles. I suggest you start there.

http://www.agileproductdesign.com/

Janet


Co-author, with Lisa Crispin: Agile Testing: A Practical Guide for Testers and Agile Teams (Addison-Wesley, 2009) www.janetgregory.ca
Brandon DuRette
Smart Bear Support
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Joined: Jul 06, 2009
Posts: 8
Steve Krug (author of Don't Make Me Think) has some interesting thoughts on usability testing that mesh very well with agile processes. His basic philosophy is:

  • Do a small number of usability tests early and often (i.e., each iteration).
  • Grade the usability tests on a curve. No need for the person to be your exact customer, user, etc. Just get a feel for how much they know about computers in general and the specific problem domain.
  • Fix only the most blatant problems with each iteration.


  • For more:

    http://www.sensible.com
    http://network.businessofsoftware.org/video/steve-krug-on-the-least-you

    Code Review Tools - Code Review and More - The Smart Bear Blog
     
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    subject: Usability testing