Imagine you're running a marathon. At first, you're bursting with energy — you've been waiting for this! You feel like you could run forever! Wheee! Then, almost out of nowhere, fatigue starts to set in. You start to slow way down or (uh oh) you stop completely — and no amount of motivation can get you moving again.
What happened? That's easy: You didn't pace yourself. (Bet you saw that one coming a mile away.)
Now imagine you're running a user test, and your testers are marathon runners. Or maybe you don't have to imagine it because you're running one now. Every product experience in your test is a mile you need your testers to get through. To keep things moving along, you need to set a steady pace they can keep up with.
This blog post will teach you how to get your testers across the finish line by pacing how much effort your testers expend each week and optimizing their energy pool. Apply these tips to your user tests to offset tester fatigue and sustain the high participation you need to thoroughly test your products.
What's An Energy Pool?
An energy pool is shorthand for how much attention or focus a tester has for a given project or task. If we're keeping with the marathon analogy, this is their endurance when it comes to testing product experiences and submitting feedback.
How much energy a tester has will vary from person to person. You can preserve a testers' energy pool by setting expectations early on, teaching them how to test, and practicing clear and consistent communication. You can also set yourself up for success before the test even starts by identifying enthusiastic candidates — those people usually have big energy pools to begin with.
But everyone, even the most excited tester, has a finite amount of energy. It's easy to deplete that energy by packing too much into your test all at once. Planning each phase with how much tester effort each activity requires will help you optimize your testers' energy pool.
In short, when you balance big and small asks throughout each testing phase, you're using tester effort wisely. And when you optimize for tester effort, you maintain engagement and get feedback on everything you need tested.
Now let's look at how you do it.
How to Apply Tester Effort to Your Test Plan
The best time to optimize tester effort is while you're building your test plan. This involves making a list of all the features you need to test and organizing them by priority. And don't be shy about running this list by your stakeholders. They're the ones acting on whatever your user test surfaces, so getting their sign-off early will save everyone a lot of heartache.
Once you've got a list of product experiences you need to test, draw up some activities (also known as 'task scenarios') for each one. For example, "Setup" might include activities like downloading an app, unboxing a product, creating an account, etc. (We've got a handy resource for you if you need more tips on crafting engaging activities for your user test.)
OK, it's go-time: work through your list of activities one by one and decide how much effort each task will take. Keep it simple — at Centercode, we grade activities as high, medium, or low.
Here are some real examples for a fictional soundbar test.
- Connecting the soundbar to wifi and setting it up to work with a smart TV is a high-effort activity. It takes both time and focus to finish it.
- Watching an hour of television with the soundbar on is a medium-effort activity. It doesn't require a ton of focus, but it does take time to complete.
- Increasing or decreasing the volume is a low-effort activity. Activities like this can be completed easily and immediately.
With some empathy, intuition, and a little bit of practice, figuring out how much effort a given activity requires gets much easier.
Tips for Optimizing the Energy Pool
Once all of your activities have a level of effort assigned to them, all that's left to do is spread these tasks and phases out across your test schedule. Remember, it's all about keeping a steady pace. Here are a few tips to help your testers stay the course.
- Put the high-priority activities and experiences at the beginning of your test. Tester energy will naturally decrease the more time goes on, so take advantage of that initial energy by prioritizing what matters most at the front-end of your project.
- Limit high-effort tasks to one a week. High-concentration and time-consuming tasks eat up a lot of energy, so spread them out whenever possible. If you have to schedule two high-effort tasks in one week, make the next week lighter to give your testers time to recuperate.
- Pair high-effort tasks with medium or low-effort tasks. It's about balance, like ordering a side salad with your cheeseburger.
- Got a feature with a few high-effort activities? Split it up! If a high-priority product experience has a few "big ask" tasks inside of it, you'll increase your odds of testers completing the activities by splitting it across two or three test phases.
- Offer a little extra motivation for tasks that happen later in the test schedule. Good testers (and many of them are very good) want to help you improve your product. But everyone could use a little morale boost once in a while. When effort seems to be flagging, a little note that says, "Thank you for all the feedback you've submitted so far! We're almost there, we just need a little bit more of your time." can go a long way. (Feel free to use that note, by the way.)
Lastly, Don't Hesitate to Automate
We get it: even with a solid plan for action, negotiating all the moving parts of planning and running a user test isn't easy. So, shed some of the load with user testing automation.
The Centercode Platform has plug-and-play test planning that takes you from inputs to a prioritized project schedule with tester effort optimization built in. And time-saving, best-practice processes are just the tip of the iceberg. Those encouraging notes we were just talking about? Automated. See the other ways you benefit when you switch to delta testing.