The User Acceptance Test (UAT) is a critical component of any IT implementation. The goal of a UAT is to validate if a system or solution will meet the needs of business users in their operational environment.

The outcome of this phase sends the project down one of two paths. If all goes well, the project moves on to the Go Live phase. If it’s a flop, the project faces many challenges ahead, the Go Live timeframe is at risk, and the credibility of the project with the business may be tarnished. Obviously, the stakeholders want the UAT to go well. So how do you secure a win?

Let’s explore the 10 key ingredients of a successful UAT. We’ve seen this recipe work across a wide variety of IT projects.

1. Create a Detailed UAT Plan

Develop a detailed plan, use a checklist to make sure you execute the plan, and perform a readiness assessment to confirm you’ve done your work.

Make sure to involve the users in UAT planning—they have a different perspective on many things that are very practical during a test, for example, how many hours can you actually test the solution in a given week?

2. Precede UAT With All Other Tests

First, complete unit testing, functional testing, CRP, iCRP, etc. Then and only then, move forward with your UAT. Never start a UAT if you haven’t successfully completed previous test cycles. No matter what PM methodology you use, testing is a multi-step process. Don’t skip steps, and NEVER rely on the UAT to be your only test cycle.

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3. Select the Right People

Test with real users. Use those who hold the true business process and functional knowledge—the business people who perform the actual jobs. Don’t use surrogates (unless they have a specific responsibility to perform all acceptance testing for the business).

Participants must deliver credibility. Keep in mind, the UAT is more than just another test. It’s also a marketing tool delivered by and for the users. Include support staff, admin staff, issues resolution staff, facilitation/workshop staff, and always have a few technical resources nearby to quickly resolve issues that may come up.

4. Define the Kickoff Criteria

Start the UAT only when you’re ready. You are not ready unless all issues from previous testing have been resolved; the environment is prepared; test scripts are produced; security is set up; and participants are trained, briefed on objectives, and aware of the pass/fail criteria. Look for other conditions that need to be met before commencing this phase.

5. Communicate and Coordinate

The UAT phase is a great opportunity for broad change management communications and follow-up. There should be no surprises for users regarding what the test is about, what’s going to happen, who does what, goals and objectives, signoff criteria, locations, hours, and participants. Hold daily debrief meetings to discuss the ‘pulse’ of the day with participants, their managers, and project stakeholders.

6. Mimic Reality

The UAT experience should simulate real-world business processes as closely as possible. Leverage actual system integrations, interfaces, business intelligence/reporting, support processes, recent data (converted or loaded), and knowledgeable users.

The truth is, you can’t fake the real thing. UATs are still a relatively safe place to uncover minor issues. Go Live is unequivocal. Have you ever been asked to explain why something worked in testing but doesn’t work in production? OK, then you get it!

7. Pre-Test

Make sure that your UAT environment works. Use a small cohort of IT and Business project team members to perform an intense smoke test on security, integration, scripts, error handling, conference rooms, and equipment. This is an easy step to avoid an embarrassing incident on Day 1 of the UAT phase.

8. Document, Track, Monitor, Report

Use a commercially available UAT tracking tool or create your own tracking spreadsheets to document everything that happens in the sessions. Information to track includes: who tested what scenarios, with what results, issues and errors, issues assignments, issues resolution, pass/fail data, KPIs, daily meetings, and daily reporting.

9. Match Tests to Business Criticality

Match the level of complexity, iterations, and detail of the test scenarios to the business criticality of the specific functionality being tested. Tip: Use pre-test sessions (see #7) to address lower-level, non-critical, or repetitive functionality so the UAT participants can spend less time on these tasks. The UAT should focus on more important business functions.

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10. Manage by Wandering Around (MBWA) and Communicate Some More

During the test cycles, wander around. Get continuous informal feedback, discuss the latest test metrics, be visible, coach, monitor, and assist. When not MBWA-ing, use other communication methods to share information with the testing team and project stakeholders. Invite stakeholders to stop by and have a quick chat with the UAT facilitators. This phase really is a big deal and should be treated accordingly!

User Acceptance Testing isn’t easy. And of course, passing also depends on solid execution throughout the project—not just at test time. But with the right process, you can significantly increase your chance of success. In this way, the UAT can become a predictable event that also supports the project’s change management strategy.

Good luck with your next UAT and remember: don’t start if you’re not ready!

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