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What is UAT? Understanding user acceptance testing

Last updated

21 June 2023

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Developers often have one idea of how users will engage with a product, only to find that real-world use cases differ from their design. The conflict of user experience vs design is an age-old one. 

User acceptance testing (UAT) presents the best opportunity for companies to ensure that their users are getting meaningful engagement out of the software and that its design fits the ways in which they use the product. In this article, we'll explore what UAT is and how to best perform it.

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What is user acceptance testing (UAT)?

User acceptance testing (UAT), sometimes called beta testing or end-user testing, is the final phase of software development in which intended customers or business representatives test the product in a controlled production-like environment before launch. 

QA vs UAT

Quality assurance (QA) testing and user acceptance testing (UAT) are two essential components of the testing process, each serving distinct purposes.

QA testing has a much broader scope. It focuses on ensuring the product meets standards and specifications and that it performs at a suitably high quality. Comprehensive tests will check for functionality, performance, and security, identifying any defects so they can be fixed before they impact users.

UAT is more focused. Its only goal is user satisfaction and acceptance. The testing process validates whether the software is meeting the needs and expectations of users. This encompasses factors such as usability, ease of learning, and adherence to user requirements. 

You can think of QA testing as building a strong foundation and UA testing as refining what's built on that foundation.

The benefits of user acceptance testing

When conducting user acceptance testing, there are several benefits that help to ensure a more successful product. These include:

  • Identifying user requirements - UAT allows users to provide feedback about how well the software meets their specific expectations. This helps uncover any discrepancies between the software's functionality and user needs.

  • Enhancing user satisfaction - By involving users in the testing process, UAT ensures that the software aligns with their expectations. This, in turn, increases their satisfaction with the product.

  • Minimizing the risk of failure - UAT acts as a safety net by detecting issues that might have been overlooked during earlier testing stages. By uncovering these issues, UAT reduces the risk of user dissatisfaction that could doom the product.

  • Saving time and costs - By catching and addressing issues earlier in the development lifecycle, UAT helps minimize the time and costs associated with both bug fixing and customer support after the software is released.

  • Enhancing communication and collaboration - UAT fosters collaboration between users, developers, and other stakeholders. It promotes effective communication channels, allowing users to provide feedback directly to the development team.

  • Building confidence -  With successful UAT, users gain confidence in the software's reliability and suitability, while the developers gain assurance that the software will be well-received.

  • Compliance and regulatory requirements - UAT provides an opportunity to validate whether the software meets the necessary compliance requirements, reducing legal and regulatory risks.

  • Continuous improvement - UAT feedback and insights can be used to drive continuous improvement efforts. The feedback gathered during UAT can be used to refine future iterations of the software.

Understanding the UAT environment

Understanding the UAT Environment is crucial for successful user acceptance testing. The UAT environment refers to the specific setup and configuration used during the execution of the UAT process. This includes the hardware, software, networks, and other components necessary to replicate the production environment. Any third-party integrations or external systems the software interacts with should also be included. 

It should meet these key requirements:

  • Stable: The environment should have minimal downtime to allow uninterrupted testing.

  • Scalable: As testing needs to grow, the environment should grow with them.

  • Reliable: If the testing environment doesn't provide consistent results, then the results it does provide can't be trusted.

  • Secure: Any potential cybersecurity threats should be identified and accounted for.

Participants in user acceptance testing

In order for UAT to be successful, various stakeholders need to participate. The participants communicate with each other through a variety of means. This could be as simple as a feedback form or something more direct, such as instant messaging or an email. Some project management platforms provide tools to facilitate the process as well. 

The key stakeholders in UAT include:

  • End users: These are the most important stakeholders in the tests. They're the ones whose opinions and insights you’re seeking.

  • Developers: The development team and project managers participate in order to address issues and incorporate feedback.

  • Management: Product owners and other management figures may be involved to ensure the testing aligns with business objectives.

Types of user acceptance testing

UAT testing comes in many forms, each targeting a specific aspect of product development. A large project with a sufficient budget may conduct all of these types. More typically, they'll be chosen based on specific needs and concerns.

Alpha testing

This is done very early in the development cycle by a small group of internal users. It's not meant to refine the product but rather ensure it gets started on the right foot without any major issues.

Beta testing

This comes shortly before launch. It involves a larger group of people than alpha testing and seeks to resolve any remaining issues around usability and functionality.

Contract acceptance testing (CAT)

Some software projects are developed on contract. In these cases, the client conducts the UAT to ensure the software lives up to the contract agreement.

Regulatory acceptance testing 

Other projects may be subject to regulatory requirements. The client or an independent third party can conduct this form of UAT to ensure the product will meet those requirements.

Operational acceptance testing 

Like the previous two examples, this one is more focused. It's concerned only with whether the software sufficiently performs the task it's supposed to, such as color contrast, keyboard navigation, or screen reader.

UAT prerequisites

Like anything else, successful UAT requires proper preparation. The following steps and requirements will ensure that the testing provides the desired results:

  • Clear and defined requirements: UAT requires well-defined and documented user requirements. These requirements provide guidelines for evaluating the software during testing.

  • Completed functional testing: If you conduct UAT before the product functions correctly, it will result in feedback that should've been addressed beforehand.

  • Test environment setup: Set up a dedicated UAT environment that mimics the production environment as closely as possible. Anything unaccounted for could present an unforeseen problem at launch.

  • Test data preparation: If the software processes data, a set of test data that represents real-world use cases should be created. This data should cover a wide range of scenarios and use cases.

  • UAT test plan: Proper planning includes determining the objectives and scope of the testing. The UAT test plan documents those requirements to guide the testing.

  • User preparation: The final step is to gather the users that will be helping with the testing. They should be informed about their roles and responsibilities so they provide meaningful feedback.

Performing user acceptance testing

With the definition and preparation process explained, we can begin to discuss how UAT is actually conducted. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to perform UAT effectively:

1. Develop a test plan

As discussed in the previous section, a test plan is needed before testing can begin. To clearly define the objectives and scope of the testing, identify the specific areas, features, or use cases you're interested in testing. Be sure to include everything to limit scope creep later.

With the objectives defined, prepare the test plan. It should outline the testing approach, scenarios, and test cases you’ll use. The plan should also include all requirements and acceptance criteria for each test. Finally, generate any test data you’ll use during the process and gather your end-users for testing. 

2. Capture user feedback

To prepare the end users for the testing process, make sure they're familiar with the tools you'll be using to communicate with them during the process. Carefully explain the scope of the testing to them and inform them of the type of feedback you're looking for during the process.

As the testing process begins and the users start sending feedback, keep track of what they're saying and begin to prioritize it. Which feedback is mission critical and which is just nice to have? By prioritizing feedback as it's received, your development team will be ready to get to work as soon as testing is complete and have a guideline to follow when doing so.

Throughout the process, keep the lines of communication open. Provide regular updates to all stakeholders. As feedback comes in, clarify any issues that may be unclear and ensure that the users doing the testing are empowered to do the same.

3. Incorporate the feedback

With the first round of testing over, it's time for the product development team to get to work addressing the issues that were raised. The prioritized feedback list will guide which areas you should address first. Try to resolve as many issues as possible while staying within the time and financial budget available.

After you've addressed all the issues that needed addressing, conduct another round of testing to ensure that everything was properly fixed and no new issues have arisen. If this test goes well and all tests meet the acceptance requirements, the stakeholders in charge of the project can sign off on the testing and greenlight the project for launch. 

Overcoming the challenges of user acceptance testing

UAT needs to follow best practices to achieve the best results. During the testing, several challenges are likely to arise. Thankfully, many of the most common challenges that arise during UAT are well-documented by others who have experienced the same problems. As you plan and conduct your testing, keep an eye out for these issues and their solutions.

Lack of clear user requirements

A big part of UAT is testing whether the product meets user requirements. A lack of clear and well-defined user requirements will prolong the testing process and cause issues to arise that should have already been addressed. 

During the initial product design and development phase, you should conduct a comprehensive analysis of user requirements. The results of this should guide the development process so that when UAT begins, you’ve already met most of the requirements.

Insufficient user involvement and participation

Getting a sufficient number of users to participate is one thing, but getting them to actively participate is another. Here, the importance of communication shows itself. Users should understand how important their feedback is and be given ample opportunity to provide it. 

If you're using any non-standard tools for the communication and collaboration process, or have any specific requirements for the formatting of the feedback, be sure to explain those thoroughly to all users participating in the tests before testing begins. Whatever tools you use should be as user-friendly as possible.

Unreliable or incomplete test cases

Often, a problem will slip through the cracks of UAT because it wasn't tested for. The planning phase should allow plenty of time to develop a comprehensive and well-documented set of test cases that cover every critical functionality the software provides. 

Consider how users, rather than the developers, will view and use the product. Users aren't as familiar with the product and may use it in unexpected ways. 

Unclear exit criteria

The final step of the UAT process is sign-off by stakeholders. This is when the tests have achieved their purpose and the required issues have been addressed. Without clear exit criteria in place, this process can become muddied. It may be unclear whether more testing is needed or if the process is done. This is compounded by scope creep. 

As situations arise that were unaccounted for, it may be tempting, or even necessary, to address those as well. These issues further make the exit point more ambiguous.

Limited testing time and resources

Even the largest companies have time and resource constraints. These limit the testing capabilities as well as the iteration process. 

Before testing, identify the most critical functionality and the areas of the software that are at the highest risk. This will make it easier to design the test cases and prioritize the results. Whenever possible, use automation tools and other software products that can increase the efficiency of the process.

Inadequate test data availability

The test data should cover every use case that the software is designed to handle. Data that doesn't cover edge cases or accurately predict how users will engage with the software leaves gaps in the coverage that can allow problems to slip through. 

Part of the planning process is deciding on every aspect of the functionality you should test. You should use this same list when generating data for the tests.

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