Quality assurance teams can use various tools to improve a company's software. For example, a QA engineer may use a stress test to evaluate software performance under stressful conditions. However, the primary priority for QA professionals must always be to provide a product that users approve of and enjoy using.
A QA team can only adequately predict how users view the software by inviting them to test the product. We call this method of testing UAT (User Acceptance Testing) a critical step in ensuring a software's success.
User acceptance can often be challenging to achieve and maintain. Before attempting to deliver the software to the public, the QA team must consider several scenarios and circumstances that could affect the application's performance and user experience.
This article will closely examine the standard software development cycle and discuss how QA teams can perform UAT to develop a user-preferred product.
The Need for UAT in the Software Development Cycle
Before delving into the UAT process and best practices, let's look at the software development process and how UAT can improve it. Today, the majority of software development companies use agile and DevOps methodologies.
Both approaches relate closely to the Deming cycle, used worldwide in many industries to improve product and process quality continuously. Let's review this concept.
The Deming cycle, also known as the PDCA cycle, contains four stages. Project managers, developers, and QA engineers collaborate on each step, completing one after another and repeating the cycle once they've reached the end.
In the P (Plan) stage, the team organizes tasks and answers vital development questions. These include which features should be added, how much time will be allocated to programming each feature, and what tools and knowledge the team should have to perform its tasks. It will also look at how the QA team will test the software.
The following D (Do) stage, often considered the most exciting stage, involves creating the software itself. The developers and QA engineers work on all the tasks they planned in the previous step.
In the third stage, C (Check), the QA team evaluates all the previous efforts contributed during the D stage against the verification and validation criteria defined by the QA team in the planning stage.
Finally, the last stage, A (Act), recognizes that, even when we plan every step of the software development cycle, some things may not work as expected. External circumstances may pose challenges for the team members.
Developers know that unexpected bugs commonly arise, and, in this stage, the teams implement fixes on outcomes that differ from the planned expectations.
Considering the Deming cycle, we can see the many planning and evaluation activities during the software development process. However, the cycle only addresses internal expectations for a product and fails to include user feedback.
Before deploying the software in the final environment (in the A phase), the QA team needs to gather feedback from real users using the user acceptance test (UAT).
Tasks in the UAT
The UAT seeks final approval from the software's target audience. Before conducting the UAT, the QA team needs to complete the following five preparatory tasks:
Task #1 – Identifying Critical Flows
For a particular piece of software, we can often identify several critical flows, essential features, processes, and interactions, that the test users need to review and approve before deploying the product to the public.
Task #2 – Identifying User Groups (if applicable)
For many applications, users fit into various groups that each use the software differently. Admins, for example, require different permissions than average users and may use features that involve viewing and modifying critical user information, personnel data, and security restrictions.
In contrast, standard user accounts may have limitations that prevent them from accessing particular features. Other user groups may include accounts with varying membership statuses (e.g., paid and unpaid memberships).
Task #3 – Preparing specific test cases for each role
After determining the different possible user groups, we must prepare the UAT to support any potential type of user. For this, we create specific test cases for each user group. To determine the relevant test cases to include in our UAT, the QA team should use the following checklist:
- Include test cases that assess user customization. We want to ensure the software supports every customizable option. The software should support user-information flows that present options to users, and it should adjust to their selections.
- Include test cases that invoke necessary data processing. Certain business operations have specific flows to process information. Because we want users to prefer our software to our competitors', our applications must process their data and perform the advertised services effectively. Otherwise, if the software's particular business operations fail, we cannot be confident users will choose us over another company's services. Thus, we consider these test cases the most important for UAT.
- Include test cases suited to specific user requests. To show users the company values their preferences and feedback, we need to test the features that attempt to satisfy previous user requests.
Task #4 – Prepare necessary user permissions and test data
After creating the test cases, we must prepare the proper app and user settings before testing. This involves adjusting the test user accounts for each role and activating the mechanisms to collect test data.
Task #5 – Set start and finish dates for user test
The test users must agree to complete the test within a specific time range. Otherwise, if users fail to review every feature of the software within the given dates, they may miss flaws and provide incomplete feedback. By agreeing on a reasonable time range for users to complete the test, we can avoid letting unapproved features reach the production environment.
The expected outcome: Get approval from the users
If users approve the software, they must sign a document to indicate the testing contract's conclusion. After completing the UAT phase, assuming no critical outcomes were detected, the company can begin discussing deployment settings, go-live dates, and any additional adjustments.
Despite the many operations a QA team can use to evaluate a product, they should only consider it ready for public use once users have tested and approved it.
Without effective user acceptance testing, a product may reach the market with flawed or inconvenient features that may encourage clients to use a competitor's software instead.
The QA team can collect user feedback and determine if the software needs additional improvements or is ready for deployment by providing users with a thorough suite of test cases. Are you interested in other QA resources and best practices? Check out our quality assurance content here.