Thursday, November 15, 2007

Recruiting In-House Usability Testers: A Recipe for Disaster?

John Dvorak, columnist for PC Magazine, published an interesting article about Microsoft and the reason as to why he thinks there are many flaws in their software.

I like the title of his article: The Problem with Eating Your Own Dog Food.

I'm not here to say what's right or wrong with Microsoft or add fuel to the fire in the Mac vs. PC debate. I'll leave that to other people to battle.

What I found interesting about Dvorak's column was that it highlighted a point I've been advocating to my clients and the readers of my blog: When testing your products, don't recruit your own people to be your usability testers.

It's almost like preaching to the choir or a parent telling their child they are a talented singer when in reality they are not. Dvorak attributes this to "Eating Your Own Dog Food". If you have ever wondered why a company like Microsoft tends to have so much trouble with their products, Dvorak offers his theories as to why. Most of the problems are cultural and indicative of a large company who has been a dominate player for many years.

I know it may seem natural to have your own people test and use your products. After all, they have a vested interest in its success, don't they?. With success comes the guarantee they'll have a job tomorrow. That may be true, but what about the opposite side of the coin? If a company with a product that has cornered the market for several years and become its bread and butter has employee usability testers detect flaws, would rocking the boat be in the employee's best interest?

Remember, your product testing will be better served if you put it in the hands of actual end-users and work to document their feedback. If you are a company that become established in your field and have become a consumer of your own products, it may be time to stop and ask yourself, "Are we eating our own dog food?"

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