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A Short Guide to Conducting User Tests

Five simple steps towards improving product quality and increasing adoption


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Jimmy Soh

3 years ago | 3 min read

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Why conduct user tests?

Below are three key reasons that I chose to conduct user tests with my users before launching the digital product to the masses:

  • Validate: ensures that the product fits the needs and provide value for my target users/groups
  • Educate: allows users to gain some familiarity with the product before launch to minimize training and questions regarding product usage
  • Advocate: leverage on users’ network to share about the product’s new features and facilitate the adoption of the product

I have consolidated the five steps which I took to conduct a simple user test for my users:

  1. Establish test objectives
  2. Select target profiles and groups
  3. Define an outreach approach
  4. Create test scenarios
  5. Consolidate feedback

The above steps would vary based on your organisation’s setup and scenario; in my case, the test was conducted bilaterally or with a maximum of three users over a duration of thirty minutes as some of my users are pressed for time and working remotely due to COVID-19 measures.

I will be sharing with you some of the details of the conduct below.

#1: Establish test objectives

Setting and communicating the test objectives at the start puts the user in the right frame of mind to properly address your objectives in a focused manner.

The objectives are indicated on the first slide of my test document. Here’s an example:

  • Ensure that the user is able to achieve the planned journeys smoothly
  • Obtain feedback on features to be removed and added

You may also wish to refer to the list of objectives towards the end of the test to ensure that the objectives are covered.

#2: Select target profiles and groups

Your product features and user flows would usually cater to multiple groups of users. Therefore, it may be wise to prioritise and segment test sessions for specific groups of users based on the product road map and release plans.

My initial test sessions involved a larger group of users in support functions rather than key business functions because the product features were primarily catered for the group at that point in time due to feature dependencies.

Each test session can involve a different proportion of users and groups from various backgrounds. For group sessions, it’s often recommended to separate senior management from the group into another session so as to not influence the decision and feedback within the group.

Plan your user test sessions in advance in tandem with the product release cycles and road map for the specific users/groups.

#3: Define an outreach approach

Once you have your target profiles and user groups planned, it’s time to tailor your outreach approach to them. Your approach can vary depending on the user’s seniority, work arrangements (COVID), location, and organisational culture, etc.

I have leveraged on formal emails (special invitations), conversing with seniors/management face-to-face, and referrals to reach out to the various groups of users. I have found the top-down outreach approach to be the most ideal.

#4: Create test scenarios

Defining the test scenarios beforehand in the form of a problem statement serves as a useful guideline and provides direction for your users to navigate your system to achieve their goals.

An example: You have been tasked by your manager to generate a progress report for your team in the month of January. Visit the system to download a report to send to your manager.

The above example provides the user with an objective to be achieved, rather than browsing the system aimlessly without a goal in mind.

#5: Consolidate feedback

The bulk of the feedback and insights should be documented during the test — and it’s best to include an assistant to help with the taking of notes while the tester focuses on the user.

Prepare digital/hard copies of the product screen flows beforehand so that you have space to annotate feedback for the respective screens.

I used Microsoft PowerPoint as a tool to consolidate key findings and grouped them using an affinity matrix to discover common patterns; alternatively, you can use Post-Its as well. Findings are evaluated and subsequently raised as improvements or bugs in JIRA for the delivery team to address in the next product release.

Additional tips:

  • Give credits to the testers/users — carve out a specific section of your product launch/release emailer to include the names of the people who have helped with the co-creation of the product/feature
  • Send gifts and thank you messages — show appreciation and reiterate the feedback obtained from the user (e.g. in the form of an email summary) to verify that you have heard them correctly
  • Outline the conduct — break down the conduct into specific time slots with clear objectives and things to do at each slot, so that users can mentally prepare themselves for the various items

There are many ways to conduct a user test. The success of user tests heavily depends on catering the conduct to your organisation’s unique setup and structure. This post is meant to serve as a guideline to establish your own user test conduct :)

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Jimmy Soh

In perpetual beta—playing at the intersection between digital technology and business.


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