Go Wild: Guerrilla Testing In The Corporate Jungle

If you read our blog regularly, you know we believe in testing. Getting to the heart of user needs as you design and develop your product, app, or site is a key component to success. In the past, we have talked about several elements of getting testing right, including how to get stakeholder buy-in for testing, tips on testing for wearable devices, and what to watch out for when testing in an enterprise context, among others.

We’re advocates for testing of all types, clearly. But what we haven’t talked about yet — at least not in any detail — is guerrilla testing. Informal, low-fidelity, fast, and very specifically targeted testing that can tell you a lot about usability (among other things).

Because we work mainly with enterprise-oriented projects, one might assume we’re not engaging in the kind of rough-around-the-edges testing typically associated with guerrilla or “discount” testing. Enterprise environments are notoriously buttoned up and process-bound, which would make the relatively loose nature of guerrilla testing seem hard to implement and unlikely to succeed.

But we think those tight parameters are a major part of what makes guerrilla testing work so well in an enterprise world. We’ve even come up with six great reasons to guerrilla test in an enterprise setting.

Reason #1: It’s Quick & Dirty

When you conduct more formal user testing, you eat up a lot of resources (time, money, and person power). It can be difficult to convince stakeholders of the value in such a big resource suck, and even when stakeholders do see the value, the resources simply may not be available.

“Conducting user interviews can be a really long process: planning, setting them up, scheduling, dealing with scheduling conflicts, re-scheduling, actually interviewing users… it can be a painstaking process,” says Katie McCoy, Product Management Practice Lead at Myplanet. Labour-intensive testing like user interviews are profoundly worthwhile, but they’re not always an option. Guerrilla testing by its very nature, however, requires none of that lengthy, expensive process.

Eric Goldsmith, Product Strategist at Myplanet, agrees. “User testing is often conducted when you’re testing flows, or you need to spend more time making sure the narrative makes sense and all the components work together. Guerrilla testing is much quicker, much more targeted,” he adds.

Markus Pirker, UX and usability expert, has also noted the resource-light benefits of guerrilla testing. “[W]hat can you do when deadlines are near and the budget is low? You can do Guerrilla Usability Testing, a lean and agile approach to testing which doesn’t break the bank,” he writes.

No expensive prototypes to build, no lengthy interviews to schedule, and only an hour or two to get feedback from dozens of users? The price is definitely right in a budget-constrained enterprise environment.

Reason #2: It Breaks Down Barriers

We’ve written before about the siloing that can happen when departments are separated instead of encouraged to collaborate, and we can’t help but try to advocate for a less siloed approach when we have the chance. One of the best and easiest ways to do this, surprisingly, is through guerrilla testing.

“People forget that it’s one big team trying to do the same thing. We all have the same end goal,” says Eric. “This is a great opportunity to break down those walls even a little bit and to give people insight into how each of the different departments impacts the other departments.”

When we’re working on an employee tool and we give employees from all departments a chance to see how the work being done will directly impact them — even if it’s just a small window into a product that’s still six months away — they start to feel some ownership and a collective desire to make something great takes root.

“Everyone wants to connect and be helpful — it’s human nature — and often they’re excited to contribute, to have a say and offer input, especially when the barrier to entry is so low,” notes Eric. “And it can pay dividends down the line, as you’ve created connections.”

And as Katie notes, sometimes it’s part of the stakeholder’s strategy for navigating their own internal buy-in campaigns. “Sometimes the project sponsor actually wants people to know that something is underfoot, to help get people excited about it. I’ve worked on projects where guerrilla testing has been used to help leverage employee anticipation and as a way to show employees that changes are being made to improve their workflows and processes. Ultimately, to show that their concerns are being listened to,” she says.

Plus, especially in enterprise contexts, you’ve got a large (and largely available) sample of your target user base. As Jessie Chang, Interaction Designer at Myplanet notes, “Instead of having to find strangers who may or may not have any resemblance to your target user, your enterprise user is going to be right in the target demo.”

A test user base with insight and a personal investment in seeing your project succeed? That’s hard to beat.

Reason #3: It Builds Understanding

If it can break down internal barriers to support, guerrilla testing can also help with the struggle to get external understanding. An unexpected side-effect of guerrilla testing we have found is that it helps stakeholders understand the different roles people in our own team play.

“One of the things that people don’t expect as a benefit for guerrilla testing is that you can help stakeholders understand the differences between an interaction designer and visual interface designer, and start to help them understand the value of your team and your work,” says Eric.

By giving a small window into the process of testing and conducting this kind of user research, you can separate out, without much fanfare or a big, confusing lecture, what the different roles and responsibilities are among teammates.

And it’s not just the roles — guerrilla testing can serve as a great first step towards getting stakeholder support for bigger, more elaborate usability testing done. Or, as Markus Pirker colourfully puts it, “Guerrilla research is the perfect starter drug for stakeholders who struggle to acknowledge the value of usability testing.” The secret to making this work, however, is a certain amount of diligence in your efforts.

“Really document your process well,” says Jessie. “It doesn’t have to be perfect, but if it’s thorough then you can share what you’ve captured and pinpoint the things you need to change with real accuracy.” As long as you’re clear about the process you undertake and have the documentation to back up your findings, guerrilla testing a relatively inexpensive way to showcase the value of user tests.

Reason #4: It’s Freeing

Another advantage to guerrilla testing is the relative anonymity and liberty people feel. When you take away the formal environment normally associated with testing and simply approach people in the office cafeteria or a coffee shop, they suddenly open up in a different way. People feel comfortable being a bit more blunt.

“Because this is in the wild, it’s a little more freeform. People can be more frank,” says Fiona Chung, Designer at Myplanet. As a tester, you’re not taking endless notes during the process, so users often forget their thoughts are still being actively noted. And because there isn’t a ton of context or an elaborate prototype, users worry less about hurting feelings or derailing a project. Informal environments and spur of the moment questions also often result in your users being more candid in their responses.

It’s also a liberating experience as a tester. When you work on the fly, you’ve got to be creative in your approach. Paper prototypes, hand-drawn wireframes, and all kinds of other lo-fi solutions come into play, which can be a very freeing experience for you as well.

David Peter Simon, an Experience Designer at ThoughtWorks, notes that “Guerrilla usability testing is very much about adapting to the situation.” If you’re in a cafe or at a park, you won’t necessarily be able to have a fully working web-enabled mock-up. You may not have a consistent surface for placing a laptop on, or for cutting out special prototypes. Navigating the challenges of working ad hoc can be a fun change of pace from sitting behind a desk staring at a laptop screen. Even the simple act of getting out of the office is good way to kickstart creative energy.

Reason #5: It’s Easy To Be Private

Privacy is a going concern on any project, but in an enterprise setting it becomes an especially big issue. And while guerrilla testing is a looser, freer form of testing, those traits can actually be to your advantage on a project with major privacy concerns.

“Guerrilla testing can be an advantage for privacy reasons,” says Amit Jakhu, Designer at Myplanet, “because you can take a small slice of a system and provide the minimum amount of context for it, which is easier for safeguarding secrets than when you need to do a full system test that requires greater understanding on the part of the user.”

By only showing that sliver or slice of something, you eliminate the need to explain what it is you’re building in anything but the broadest strokes. A plain, white-labelled prototype or even a bare-bones wire-frame can be all you need to confirm that yes, this thing works without risking your stakeholders’ privacy. Even if you do need to provide additional context, there are relatively simple ways around divulging the company name or specific details.

“Often when you’re talking about something that needs to be kept context free, you can find an analogous company or industry,” notes Cara Tsang, User Researcher at Myplanet. “Large enterprises are all made up of humans, and we tend to have the same kinds of issues in similar environments, even if the product you’re developing is 100% different to the company you’re using as an example.”

Again, by simply offering a broad understanding of what’s being tested, you’ll give the testees more than enough information to be able to provide useful insights for you.

Reason #6: It Makes Formal User Testing Easier

“I wouldn’t advocate for dropping the rigour of formal user testing in favour of guerrilla, but I think when the opportunity arises it can be very worthwhile,” says Cara. And there are a few reasons this is true.

First and foremost, as we mentioned before, it makes stakeholder buy-in easier. As David Peter Simon noted in regards to a project he worked on, “Guerrilla usability testing opened our stakeholders’ eyes so that they challenged their own, innate assumptions about ‘the user.’” Stakeholders know a lot about their users (usually), but they don’t know everything. Guerrilla testing can show them that there are lots of insights to be gained through a more rigorous testing plan.

But it goes beyond stakeholder support. As Katie notes, guerrilla testing can give you access to a ready supply of user interview candidates down the line.

“Sometimes we’ll gather the contact information of the people we conduct the guerrilla testing with to do a later, more thorough testing. We use the guerrilla sessions as a resource for creating a test user base. Especially when someone very quickly shows interesting, sharp insights — flagging them for testing down the line can be really helpful,” she says.

And Cara agrees with her, having experienced the same thing herself. Sometimes we’ll talk to one person and they’re so passionate about it that they gather their colleagues and get more information.” If you’re testing in an enterprise environment, this pays double dividends. As Cara notes, those are the people who have the greatest insight into what you’re doing and are motivated to see it change.

Guerrilla testing is known for its utility in catching the “low-hanging fruit”, so to speak, especially when it comes to usability. But it’s often overlooked on enterprise projects because it has a reputation for being a bit informal, chaotic, or wild. Well we say go wild — when you shake things up a bit, you might get some really great insights.