Test usersIn many circumstances, test users play a significant role in developing software applications. These users offer software developers an outside perspective of the project, often helping developers gain insight into potential areas of trouble that might have been overlooked or passed over because of familiarity with the system. Test users can also provide feedback from a targeted audience: a software development team creating a customer relationship management software system for higher education can have a user with a similar profile explore the technology, offering opportunities to cater the further development of the system. Test users help developers discover which areas of the software perform well, and which areas require further attention.
Research notes that test users can prove to be most effective in providing developers a structured overview of the software creation. These users can provide a fresh perspective that can reflect on the state of the CRM development without the typically narrow or invested focus of a software developer.
A 2007 study suggests some important steps are needed in creating a quality and effective test environment for software development. In this case study, researchers observed a Danish software company in the midst of new creating new software with usability in mind. The study found these four observations most appropriate:
- The developers must make a conscious effort and commitment to the test user. Researchers note that the company had dedicated specific research space and staff focused exclusively on usability.
- Usability efforts must carry equal concern in the eyes of developers as other technology-related concerns in the creation stage. The study found that test users became discouraged when items flagged as needing attention were marked as lower priority by the software developers.
- Realistic expectations from both test users and software developers help maintain a productive environment. Researchers note that developers began to limit seeking input from test users after the test users suggested remedies the developers felt were improbable, leading the developers to believe consulting the test users would only prove to be more work.
- Developers must make themselves available to test users and colleagues alike throughout the creation process of a software system.
Additionally, involving too many test users can prove cumbersome and delay the development of a CRM system. Additional research notes that test users may be able to identify an area that proves challenging in a software system, but might have difficulty explaining the outcome. A related 2007 case study noted that test users were able to describe roughly a third of the usability problems. Further, the language used by test users in many circumstances proves to be quite general and lacking the specific nature needed by developers to enact real change.