Can End-Users Help Enhance Product Quality?
It is a well-accepted fact that bringing end-user focus into a product is very important to its overall success. Testers have been viewed as end-user advocates in every product team. They have been equipping themselves to play such a role by: talking to the business and marketing teams to understand end-user needs, reviewing user-reported defects, and conducting beta test efforts, to name a few.
The testing community has been focusing more on how the tester can be an end customer representative, and several blogs talk about how to successfully accomplish this. While this is still important in the current day, what is becoming more important is to engage end-users in the product development cycle in every possible way—both explicit and implied.
In an explicit way:
End-users can be crowd testers—Referred to as beta testing, dog fooding, crowd testing, etc., this can be a paid or an unpaid effort with the mission of getting a representative set of users to evaluate the product before its complete launch. This is not necessarily working with a crowd-sourced vendor to source testers. With just a little thought and resource investment, product companies can directly implement crowd-sourced testing to reap significant returns.
Feedback from the field—Testers need not route all of their end-user communication through the business teams. While it is important to work in unison with them, they can scout for opportunities such as product demos to have direct discussions with end-users to understand their perspective and recommend design/feature suggestions for subsequent releases. Thus end-users are helping push quality upstream through their representatives—the testers on the product team.
In an implied way:
The live data end-users provide in using a product is invaluable. Data is a key component to the success of a test effort, and building realistic data is not an easy task. By saving, analyzing, and reusing live end-user data in a secure manner, especially for performance and functionality testing, the test effort can be made very realistic. However, the words "secure manner" cannot be emphasized enough. To avoid any invasion into user privacy and security, it is extremely critical to have in place the right stakeholder permissions, masking techniques, and secure storage procedures.
User profiling—using tools such as Google Analytics to gather data about users’ system configurations, pages they visit the most, and times of the day when their usage loads peak—can provide valuable information to incorporate in compatibility and performance testing efforts.
Instead of just driving testers to be end-users, the paradigm shift has to be toward driving end-users to be testers. A team of end-users and proactive testers is a powerful combination in building superior products in the current agile world.