One of the most beneficial features of agile-based development is the extremely rapid response time that short development iterations provides. When you aren’t bound by strict contractual guidelines, you can respond freely to emerging issues as the software develops. Unforeseen problems can be detected and addressed quickly and efficiently. There is one area of software development that can especially benefit from this ability to respond to new information but it is often overlooked.
User Experience is an incredibly difficult field to predict. Use cases and personas can help get you on the right path but to really fine tune the user experience you need feedback from your users. This feedback can give you excellent information about how to improve your user’s experience while interacting with your application. In traditional development, the development iterations are so large that scheduling the changes derived from the feedback takes too long and the information is ultimately out of date by the time the development begins.
The development of the agile process and short deliverable iterations has sparked a movement in the UX community around user testing control groups. The idea is that a select group of users is singled out from the rest of the user base to try out a UX change being proposed. Feedback in the form of user comments, the time the user takes to interact with the new elements, mouse movements and clicks and objective success rate can be measured and recorded to determine if the new change has successfully improved the experience for the user. If it works well and the data is good, the user group can be expanded to a larger selection of the user base and the results will be recorded and analyzed again. This is possible in the agile development process because changes can be administered extremely quickly and adjustments can be made after each test cycle to improve the experience further. If the change turns out to be confusing to the user or generates other negative feedback, the change can be reverted quickly and a different attempt made to address the issue.
Many of us can see this process in action in the services we use every day but are often unaware we are beta testers for new features or changes. More and more of the larger companies are implementing UX User Testing practices into their development process, enabling them to experiment with new features on real users and gather feedback before releasing major changes to their entire user base. This is a process that will provide a keen edge against competitors who do not poll their community of users to find areas for improvement.
Today’s users live in a fast-paced world where everything changes on a daily basis. Since they are used to such change, as long as it’s change for the better, they’ve come to accept it as being a good thing. Don’t be afraid to let your users tell you what they want. Make sure you are designing software your users want to use, not just software you want them to use.