October 14, 2004

Bring In The Customer: Part-I

As a software tester many a time I have seen myself get into the mode of a critic. This "critic nature" varies as per the phase of a project I belong to. Specially if I am in the Spec review stage this nature is at its best and never restricted to the software I am testing.

Yesterday as I travelled from Churchgate to Andheri (reminder: I am in Mumbai, India at this moment) via train during rush hour, this critic mode was at its best. An over packed train, people hanging out by the door, 4 people sitting in a 3 seat bench... the regular rush hour scene.

Here is what I wondered, there is a large amount of people who stand in the trains. The ones who sit are pretty uncomfortable since 3 seaters are occupied by 4. This in turn reduces the amount of space available to stand. On the whole, those standing and those sitting are uncomfortable.

Why not make the benches a little smaller, such that they fit exactly 3 and there is no place for the fourth? This way those who sit are comfortable and it opens up more space to stand. The way the seats are designed and laid out give minimum area for those who stand. A good design to implement would be SOME of the subway designs in New York City. All the seats are lined up against the walls (periphery) and the center space is for people to stand. I could keep going on with other suggestions I had...

Now where does Software Testing come into all this? This train journey is an ideal example of me being a customer/end user and whoever designed the train cars being the development group. Some issues which cannot be identified by the design/test group can be identified by the customer.... since the customer is the final user of this product. Those who designed the train cars probably had the idea of providing 3 people comfortable space to sit. A rush hour scene, where 4 people would sit on those benches, more people would be standing etc. might not have been imagined. But who experiences this scenario? The customer! Who gives feedback on these usability features? The customer! The customer is the most important aspect for any tester (or developer). More so for the tester since it is every testers role to advocate for the millions of users who would use the product.

All this makes me ask.... when should you bring in a customer into product development? We have Beta users. But what would happen if you bring in customers at the very initial stage. Advisable? I'll cover that in my next post.


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