Test Management

Should You Build or Buy Your User Testing Tool?

There comes a point when the scale of your user testing projects or program exceeds what standard productivity tools like email and spreadsheets can handle. And that's when it's time for an upgrade: a specialized user testing tool that will serve as a hub for all your test management activities. Awesome!

There are many benefits to the right user testing tool, but here are the most basic ones:

  • It gives you back time by centralizing and automating
  • It shortens your testing cycles by reducing steps in the project
  • It increases your speed by making coordination, communication, and feedback review more efficient
  • It increases tester participation and the amount of feedback you get from each project by reducing friction in submissions and making it easier to identify opportunities for tester engagement
  • It improves the quality of incoming feedback by organizing feedback and streamlining follow-ups
  • It feeds insight to all your teams by centralizing user activity, liberating test data from information silos, and making decision-strengthening data more readily available to your entire team

But when it comes to securing a specialized tool, there's another big question you have to answer: should you buy a commercial user testing tool or build one in-house? In this article, we'll explore the pros and cons of both options.

What Does a User Testing Tool Need?

Before you can answer the big "build or buy" question, you need a blueprint of what your ideal user testing tool looks like. There is a good chance that if you were to sit down and make a list of everything that’s hard about user testing with your current patched-together tools, you’d be off to a great start. Let us help you with your list.

In two decades of real-world product testing (and many tool iterations), we've learned a lot about the relationship between testing platforms and test efficiency. Here are the areas that are most important for a user testing tool to cover.

  • Feedback automation — automated collection, organization, and prioritization of feedback, as well as getting it to Engineering via ticketing tools like Jira
  • Community management — growing your tester community, profiling users, and keeping tabs on how they've performed in previous projects
  • Recruitment — screening candidates, segmenting testers based on your project goals or product needs, and housing important documentation like legal agreements
  • Engagement automation — automated communication with testers to keep them on task without breaking your back
  • Project management — simple scoping of project requirements and phases, and simple tracking of progress towards completion
  • Reporting and analytics — the details on feedback, product, project, tester, and community analytics
  • Privacy and security — protecting sensitive company and tester data, providing role-based access control, and upholding "the right to be forgotten" without losing essential product insights

It sounds like a lot (and it is) but this list is essential for ensuring success. Remember, the goal is to get your hands on a user testing tool that increases the impact of your efforts — not just a little bit, but a hundred-fold. Now that you have your list of requirements, we can move onto the big question: to build or to buy?

The Build Route

Here are the benefits of building your own tool.

  • It's built specifically for your user testing processes, meaning you can customize it around the specific needs of your user testing program, products, and organizational structure.
  • It provides a dedicated experience for your testers and customers that speaks to them directly, reduces friction, and increases feedback.
  • It follows your organizational protocols and is built to integrate with your tools so it's easier to reach the far corners of your organization, grow program awareness, and increase the utility of those juicy, juicy customer insights.
  • It’s free (right?) — you might be able to leverage teams and resources that do not require you to get a budget.

But every hill has its valleys. Here are the cons of building your own user testing platform in-house.

  • It's a very complex tool to build from scratch. A user testing tool is more than a souped-up spreadsheet. Designing the features necessary to move the needle on your user testing program requires many moving pieces, each with an enormous amount of detail. This means a hefty amount of dedicated time and labor.
  • There's a significant upfront time investment, plus maintenance and improvements. It could take anywhere from six months to a year to deliver on baseline features — and that's before platform training, community migration, and getting projects up and running. From there, just like regular software, it needs to scale as demand for your program increases, meaning it requires constant maintenance to continue serving your needs.
  • It risks becoming obsolete if internal support wanes. You probably won't have a dedicated person, let alone a team, in charge of managing your in-house solution. This puts you at risk for bottlenecks — or a platform that's dead in the water should internal support and resources shift focus.

The Buy Route

Of course it would be amazing to have a team of tailors stitching all your clothes or a personal chef cooking all your meals. But that may not be possible for many reasons — and it doesn't mean that commercial solutions aren't just as effective or better equipped to do the job. Here are some of the pros of buying a commercial user testing tool.

  • It's built specifically for user testing, meaning you can find a solution that comes with features like feedback automation, community management, recruitment, engagement automation, and reporting functionalities right out of the box.
  • There's a low learning curve for customers and/or testers, so they'll be able to jump into the tool that's been vetted and refined by other users.
  • It's flexible enough to meet evolving requirements. Since you're not in charge of maintenance, you don't have to devote your own resources to making updates, adding deeper functionality, improving the interface, or refining the user experience.

And here are the cons.

  • It doesn't have that one feature. There might be a specific thing that you’ve wanted forever, and it might not be in a commercially purchased tool.
  • You might have to find a budget because most companies don’t have a user testing tool already. You’ll need to make a case to purchase and keep one.
  • It's one more tool in the stack. Sometimes, it’s easy to have too many tools and not get value from most of them. Make sure that you have the right tool for the job.

3 Questions to Answer

Now that you're acquainted with the pros and cons of both options, we're back to the big question: should you buy a commercial user testing tool or build your own? If you're still conflicted, we've broken it down into three, more digestible questions to consider.

  1. How quickly do I need better user testing results?
    Is how quickly you need to level up your user testing results a factor? Consider what's currently holding your program back, your long-term goals for your program or product line, and which solution is more likely to return results you'd like to see when you need to see them. Make a list of what you absolutely need — and what you could live without when push comes to shove.
  2. What are the possible opportunity costs?
    Are there other areas within your department or organization where the time, labor, and cost of building a user testing tool would make a greater impact? How will the price of a user testing tool subscription impact future budgets? Consider the long and short-term costs of both options carefully.
  3. How much am I willing to invest for the return?
    The upfront cost of building a user testing tool in-house is high. It could be worth it if that's the best way to get the functionality your program needs, but being able to build your own platform doesn't automatically mean you should. Look at the resources you have at your disposal and weigh them against each other.

Start Exploring

Our last bit of advice? Explore the existing user testing tools that are out there — starting with Centercode. We've spent decades refining a robust, customizable, and scalable user testing platform that delivers actionable customer insights using automation, machine learning, and best-practice workflows.

Schedule a quick meeting to discuss your user testing needs and goals with a trained professional, free of charge, no strings attached.