Want instant usability feedback? Try a commando test

Usability testing is when programmers have normal people like you and me test out their software to see if it works.  Traditional usability testing tends to require outside people finding services and can be expensive, inefficient and time consuming.  This post discusses the practicalities of using commando usability testing, because it is faster, cheaper and require less developer time.

Problem: Frequent usability testing is required as part of the rapid iteration cycle for lean development.  But the available solutions are either expensive, require significant lead time or the participants are of low-value.  They also may require spending programmers time that could be used more profitably elsewhere.

Solution: Working with a usability tester who understand lean startup and can talk directly to the programmers to determine what functionality needs to be tested and what user results are needed will get you the results you need.  By using public spaces, quality feedback can be generated quickly and at any almost any time of day for a very low cost.  Short surveys taken after the usability test will provide critical demographic information.

Goal: Get quick feedback for usability testing purposes from people in public venues.  Record the testing session.  Engage the user in a fun and entertaining way.

Coffee shop – for shorter feedback requirements

Requires one “greeter” at the door, who greets people as they come into the coffee shop, explains what’s going on, and takes orders.  The greeter gives the order to the barista who tallies up all the charges against a credit card on file.  A sign will be used that states: “FREE drink of your choice for a few minutes of your time.”

The greeter then hands off the “tester” to the “usability guide” who would start the tester on a computer.  When the coffee is ready, the usability guide would give it to the tester.

This kind of scenario calls for rapid usage of whatever is being tested and would require the test be broken into smaller segments.  Rather than having one person perform a series of complicated tasks, several people will perform smaller tasks.

Bar – for more involved feedback requirements

Would only require one usability guide to approach people at the bar and offer to buy a round in exchange for a longer test, maybe 10-15 minutes.  A sign could be used to have interested parties approach the usability guide who could be setup at the bar.

The advantage of a bar is that you have more people ready to socialize and be approached, are in one space for a longer period of time, and act more like a “real” user than someone in a lab setting who is concentrating harder on the task at hand.

A bar with adequate lighting and low-levels of background noise would have to be chosen.

Cafe – for medium length feedback requirements

I’m distinguishing cafe from coffee shop in that someone will be coming in to eat, rather than just have a coffee. When a person comes in and is ready to order food, the order is placed through the greeter and the tester is connected with the usability guide.  Because the tester is waiting for food, there is a longer window to run the usability test.

I’m excited because this weekend I’ll be conducting a usability commando test with an iPhone running software company.  I’ll be writing up a full report to post here.  Anyone having success with commando testing?

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Posted in Testing ideas in the real world

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