Many products won’t be tested at all during concept or development phase or only at a very late stage. One of the main reasons is fear of damaging one’s brand by confronting customers with products that do not meet the company’s usual quality standard. Especially larger established enterprises think of product tests as jeopardizing market reputation. Based on this angst companies more or less intentionally abandon any chance for learning potential of agile product development (see also our blog post “Wasted potentials of agile product development”.
In practice such a fear is ungrounded. Everybody who was involved in a product test will confirm the following points:
- Users are capable of telling apart tests from the real world as long as it is halfway clear from a start that is all about a test.
- Users who take part in a test are gladly willing to give feedback, no matter what the level of maturity of a product looks like or how relevant it is for themselves. They value that their opinion is heard and are most often happier customers with a more intensive relationship.
- Raw, unfinished prototypes are the best choice to find out about fundamental problems with products since they do not distract from core functionalities and easily induce critique.
Negative effects of product testing are generally only possible, if users are confronted with a development within the normal live environment without the proper framing, thus not being able to differentiate between normal product and test. But even then the possible negative impact is often overstated. As long as the agile principle of shipping only closed, finished user stories is followed, users don’t have a reason to be any more negative that with finished features (which are never finished anyway).
Those in angst about “too early” testing have all reasons to get in touch with all the established and easy testing options around – at best in form of small, flexible experiments in order to gain know-how fast and sustainably. Simply give it a try! It is crucial to set the bar for testing as low as possible so that every product manager is not even thinking anymore whether to use testing or not. Companies following this path will be rewarded in two dimensions: One, they come into a position to test at all. Two, they can test a lot more sophisticated. The latter is especially important since agile learning is nurtured by testing the underlying critical assumptions and not the product itself. The earlier the test, the more it will abstract from the product and may take totally different forms.