How does a software product manager find usability testing participants?

In the last post, I talked about best practices for doing usability testing. But how does a software product manager go about finding participants for usability testing. Here are some tips:

1) Define your target user who will benefit from the product/feature you have developed. If it is an IT management software, is it the IT admin? Or is it the CIO who will be using your product? If it is an eCommerce site that sells shoes, do you want women who will buy shoes? Do you want to target frequent buyers or the infrequent buyers? Usabilitytesters

2) Find them – In the B2B software market that I have been involved in, I have typically recruited users who I know have the pain points that are being solved by this new widget. This information has come from our enhancements database, customers I have interviewed and have this problem or users who I know have this problem based on my domain knowledge. Image the excitement such users have when you call them up and say -“Hey, remember the enhancement request you had send in 6 months back? We are planning to implement a widget to solve that problem and wanted to know if you would have 45 minutes to take a look at an early version of that widget. Your feedback will help us make sure that the solution meets your needs and since it very early, we can also make changes to it based on your feedback.” And to make them special, I also add “We are doing this only with few selected customers. Would you have the time?”. 99% of the time I have had heard a Yes. You kill two birds with one stone – 1) send the message that you are responsive to your customer needs and 2) you value their feedback on the new widget before it is set in stone.

3) Paid or Free? – 90% of the time I have never paid my usability testers especially in the scenario I have described above where the new widget is a result of an enhancement request that has come from a customer. The customer is more than happy to be given a chance to be heard and also very curious to see the early version of this new widget. They realize their time investment will pay off. In other cases where I have to find new users who are not customers, I have paid anywhere from $75-100 per test. I typically try to see if the user raises the question of $, before I offer to pay (OK, call me a cheapskate, but I like to bootstrap as much as I can). But whether it is a paid user or a free, I make sure that the user leaves with some company goodies such as hats, mugs, pens, t-shirts etc. If they are a new user, I want them to remember my brand and I want them to advertise my brand. This does not apply if you are a brand new company in a stealth mode.

4) NDA needed? – Depends on how much you can trust the user. If the user is not a customer, absolutely Yes. If the user is a current customer, in majority of the cases I get them to sign an NDA especially if it is a new product or a killer idea that has competitive benefits. But, one NDA per user, please. Typically NDAs cover two-three years. But I trust the majority of the customers I pick. In case I don’t get them to sign an NDA, I make it very clear that this information is confidential. If the user has signed an NDA in the past, I make it a point to mention that what they are about to see is governed by the NDA they have previously signed. The best part is to check with your boss – does he want an NDA to be signed – this will make sure that you are following company policies and also that your manager knows about you showing future functionality to customers/prospects.

Thoughts? Do you have any tips you would like to share?

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Image: Courtesy of NUS School of Computing

4 thoughts on “How does a software product manager find usability testing participants?”

  1. Nice tips. Common sense stuff that somehow have not come to my mind. Another thing you could possibly talk about is the number of testers to have. I believe the ideal number is around 5, but then if you have numbers to prove them, my beliefs would turn to conviction 🙂

  2. What do you think of charging the user for the opportunity to see, be part of the development and benefit from the early use of the widget which will eventually be offered at a price?

    (real question currently being debated at our company)

  3. Great article, find it useful and also co-relates to our thoughts at SpadeWorx. Will follow your blog, read other interesting articles.

    User Centric Design and testing is core to the User, having developed applications / products our customers have realized its importance (over a period of time). In one instance, an elated customer sent statistics (68% conversion and 22% increase in business).

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