I may not be the most fashionable person, but even I know the difference between something off-the-rack functional that fits like a brown paper bag, and something tailored specifically to fit your measurements. Comparably, software can be crafted the same way.
Picture your favorite shirt. You know the one. It’s worn in and comfortable and you can usually be found in it on most Saturdays because you naturally just grab that one because it feels like it was made just for you and fits in all the right places. Would you wear it to a party, or out to a nice dinner? Probably not (maybe not even out of the house if your spouse has anything to do with it) but it definitely has its place in your wardrobe. You may have hundreds of shirts, but this is your favorite. Your end users should feel the same way about the software they are using. While your shirt only sees action 6-8 hours a week, your end users are working 40+ hours a week in your software. Using the software should be just as effortless as putting on that favorite, comfy shirt. How can you make that happen? Find the fit that works best for your organization.
The first option is the off-the-rack fit. The solution works and functionally it does everything that you need it to. They may not be the most optimized or intuitive for the end users, but it’s less costly, quick to install and gets the job done. Important, right? Of Course! This fit is still an upgrade over the old paper way…YUCK! Administrators are happy that mounds and mounds of paper are gone and processes that used to take weeks can now be done much quicker. Your team is no longer spending countless hours searching for the elusive ghost paper jam in the printer/fax machine, ordering pallets of paper, or having to cut that check for monthly storage of all those paper files. The team is also able to conduct the software testing prior to roll out. Typically an admin, developer, or someone else on the project team will use test inputs to determine if the expected output is received. They also test in an attempt to get the solution to break. If they do break it, it goes back to the developer to make changes. If everything works, the solution is sent out to production post marked in a cute little brown paper bag for the end users. This minimal pre-work is done behind the scenes before the software is ever accessible to the end users. You could stop there, and many organizations do. Which is perfectly o.k. if that off-the-shelf option is what you’re looking for. But often times those little areas that just don’t fit exactly perfect aren’t identified and feedback isn’t obtained until you have hit a no-going-back point. The shirt can be worn, but it won’t be completely comfortable.
The second option is a smooth, tailored fit. The best way to find out if something fits is to try it on. Most people would not purchase a shirt without trying it on and it seems kinda like a no-brainer, right? Unfortunately many companies don’t take the time to try on their software and create a strategy for testing with involvement from the users that will help tailor the fit to the organizations needs. To layout your testing you will need to first develop a test plan. Developing a test plan will allow you to determine the testing method that would fit within your budget, timeline, and the projects objectives. Developing the test plan should assist in getting stakeholder buy in to any additional project costs that may arise from testing. By selling stakeholders on the tailored fit, end users will have a higher adoption rate to using the software because they know firsthand what they need day to day. The shirt will be designed, tested and altered so it fits perfectly on the end user at roll out.
There are two categories that tests fall into: Qualitative and Quantitative. Qualitative testing will provide feedback about what end users want, what they like/dislike or any functionality they think the software still needs. Think: Focus Groups, Observation, User Interviews, and Task Analysis. Quantitative testing provides measurements on user behaviors and use patterns. Think: Surveys, Heat Mapping, A/B Testing, Card Sorting. The best testing will have some combination of both. Testing enables you to try on your software and obtain feedback on any adjustments or alterations that need to be made to make it a better fit. Take the time to get that perfect fit.
Fit really does matter, even with software. Trying it on (aka…testing) upfront will save time, frustrations and money in alterations later. If the fit isn’t just right or the style doesn’t work well it will just become one of the shirts that didn’t make the cut and will end up in the get-rid-of pile before it’s time.