User Testing Isn’t Just for Digital Products

Usability testing is well understood and practiced for digital work that goes out to a large audience. There are plenty of tools and well-defined methodologies for user acceptance testing, usability testing, A/B testing, prototyping, collecting feedback, etc. for websites and apps.
But what about user testing for non-digital work? Anything that is intended to drive change with a user demands testing in order to be effective. User testing shouldn’t be tacked onto the end of a project but built into the project workflow in many ways.
Here are some ideas to get you rolling:
Invite users in from the beginning
Don't just draw an empathy map and ask management to guess what Pam in HR sees, hears, thinks, and feels. Invite Pam into the room and ask her. Then ask Cyril in Accounting and Malory in Operations. It gets even more interesting when you first ask management to do empathy mapping and then ask the folks being mapped.

Keep the conversation going
Now that the end users are looped in and understand the project, keep them involved in reviews. It doesn't have to be on each and every call, but this works well with key milestones or at the start of a phase.
Low fidelity A/B testing
These choices can be presented throughout the process. Would it be better for this communication to be a live brown bag or an animation you could view multiple times? Does one metaphor resonate more than another? Should things be literal instead? Should we say "smart" or "intelligent?" Which illustration style do you prefer? Specific choices are also a nice way to guide the conversation so that it doesn't turn into reopening closed decisions or churning unproductive discussions.
Prepare for changes
The answers to the questions you ask might surprise you. Ensure that your plan accounts for addressing the feedback gathered from the socialization and user testing. I know, this should be obvious, but it is easy to be optimistic.
In the midst of the project, take a week, or even two, and bring your concept or design to every meeting you go to. Stop people in the hallway. Post it on your intranet. Ask people if they would use it, ask them what questions they have, and promote it. You'll naturally build a team of promoters out of these discussions as well.
Remember, you will always get feedback from the users of your work. You can get this after the project is finished and rolled out, or you can get this throughout the project process.

Chris Knaus is the Director of Program Management at XPLANE.