Test for Actual Use, not Intended Use
When you test, what attributes are you testing for? Most testing begins with design criteria. This is reasonable to include but not the right starting point. You must develop with the user in mind. You must test with the user in mind. You must test for actual use, not just the use you intended.
This past week included a recall of over 50 million window blinds. 50 million! That’s a lot of production before finding a problem. Now this is not a production flaw, it is as design flaw. This is of course a tragedy for those who lost a young child from the product. But it begs a question of how we test a product in the design phase.
Most every organization tests products, whether software all the way to kitchen utensils, for the intended use. That means for a blind, you roll it up and a down thousands of times to make sure it will still work. If you are testing car doors, you open and close them thousands of times. If you are testing kitchen tongs, you make sure that they can withstand head, can be cleaned, and don’t flake or brake. You start with the key design criteria, figure out the limits of the design needs, then figure out how to test them. But this by no means ensures the product won’t fail. The reason for this?
Customers don’t always follow the intended use.
And just for the record, “customers are stupid” is not a good defense. Products get used however they get used. We need to learn to understand and even anticipate how customers will use a product, and test for that.
As an example, from a much earlier life of mine, there were problems with minivans. The rear window wipers would always break. The motors and mechanisms were tested under wind, rain, snow, and ice and there was never a problem. All the testing proved the product was fine. All the field results suggested things were all wrong.
Until a team really spend time observing the product in use, by its real user, a family. What do kids do? They climb. What do they climb on? Anything that’s around. And what do they use to pull themselves up on the bumper of the car? The window wiper. The intended use was to clear the window. The actual use was a climbing handle. Once the actual use was understood, design changes and testing changes could be made appropriate.
Here are your action steps:
- Don’t say you understand your customer’s use until you really observe it in action.
- Develop a list of criteria that represents testing their real and extreme uses.
- Develop the methods that will test for the real use of the product.
Design and test for actual use, not intended use.