While usability testing is now standard practice in consumer software development, enterprise software still poses challenges for those seeking to conduct usability testing, including
- Limited pool of customers
- Domain knowledge needed
- Customer gatekeepers
- Customer configurations, roles and permissions
Small pool of users
Enterprise software products typically have fewer users than consumer software products, so you’re likely to be recruiting from a limited pool.
Domain knowledge assumed
Your system may require specific domain knowledge — if you try to test users “off the street”, they may not understand some of the content, labels or jargon.
Enterprise software companies have to manage their customer relationships carefully. To recruit test participants, you may need to go through established channels and protocols, with no guarantee of success.
Customer configurations, roles and permissions
Different customers may have different settings, and individual users may have restrictions or privileges. Software with a zoo of configurations can be hard to test.
Test with internal users who aren’t involved in the product. Folks in Finance and Admin departments should have absorbed a little domain knowledge. In any case, you can test layout and navigation. As Steve Krug puts it: “Recruit loosely, and grade on a curve.”
Test with students, especially those pursuing a course relating to your target domain. If your software is aimed at lawyers, test with law students. Now you are grading higher up the curve!
Educate by doing. By involving colleagues in the process, and/or showing them the results of your early-stage testing, you can make a compelling argument about the benefits of usability testing, which leads to my next tip…
Ask your Sales / Customer Success teams to help you recruit users. Aim to carry out a single-day site visit, and to make contextual enquiry part of that visit. A sales team member may want to accompany you, and that’s fine. It may even be a win-win, if it helps you educate your sales colleague.
Just don’t intimidate the test participants. Limit the number of physical observers to one. You can offer to screen-share into another room, or record the session.
Test a generic version of the product, since the number of tests is limited, and the findings are applicable across customers. Find other ways to validate customizations and configurations — for example using Google Analytics (how many people really click on that toggle?).
Usability testing for enterprise software is still not a common research method, and would-be practitioners encounter many obstacles. To succeed, you may need to employ “guerilla” tactics, and win support from your sales team.