My First Alpha Test, or, The Importance of User Awareness, or, Gaining Perspective.

Two weeks ago we held an alpha test of the product we have been working on since June.  While I knew it would be an eye-opener to see people actually using the product, I didn’t know just how much of one.

I asked one of the developers, Ed Taupier, to give me some of his thoughts on how the alpha test opened his mind, changed his point of view. 

“Probably the most important outcome of the alpha testing, for me, was to gain an understanding of how the targeted clients would react and use the software we had built.  Or course I had my own opinions about which part of the software i really liked or disliked, was proud of or not.  My perspective is heavily "programmer" based though, which means the technological aspects effect my view.  This is not the perspective of the users, however.  
    It was extremely interesting to see what the testers found most interesting, valuable, useful and (yes) terrible.  Witnessing and gaining an understanding of their perspective impacted me a great deal.  It emphasized how important maintaining a "user" awareness and perspective is to a project’s ultimate success.  This has been one of the more difficult aspects of software development for me in the past.  Now i have a better understanding of how users in general, and our client base specifically,  view software.  This will greatly enhance my ability to contribute to and affect the success of projects in the future.”

Very well said. 

I’ve actually been reading that bolded quote for about 20 minutes, trying to expound upon it, but it’s perfect.  Being constantly aware of the fact that someone is going to use what you are building is important (and sometimes hard).  I mean, it’s my job to be the user, to tell developers what to make…it’s harder for developers to get in that user mindset.  When I watched Ed and another developer during the alpha test, taking in every mouse click and every question and every…everything from the testers, I could see that their perspective had really changed.  It was beautiful to watch them watch the fruits of their labor being used.  My demands for checkboxes to be in consistent locations and for filters to exhibit certain behaviors were no longer major annoyances and nitpicking; the developers could clearly see what the testers struggled with and where they had questions, and they knew exactly what needed to be done.

Since the alpha test, the quality of the code has gone up, I’ve not heard one peep of bitching about having to do something, and there is very clearly a lot more thought going into the code that is produced.

It is important to keep in mind not just what feature you are building at the moment, but how someone will be using it and how it relates to the rest of the system.  Things can get really frustrating, especially if people are being demanding, but as long as you are able to get out of a developer mindset for at least long enough to consider what is being asked for and think about your customers using the software, it should be easier to see.

I wrote a post on a similar note a while ago, and I got a lot of flack for it.  I hope this post makes my previous words seem less harsh, and more well-intentioned.

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