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Finding your own invested focus group for testing

Code development is a funny thing. On one hand you're working with machines; cold non-emotional interfaces. On the other hand you're interacting with humans: their input will be the main direction for your technical design, interaction design and how you write your code.

Whenever I start a new project I always try to make a list of the people I'll have to (or want to) interact with. Persons I will need to work with are generally (previous) developers and designers, product owners, product users and project (data)managers.
During the first few interviews I'll have enough time to actually gather the names of these people. To meet them, I can usually just swing by their office and say hi. Having them match my face to my name is the first step to actually get them interested in your project.
I make sure to always present my responsibilities very clearly. Something like:

Hi I'm Murtada and I am currently working on project x. I will specifically be working on the y, z parts and wanted to say hi! In the future I might contact you for some input, is that okay?

This way, you actually trigger their interest and get their consent. If their response is a clear no, you'll know not to bother them. But you'll notice that people are usually okay with you contacting them to ask for input or to test something out.

There are a few more steps to motivate them to be responsive testers:

  1. Set up accounts for your testers.
    Not only will you make them feel included, you lower the bar for them to test your software. If possible, allow them to sign in with a magic link to make it even easier for them.
    If you do this from the first prototype version, you will give them a feeling of ownership and control over the development and they'll more likely want you to hear their voice and opinions.

  2. Always include them in (big) updates of your product.
    Whenever you deploy or launch a new feature or have a big (visual) overhaul of your product, make sure to send out a quick e-mail and ask them to log in and try it out.

  3. Present your soft and hard launches to the group.
    Similarly to point 2, you can easily incite them to take a critical look and respond with in-depth findings.

  4. Need a big favour? Ask them personally.
    Need someone to go out of their way and take the time to extensively test your product? Make sure you let them know you respect their time by seeing them in person. This little gesture will be appreciated and your test results will be of a higher quality.

Remember, your software gets better through multiple testing passes. Quality of your responses are an indication of how much your test subjects are invested in (the development) of your product.
The sooner you get to hear something is bad, the less time you will have to spend to fix it.

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