How user testing fits into agile development

Posted on June 7, 2016
2 min read


Agile has become the go-to development methodology for organizations that want to reduce the risk involved in shipping new products and features. But even though agile has helped many companies make huge workflow improvements, agile teams can still end up building products and features that nobody wants. Developers’ time is extremely valuable. In a perfect world, developers would spend 100% of their time building new products and features. In reality, an estimated 50% of engineering time is spent on doing rework that could have been avoided. What’s more, fixing an error after development is up to 100 times as expensive as it would have been before. So how do you avoid making these mistakes? How do you reduce uncertainty and prevent the overall failure of the products and features your team ships?

Skip in-lab testing and opt for remote user testing instead

One reason teams often cite for not testing their products with real users during development is that user testing takes too much time. Between recruiting users to come into the office, setting up the labs, and moderating the sessions, getting user feedback can take days or even weeks. And that simply doesn’t make sense for agile teams. The solution: remote user testing. With remote user testing, you can get video recordings (with audio) of real people from your target market as they use any website, mobile app, or prototype—speaking their thoughts out loud while they complete tasks you specify. And with some remote user testing platforms (including UserTesting’s platform), you can recruit your exact target audience and get feedback within an hour. Your team can test a new design or user flow within a single sprint, validating that they’ve made the right decision as the feature is built. The process can start with sketched concepts and extend through wireframes, prototypes, and live code. By making a relatively small investment of time and money early in the process, you can validate your product decisions before investing in development, and prevent your team from building products and features that users don’t want.

Run parallel design and development sprints

Many leading companies find that the most effective way to incorporate user tests into their agile development cycle is to have their design team (UI/UX designers, visual designers, user researchers, and product managers) run a design sprint parallel to their development team. The purpose of the design sprint is to:

  • Identify problems through user research
  • Validate solutions through iterative testing
  • Prepare user stories for the Product Owner to prioritize in time for the Iteration Planning Meeting (a.k.a. Backlog Review)

That way, while your engineers are writing code for their current iteration, your design team is identifying the problems and validating the solutions for your developers to work on in their next iteration.

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