We’ve talked a lot before about test environments and types of software testing (such as smoke testing) where we’ve stressed the importance of software undergoing different types of testing though its development lifecycle to validate the quality and performance of the software planned for release.

In that sense, software testing is used to determine that the product or feature is behaving as expected and users are not encountering any bugs.

In this article, we will look at a particular type of testing known as User Acceptance Testing (UAT). 

Many tend to confuse UAT with beta testing and use them interchangeably but they’re not exactly one and the same.

It’s true that beta testing can be considered a type of UAT. Both beta testing and UAT are two of the most common types of tests to validate a product before the final release. However, there are some slight differences that set them apart.

What is User Acceptance Testing?

Early on the software development life cycle, you might have run a number of different tests and everything seems to be in order. However, you then release it to production only for users to turn into some major issues while using your product or feature.

So what happened exactly? It could be that your software may be completely functional but doesn’t perform as expected due to requirements not being clearly communicated to developers or it could be that your software may not be compatible with a ‘real world’ environment.

This is where the value of user acceptance testing lies. 

UAT is a type of testing that is used to verify whether a software meets business requirements and whether it’s ready for use by customers. It gives an overall perspective of how this software functions as a whole.

It is often conducted during the final stage of development just before the software is released into production and comes after unit, system and integration testing.

Like its name ‘user acceptance’ implies, UAT is specifically used to verify that the final product or feature meets the requirements of the end-user and to determine whether it will be accepted or not. 

This means that actual users test the software to ensure that it’s working as expected in real-world scenarios and so it’s the closest thing to a ‘real world’ test.

Thus, a separate production-like environment should be set up for this test where users interact with the software to see whether it can handle real-world tasks.

It will typically answer questions such as:

  • Can the user use the software? 
  • Does it fulfill their requirements?
  • Do they run into any issues while using it?
  • Does the software work and behave as expected? (do users use the software the way you expect them to?)
  • Does it perform within development specifications?

The users chosen are usually real-world users composed of business users who have sufficient knowledge of how the software will be used on a daily basis and whether it actually fulfills business requirements.

Generally, users can be from 2 categories: end-users (part of the target audience) or clients (business users who asked the organization to develop the software).

UAT encompasses different types of tests. Thus, UAT, beta and alpha testing are different types of acceptance testing.

Why you should carry out user acceptance testing

UAT is imperative as, during this testing stage, you have real users interacting with the software before its official release.

This will enable you to spot any bugs so that they may be fixed before releasing the product to all your users.

This, in turn, will minimize the risk of finding out a bug too late after production when it might be costly and time-consuming to fix after release, not to mention could cause some serious damage to a company’s reputation.

In that sense, UAT ensures that the purpose of every piece of software is fulfilled before going to production.

This is important because sometimes developers build a software based on their own understanding of users’ needs which may turn out not to be what the end-user actually needs from the software.

Thus, UAT acts as a safety guard that prevents faulty or inefficient software from being released and makes sure that the customer can work with the product without any issues that may affect the experience; in other words, it ensures that the software gives end-users the best usability.

UAT key stages

The following section will present the key steps and stages you will need to consider to carry out effective user acceptance testing:

  • Analyze product and business requirements– this will help you guide on what you should test. In other words, these are the requirements that will be validated during the testing process
  • Create UAT plan- this plan will outline the strategy that will be used to verify that the product meets business requirements. It will also include a description of the roles of every team member and will document entry and exit criteria for UAT
  • Identify test scenarios and test cases– identify all hypothetical situations that your users will encounter and create test cases or instructions that correspond with these scenarios
  • Set up test environment – you will need to design a separate environment to conduct UAT with production-like data setup
  • Run the tests– execute test cases and record results and if the users finds a bug, it will need to be fixed ASAP. Testers usually rely on a tool set to facilitate test management such as Bugwolf or Usersnap
  • Collect data and analyze it– data could come from manually submitted user reports or a specific tool can be used for reporting. The team then adjusts the code based on these results and then retest
  • Confirm business objectives were met– if everything goes smoothly, the end-user will give their sign off to indicate that the application meets their need and is ready for use. 

For UAT to take place, some prerequisites need to be met, which include:

  • Business requirements must be available
  • Application code needs to be fully developed
  • Unit, integration and system testing should be completed
  • Any bugs should be fixed before moving on to UAT
  • UAT environment must be ready with proper test data
  • Sign-off mail from testing team that the application is ready for UAT

UAT vs beta testing (vs other types of testing)

We’ve already mentioned that these two types of testing are often confused. In fact, beta testing can be considered to come under the umbrella of UAT as they both involve testing on real-world users.

With that said, we may observe some slight differences between the two namely:

  • UAT, as stated above, takes place in a more controlled environment while beta testing is done in a production environment.
  • The goals differ: UAT is used to verify that the product meets business requirements while beta testing is run for the purpose of gathering feedback from end-users regarding usability and the user experience.
  • Thus, beta tests are usually less structured and controlled involving a ‘public’ beta release whereas UAT is not released to the general public.

However, both tests are used to validate software quality by testing on end-users and to uncover bugs that may have gone undetected in previous rounds of testing.

Before conducting beta testing, alpha testing is performed on internal users only to make sure that the software meets all expectations and adheres to business requirements.

Similarly, because user acceptance testing is a way to validate quality, it could be confused with quality assurance (QA) testing. 

And yet there are differences: UAT is conducted after internal QA testing and while UAT is done by end-users, QA testing is carried out by your product team, internally, so no real-world users are involved. 

Also, QA testing focuses more so on identifying technical issues to make sure that the software is error-free (verification) while UAT focuses on how the product performs in real-world scenarios (validation). 

Read more: Differences between alpha and beta testing

To sum up…

As we’ve seen, user acceptance testing has two main purposes in mind, which is to make sure that the software developed:

  • Fulfills business requirements
  • Can be used by end-users

UAT is a critical type of testing that takes place toward the end of the software development life cycle. It makes sure your software functions in real-world scenarios according to specifications.

Therefore, this is a necessary type of testing that should not be overlooked as this provides you with an opportunity to put your software in the hands of real users before you officially release it. It makes sure the software you release gives your users exactly what they’re looking for without fail.

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