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Usability testing for product managers

Watch Alex Cowan discusses how a product manager incorporates usability testing for product success.
In this video we’re going to talk about usability testing. And we’re going to talk about when to do it and how to do it. We’re also going to talk about how it relates to some of the items we’ve already talked about, because those are going to help you a lot with good usability testing. This is important because this failure mode here results in not enough testing. So the product manager says hey, can we do - or can we do more testing, usability testing, before we release?
And the project manager or engineering manager, says you know, the schedule is too tight because we’re trying to cram in too much stuff and we wouldn’t have time to change the thing, even if we did do it. And this is - this is a - kind of a reality for - for <v ->for the way that they perceive the situation,</v> but it doesn’t - this doesn’t need to be the case. The key is to sequence your testing like you see - something like you see here. When most people think of user testing, they think of what I would call validation testing; they’re validating that the final product is really okay. They’re testing how long different things take to users.
The output is - is this ready for prime time and, you know, how long do all these things take? So that we compare them with our field metrics and look at whether our - our testing and our field results are similar and if not, why not. And this is important, but you should start all the way back here. And this is very tightly tied to the prototyping that we discussed, where you’re looking at several different approaches of what might be the interface metaphor that our user would most expect here, find most usable. And then you actually try them out. Your research objectives here are just your user stories themselves.
So are we getting the user to this goal that we stated in the user story or not? That’s what a research item looks like here. You test a few approaches in this phase and then pick maybe two that you flesh out into kind of the whole functional space and you test them with a little more breadth, depth, whatever, kind of, the nature of the interfaces is over here in assessment testing. And then you code it and then you validate it. This is a tutorial - the customer discovery handbook and a Google Docs template that I swear, anyone can do this. If you have a designer or a developer that has done this before, awesome.
That will make it a lot easier. But you’ll go through these things - I swear, you’ll find it really, really, really doable. The one thing that’s a little bit tricky is you need to make sure you create a very specific script to take the user through, because these are interactive prototypes; they change and they adapt, but the user - it’s not real working software, so you’re kind of testing a happy path or a very specific example. So you’ll see examples of this and you’ll learn how to do it with practice. If you want to take a day or two to learn how to do this, I promise you, you’re not going to have any problem. It just takes some practice.
The best way to do this - start from strong user stories. Think about what interface metaphors are most appropriate. Prototype them. Before you make the prototypes interactive or spend too much time on them, create the usability test plan because that’s really your plan about what you’re going to test and the - the prototypes kind of need to support that, not the other way around. So do that. Don’t - don’t go too deep here too soon and you’ll be user testing in no time.
And not only will it help you drive to more usable software quicker and reduce waste with your development team, but it will help you write better stories because very quickly, you’ll see how important this third clause is and you’ll get in this habit of really thinking about - let’s take a specific example with the HR manager. They want to add some custom quiz questions so they can present additional topics that are important to their particular job. So how do we prototype this? Well, we have the screen where they’ve got a finished quiz and we say show me how you would add this question that you hand to them and you see if they can figure it out.
And this is a good litmus test for yourself before you even start prototyping to make sure that your stories have nice testable rewards. We’ve talked about win the prototype and how to take those prototypes and form them into usability tests that you can absolutely do all by yourself if you need to so you avoid this vicious cycle where you’re not testing enough. I hope you’ll consider giving this a try and I promise you that it’s going to help you drive to better software faster.

In this video, Alex walks you through the process of how a product manager incorporates usability testing for product success. Alex talks about how some people think they are “user testing” when really they are “validation testing”. In your own words, how would you differentiate between the two?

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