Agile development, or any kind of iterative development process, thrives best when it incorporates the feedback of customers into the process. And while some teams choose to have a person on the team who "represents" the customer, usually this isn't the actual customer.
At some point, you've realized the feedback from real customers beats feedback from simulated customers. At least, I hope you have.
So: how do you integrate usability testing into your sprint planning?
There are a couple of ways, depending on how your sprints are structured and how long they are. The single most important factor is going to be: the time it takes to recruit appropriate test participants.
Recruiting for research is the biggest variable
Recruiting test participants is a topic in and of itself, but suffice it to say that it is less of a task for one person to take on than an entire vocation. Unless your target user base is Agile software developers, you are unlikely to have anyone on your team who would be appropriate. And customers - especially for enterprise software - can be notoriously difficult to find, schedule, incentivize and coordinate.
And when I say “customer”, I mean “the person who is going to pay money to use your product or service.” I do not mean “the customer representative on the Agile team.” If you try to substitute someone who “represents the customer” for the person who “actually pays money”, then you miss out on the biggest benefit of usability testing: risk mitigation. By putting off interaction with real customers until after your product is built, you’re just waiting until after the development process has ended to see if you’ve actually built the right thing which solves the right problem.
A few pointers:
Integrate where it will cause the least disruption first
With those items in mind, here’s how I like to integrate continuous usability testing (or more broadly, customer research) into a series of Sprints.
Note that this overall cadence can scale up or down fairly well: I have integrated it into 4-week long sprints, and into 5-day long sprints. Technically, if you have everything lined up well in advance (recruiting, your testing script and plan, a place to conduct your research, etc.) you could integrate customer testing into a 1- or 2-day long sprint (think “hackathon” or “design jam”.) The feedback will be quite a bit more shallow, but if you’re iterating fast you may be able to make use of it still.
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