05 Aug 2013

Tips on customer demonstrations during software development (Part 1)

Category:
  • Testing

Having been involved in Software testing and UAT support for over a decade I have often found myself in the position of giving a demonstration to the customer. Be it at the end of an 18 months waterfall project or 2 weeks into an agile sprint, the importance of getting a demo right cannot be under-estimated. But what makes a good demonstration? This is the first part of a 2 blog series discussing the key fundamentals that I stick to.

Test Data

Developers and testers are very used to entering data that is a means to an end, where the content is not relevant.  And on some occasions, it has been known for us to entertain ourselves with amusing test data.  Not only may the customer not share your brand of humour, but more importantly, they are viewing the demo from a real world business perspective.  Therefore, extra care and attention should be paid to make the data as realistic as possible to provide suitable context to the demo.  It usually comes down to significant issues for the customer such as permissions and data segregation.  If you are using a test user that is known to the customers business process and suddenly during your demo the customer sees that that user has got access to data that they should not have it really distracts from the value of the demo when you have to placate them and explain that ‘this is only test data’ or ‘sorry, I was testing the configuration settings this morning’.  While most people will understand this and see the bigger picture, you WILL encounter a user who struggles to see past the anomaly, thus breeding needless negativity.

Managing Expectations

This is a phrase that will probably join me on my headstone.  You need to understand the purpose of the demo and where it fits with the project lifecycle.  Is it an agile prototype where bugs may be plentiful or is it after months of design, documentation, and crucially testing and this is the first eagerly awaited glimpse of a working realisation?   Set the tone with your audience; let them know if it is an early unrefined version.  If you know that the design is rough around the edges, then be pro-active in using the demo to actively court suggestions.  If you know that the content of the demo is open to criticism and may not fully live up to star billing, then be honest.  People are always happier when their expectations rise.  If you see a demo where you are expecting a fully designed working solution and you don’t see it, it leaves you feeling negative.  It is better to set the expectations low and make them feel part of the journey to achieving what they ultimately need.

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