In the past I have talked about the need to find out more about our end users so that we can help to focus our Testing on genuine use cases and problem areas for customers.
One of the ways I believe we, as Testers and Managers, can do this is by doing on-site visits to our customers.
However, I’ve had a number of responses stating that it is not possible or feasible. I agree it’s hard work and not always possible at all work places.
I believe a firm trait for Testers is pro-activity and persistence. I think Testers can explore other avenues to seek out information on products, customer usage and customer expectations.
Understanding end user behaviour doesn’t always rely on field research and observation.
The web is making it much easier to connect and find people, and that also includes people who use the products you work on.
You can connect to people, study the behaviours of people in your domain, or read about experiences through blogs and articles.
The web allows you to seek out deeper understandings of the types of roles, responsibilities and daily frustrations your customers (or potential customers) may face.
We aren’t just Testers, we can also be the researchers who find out more about how our products are used.
When studying data it’s important to look for patterns you can make inferences from, but it’s also important to ensure you balance the research. Don’t just find a good source and use that as your only source of insights.
For example, a power user blogging about how they use a product will give you a different perspective than a novice user.
Always try to find a counter view, or objection to the view/statement/observation made. The more dimensions you can research and explore, the stronger your assumptions and inferences from that data will be.
One of the greatest things to seek out are stories. Stories from people who use the software. Stories from people who don’t use the software. Stories from people who work in the domain.
Stories give you deep insights. Stories are basic human forms of communication. Stories are part of how we make sense of the world. However – accept that stories are often deeply one-sided. Balance is required.
How to do it
The web (social web in particular) is daunting to many people, yet others have flocked to it and adopted it with ease. Generations are growing up with the social web as an extension of themselves.
People are sharing more information than ever before.
Narrative of life is the new focus for many people. The Social Web is a fascinating place to research more about people, tech and culture.
What follows is a very short list of some of the sources of learning and insight I have used.
There are literally thousands of research papers available free on the web. Many of these papers are directly related to the industries we work in. They are often deeply insightful, but often very dry in their delivery.
Seek out the industry you are working in using your favourite social channel. Search using the relevant search option (for example: hashtags on Twitter are a useful way of filtering the noise) and then start observing the discussions, problems and concerns being raised.
This could be useful information for understanding how people using products like yours perform their day jobs. It can help to build persona details which might give you a richer understanding of what it’s like to work in this domain.
Each social channel comes with ways to filter the noise and ways to search for content specific to the tribe, trend or topic you are interested in. A quick google search will provide a wealth of tools for each of the social channels.
LinkedIn has forums which are one of the best sources of information about a domain or the products being used. Ask a question or sit back an observe. Just be careful of Best Practice pushers (i.e. people who see no way other than their way) – LinkedIn is rife with these peeps.
A quick google search for a blog related to your industry could soon lead you down a path of amazing information. Follow links and click through to other blogs. Read the comments – they are often the really insightful content.
Testing is about information gathering as well as bug finding. It’s too easy to put your hands up and say “can’t be done” when trying to find more information.
It’s a lot harder (but more fruitful) to be pro-active and seek alternative ways of gathering information.
How do you find out more about how your users use your product?