What is user acceptance testing (UAT) and why is it so critical to improving user buy-in?

Introducing new technology or implementing change to existing systems rarely comes without its share of teething problems for most organisations.

When there are many users who will be required to undertake new learning or changing existing processes, gaining user buy-in early is critical for success.

A certain way to increase the risk that a new system will not hit the mark is to cut corners by not adequately engaging users in testing new tools before they are deployed across the business.

User acceptance testing (UAT) is a valuable tool in helping ensure a project team delivers the functionality and features the business actually needs.

Why is UAT so Important?

UAT is the first formal opportunity for business users to interact with a system and assess how close it is to their expectations and business needs.

By the end of a UAT process, users should feel comfortable that the new system supports their role and their feedback has been taken into consideration about how to improve their user experience.

It is the ideal opportunity to tweak a system to ensure design flaws are fixed, workflow is correct and functions perform as expected. These actions will help with user buy in during implementation. So getting UAT right is important.

What Happens if UAT is Not Adequately Performed?

If UAT is not scheduled and adequately performed prior to implementation, then your business users could end up with a system that only partly performs the way it is needed to complete critical day-to-day tasks.

An opportunity will also have been lost to engage the users in a positive way prior to go-live which will help with the change management. Furthermore the users will quickly begin to lose confidence in a system if they uncover functional issues post-implementation that should have been picked up and addressed during UAT..

Getting UAT Right

There are four critical steps to getting user acceptance testing right.

1. Engage the business throughout the project
While the business may be reluctant to release staff to participate in UAT due to the perception of time it takes away from their daily work, having the right users with adequate bandwidth goes a long way to ensuring success and building strong feedback loops with business partners.

Project managers should engage early with project sponsors to reinforce the importance and reasons why UAT is critical. A key tip: negative motivation can be powerful – explaining the risks of not having business participation can adequately address the time concerns.

2. Be clear about the test approach
At the start of UAT, it’s important to explain clearly and thoroughly to all users what the system is designed to do and what the outcomes for any testing sessions are. It’s also important to have a technical team on hand for support and to guide users through test scenarios.

Decide early if testing will be done in person within a dedicated space or if it will be conducted in a self-paced style in a remote setting. Each has its pros and cons, but the key is to ensure that the approach is consistent and focussed. However, at all times care should be taken to ensure software, hardware and workspaces are functioning as required before users are engaged in the UAT process.

3. What to test and for how long

Each organisation has a risk profile that they are willing to accept. Testing in line with that profile is important. The test scenarios (use cases) should be shaped to address the functionality that reflects the importance of that function to the business and this should be tracked via a traceability matrix.

4. Documentation and tracking

Early documentation of a test strategy and plan will ensure that an approved approach is in place and the roles and responsibilities are defined and allocated. The strategy and plan will ensure that the outcomes are known and agreed and the milestones are defined and visible. Tracking the progress and providing regular feedback both to the project team and the business users ensure they know the status and levels of success of the testing.

The ultimate goal of UAT is to ensure that any new system or process change enables users to perform in their roles more effectively. Bringing users along on the journey, involving them in the implementation and testing process goes a long way to ensuring the business investment is a success.

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