Usability tests are like cleaning the garage: You know there will be great benefit, but getting started seems so daunting, and once you have done it, you wonder why you didn't do it sooner!
My team at work just did our first ones. They were surprisingly easy and valuable. Then today, Five Techniques for Getting Buy-In for Usability Testing was posted by Christine Perfetti of User Interface Engineering. Numbers 1-3 in her article perfectly capture our experience:
1. Start Testing Right Away
Start testing. Start doing it right away. We've found there isn't any one experience more beneficial to design teams than running a usability test. I'm still amazed by how quickly development team members recognize the benefits of usability testing once they've actually seen it in action. ...
2. Debunk the Myth that Usability Testing Is a Big Production
... Usability testing isn't rocket science. The organizations that do the best job of incorporating usability tests into their existing process understand that testing is not a big deal.
... our recommendation is to start simple: Test on a computer in your office cubicle and start testing with someone, even a co-worker, to begin gathering data. A usability test doesn't need to be perfect. It just needs to happen.
3. Start Testing Early in the Process.
We will do this often.
A reasonable test is 3-4 test subjects (customers, random customer-like people within the company, etc.) in front of a PC and you, standing behind with a clipboard. Encourage the subject to tell what he is thinking and you have the essence of a usability test!
Hell of a lot easier than cleaning the garage!