User Acceptance Testing: A Success Guide For New Product Launches

User acceptance testing can mean the difference between a broken product and a great product. Here's how UAT fits in to the modern company's product launch.

User Acceptance Testing

Quick question for you to start things off:

Who, exactly, do you create products for?

Okay, okay…that’s a pretty ridiculous question. Obviously, you create your products for the people who will use them: your customers.

The real question is:

Are you creating products to be used by your customers the way they want to use them – or the way you believe your products should be used?

Simply put, most people want things to be easy. This is especially true when it comes to using new products. For the most part, it doesn’t matter how much potential value your product or service could bring to your customers’ lives: if they aren’t able to use it in a way that works for them, they’ll almost certainly move on and look for a product that allows them to do so.

The point here is that you absolutely need to be sure that your target customers will be able to use your product how they intend to use it before you begin marketing it to them.

Which is exactly what user acceptance testing enables you to do.

In this article, we’re going to explain exactly what user acceptance testing is, when and how you should implement it, and why it’s so essential to the overall process of bringing a product to market.

Let’s get started.

What Is User Acceptance Testing?

User Acceptance Testing (UAT) is the process of allowing a select group of individuals to use a product, service, or piece of software as it is meant to be used in a “real-world’ setting.

Also referred to as beta testing, application testing, or end-user testing, UAT serves three main purposes:

  1. Determine whether the product works and functions properly in “real-world” situations the way it was developed to work and function
  2. Determine whether all functionality has been defined and specified
  3. Double-check that the product is free of hangups, glitches, etc. that hinder the product’s ability to meet the aforementioned goals related to functionality

We’ll get more into the importance of UAT later on in this article.

But first, let’s quickly go over the different types of user acceptance testing.

The 5 Types of User Acceptance Testing

According to Usersnap, there are five types of user acceptance testing.

The first type, which is what we’ll be focusing on throughout this article, is Alpha and Beta Testing, which consists of two separate testing processes. Alpha testing is completed internally, with staff or development team members assuming the role of the user. The second process – Beta testing – is UAT as we’ve described it, completed by a select population of “real-world” users.

Contract Acceptance Testing tests whether a product, as developed, meets the contractual requirements as agreed upon by all involved stakeholders. Contract acceptance testing is commonly utilized to ensure that a third-party development team has fulfilled its contractual obligations.

Regulation Acceptance Testing aims to ensure the product complies with all laws and regulations within their industry and jurisdiction. Regulation acceptance testing is necessary in industries such as healthcare and finance, and should now be a major focus of all European-based companies due to implementation of the GDPR.

Operational Acceptance Testing focuses on determining the efficiency of the backend, behind-the-scenes processes in place within an organization that ensure users can use the product to its highest capacity. OAT assesses processes such as onboarding, data maintenance, and failsafes.

Black Box Testing is more aligned with functional testing, as it focuses on the cause-and-effect relationship between the way a user interacts with the product and the output received from the interaction. Still, black box testing related to UAT in that users are told what the product is meant to do, but are allowed to explore how the product works on their own.

While, as we’ve explained, each type of user acceptance testing certainly has its time and place, for the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing mainly on the importance and application of Beta testing.

(Note: Once you’ve released your product, it’s critical to follow up with customers to collect their feedback. Fieldboom can help you create a beautiful, insightful customer survey like this in less than 10 minutes. It’s free to get started.)

Why Is User Acceptance Testing So Important?

Given everything we’ve said about UAT so far, it’s probably pretty clear that it’s an essential part of the process of developing a product.

Still, it’s worth going into a little more detail regarding why you should focus on UAT not only when actually administering such tests, but also throughout the entire product development process overall.

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(Source / Caption: As this diagram shows, UAT focuses on ensuring the initially-defined requirements of the product have been met.)

Keep the End-User in Mind

We discussed this in the intro, but it bears repeating:

Your product’s value is determined solely by the people who end up using it.

While this sounds rather obvious, it’s all too easy to lose sight of this notion while in the actual process of developing your product. Without a clear focus on how your end-user will utilize your product, you run the risk of encountering major bumps in the road – or veering off your original path altogether. Similarly, without truly knowing what your end-users actually want from your product, you’re liable to continue adding features to it ad nauseum.

While there are certainly other ways to maintain focus on your customers as you go through the production process, looking ahead to the UAT phase – even during the early stages of development – will help ensure that everything you do regarding your product is done with the customer in mind.

Furthermore, it will help make the development process much less arbitrary, as every addition, improvement, or change you make will be preceded by the question, “How will this feature play out during user acceptance testing?”

Which leads into the next point…

Stay “Lean”

As we alluded to in the previous section, keeping UAT in mind will help you avoid instances of scope creep.

Of course, the main byproduct of scope creep is waste:

  • Waste of time
  • Waste of energy
  • Waste of resources
  • Waste of money

Again, by focusing on how things will go during the UAT phase at all times during product development, you’ll inherently be more intentional with the features you add to your product.

On the other side of things, you’ll also avoid wasting the above-mentioned resources by adding features that, quite frankly, add little to no value to your product – or to the user’s overall experience with your product.

Another thing worth noting, which we’ll revisit later on in this article, is that UAT places zero importance on the aesthetic or cosmetic appearance of your product; it’s all about functionality. That said, focusing on UAT during development will help keep your mind off of adding surface-level, nice-to-have-but-not-entirely-necessary features to your product.

Validate Product-Market Fit

To be sure, you should be pretty sure that there’s a market for your product well before you reach the UAT phase of development.

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(Source)

Still, positive results among your beta testers during UAT can be the “clincher” that confirms not only that there’s a market for your product, but also that consumers within said market are able to utilize your product to success.

Tie a Bow on Development

From a logistical standpoint, successful user acceptance testing acts as an official milestone, marking when a product is ready to be released to the mass market.

(We’ll discuss this in a bit more detail in the following sections on when and how to implement UAT.)

Again, although user acceptance testing occurs at the end of the product development process, it can – and should – influence the decisions made throughout the process at all times.

When is User Acceptance Testing Performed?

Okay, so we just said that UAT occurs at the end of the product development process.

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(Source)

Perhaps a more accurate question, then, would be:

When is a product ready for user acceptance testing?

Before UAT is to begin, the development team must ensure that a number of prerequisites are in place.

Let’s take a look at these criteria in greater detail.

(Note: The following list isn’t meant to be truly comprehensive, as all products follow a development process that’s unique to the individual product in some way or another. That said, we’ll cover the criteria which most – if not all – products, services, and pieces of software have in common.)

Business Requirements Must Be Available

Business requirement documentation essentially spells out the purpose and scope of the project in question.

According to iSixSigma, a business requirement document’s (BRD’s) main purposes are:

  • To gain agreement with stakeholders
  • To provide a foundation to communicate to a technology service provider what the solution needs to do to satisfy the customer’s and business’ needs
  • To provide input into the next phase for this project
  • To describe what not how the customer/business needs will be met by the solution

There’s a bit more to business requirements than just BRDs – we’ll get to that in a minute.

Product Must Be Functioning at its Highest Capacity

We alluded to this earlier, when we discussed black box testing:

User acceptance testing is not synonymous with functional testing. In other words, UAT is not meant to pinpoint glitches, bugs, hang-ups, or other usability issues regarding your product.

Rather, UAT is meant to test the product’s usability when its functioning as you’ve intended it to function.

Simply put: if there are any obvious improvements to be made to your product at the current moment, it’s not ready for user acceptance testing.

Issues Must Be Reported, Logged, Fixed, and Tested

Now, issues like the ones mentioned above will almost certainly arise at some point during the development of your product.

To be considered ready for UAT, not only must these issues be fixed, but the development team must also maintain a log of such instances. This log should include the following information:

  • What, exactly, the issue entailed
  • How the issue was remedied
  • Proof that testing occurred with regard to the fixed issue
  • The outcome of the remedy

This allows for maximum transparency and visibility with regard to product development, for all involved parties and stakeholders.

System Testing Team Gives the “OK”

This aligns with the aforementioned Alpha testing, in which internal team members assume the role of the user and complete an in-house UAT.

At this stage of the production process, essentially all other criteria have been met, and it’s up to the development team and other stakeholders to confirm that the product is ready to be released on a limited basis to a designated population of beta user.

Assuming all of these criteria are in place, and all stakeholders are in agreement with regard to moving forward, it will then be time for the product to enter beta testing.

The 6-Step Process of Successful User Acceptance Testing

Once you’ve confirmed that your product is ready for UAT, you’ll be ready to get testing.

Well…almost.

To be sure, UAT is a process all to itself; it’s not as if you simply put your product in front of your beta users and ask them to give you a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.”

That said, let’s take a deeper look at each step of the process.

Analyze Business Requirements

As we said earlier, it’s imperative that you develop business requirement documentation before you begin developing your product in the first place.

We also mentioned there’s a bit more to business requirements than just these documents, as well. You additionally need to have collected the following:

  • Project Charter
  • Business Use Cases
  • Process Flow Diagrams
  • System Requirement Specifications (for SaaS products)

Analyzing these documents in tandem with one another will allow you to begin developing test scenarios – a vital aspect of the next steps of the process.

Develop UAT Plan

Here, you’ll be defining the logistics of the user acceptance test, such as:

  • Entry and exit criteria (i.e., when the product is ready for UAT, and when testing will be considered complete)
  • Who will be involved throughout the testing process, and what role they’ll play throughout
  • The timeline and timespan of testing
  • How test data will be collected, analyzed, and acted upon

Once you’ve nailed down the logistics of your user acceptance test, you can then begin planning test scenarios and test cases.

Identify Test Scenarios and Test Cases

As we said earlier, you’re not going to just put your product in front of your test users and tell them to have at it.

Rather, you’ll want to have developed specific tasks and processes for your beta testers to accomplish – as well as instructional material to assist them along the way.

Essentially, you should develop these test scenarios and cases as you would your onboarding process. This, in turn, will help you ensure that your beta test remains directly in-line with how your product will exist in the real world.

Prepare Test Data

Naturally, you need to have a process in place that allows you to collect and prepare your test data effectively and efficiently.

In addition to ensuring efficient collection and analysis of the data, you also need to be sure that the data remains confidential and secure at all times. As we alluded to earlier, this is especially important now that the GDPR has gone into effect in European countries.

Run the Test

Once everything is set with regard to how the test will be implemented and the data will be collected, you’ll then be ready to run the test.

During the test, QA team members work with beta testers to complete the defined test cases. Once the user has reached the exit criteria point, they’ll be asked to rate their experience as positive or negative. If the collection of responses are positive overall, the team can confidently move forward with bringing the product to market; if not, the team will need to make changes and improvements as necessary.

Also worth noting is that, while your product should be glitch-free by this point, your beta testers may run into unforeseen issues during UAT. If this should occur, you’ll need to shut down the test and reconvene after you’ve fixed the issue at hand.

Confirm Business Objectives Have Been Met

Once the beta users have confirmed their satisfaction with your product, you’ll need to prepare the documentation that will act as the official “go-ahead” for the organization to begin bringing the product to market.

This documentation includes:

  • The test plan
  • UAT scenarios and test cases
  • The results of the user tests
  • A log of issues (e.g., product defects, testing glitches, etc.) encountered throughout the development and testing process

All of this documentation will then be presented during a UAT Sign-Off meeting in which all stakeholders will be present.

In addition to going over these documents during the meeting stakeholders will also ensure that the product is truly ready to be put on the market, and that the business processes of the company behind the product are sufficient for sustainability.

While user acceptance testing does, of course, add to your already-packed workload upfront, it’ll almost certainly save you time, money, and energy in the long run.

As should be abundantly clear by now, UAT inherently allows you to know with certainty how your product will be received upon being released to the public. More specifically, you’ll know whether or not you need to make improvements to the product before you release it to the public. In other words, UAT makes the whole ordeal less of a gamble, and more of a sure thing.

Additionally, implementing UAT as a necessary procedure within your overall product development process essentially raises the bar for your development team – and your organization as a whole. By making UAT a part of “what you do” as a company, you’ll begin taking even more pride in the fact that you only release products once they’ve reached the highest quality possible, and have been tested by the people that matter most: your customers.

(Note: Once you’ve released your product, it’s critical to follow up with customers to collect their feedback. Fieldboom can help you create a beautiful, insightful customer survey like this in less than 10 minutes. It’s free to get started.)

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Matt is one of the brilliantly gifted content contributors at Fieldboom. He helps us whip up useful and interesting blog posts, guides and more.