Early Validation of an Software Application is critical. Lots of assumptions that have been baked into the product get validated or flushed out when an early release of the application is done. Especially if the intended target for the software application, be it a web app or a mobile app that would reach thousands of users, helps in seeing the first reaction to the application from real world users.
Now, even thought there is no explicit stage to do this in either water fall or Agile development methods, we have seen tremendous gains in getting software applications that are intended to reach millions of users, to be tested by a crowd testing team, very early in the development road map. Here is an example of an mobile SMS based application that would be reaching bottom of pyramid users in India. Now to design such an SMS application, that would be limited only by replies to the SMS is a challenge. The interesting learning from this exercise is that most users cannot keep lots of states or “Where am I?” in the application user flow in their heads. This came out, as most developers can remember a very high number of application states, such as “I am at the group creation step” or “I am inviting a user to my group” by just remembering the previous action they had performed. This was a real learning for this team to, lessen the branches in the decision tree of the user and keep the user informed where he currently is, in the user flow of the application.
* Lots of legacy decisions made to the menus of the applications, that would have left the users clue less were caught
* Feedback on the most frequently used features and also feedback on features that have not been used.
* Going from Lab to get field trials of the application, where only 50-60 people have access and not hundreds and thousands of users.
Now, the crowd testing team, gave an early feed back to the project manager, developers and other stake holders very clear insights into which of their assumptions were true and which of the earl decisions on design and usability need to be changed. This is very valuable, as these issues were caught early and by a small group, before the application was rolled out to thousand of users. So validating the design, usability and user experience issues, along with functionality issues in the application, helped in validating the user flows that would lead to higher adoption of the application by users. Do share your thoughts on getting early feedback from real users, does it help in developing a high quality software application?