In 2020, a survey by Original Software found that almost 90% of respondents agreed that user acceptance testing (UAT) is a key part of achieving high-quality results in software development. But what is user acceptance testing?

User acceptance testing is the final testing stage in software development before production. It’s used to get feedback from users who test the software and its user interface (UI). UAT is usually done manually, with users creating real-world situations and testing how the software reacts and performs. Test-case scenarios can also be automated, simulating a user experience.

As its name suggests, UAT is used to determine if end-users accept software before it’s made public. Client or business requirements determine whether it fulfills the expectations originally set in its development.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at UAT and how it’s performed, why it’s so important, tools and best practices, and some of the careers that utilize it.

Why is user acceptance testing important?

UAT is vital in getting software ready for production. At this point in the development process, testing has gone through a series of phases, and the development team has the following tests:

  • Unit (or component) testing: Testing of individual modules, units of code, or software.
  • Smoke tests: Tests to determine the stability of units or modules and their endurance.
  • Integration tests: Tests of modules or components integrated into groups to verify that they function and communicate as a whole.
  • Regression tests: Tests to verify that data and functionality haven’t lapsed after changes are implemented.
  • Security tests: Tests to expose potential vulnerabilities.
  • Performance tests: Testing the stability and responsiveness of the software as a whole.
  • API testing: Testing the software’s function within its API framework.

Each test above is crucial, and the results of each verify functionality, integration, and communication while exposing faults and vulnerabilities.

But even if all these tests are successful, it’s still possible that the software doesn’t fully meet the client or business requirements and criteria outlined in its conception. It also may not be as user-friendly as intended.

This is where UAT plays a vital role. It ensures the software meets the business requirements and operates correctly in real-world circumstances by evaluating different situations.

Criteria and best practices for user acceptance testing

Due to the costliness of UAT and the complexity of combining manual and automated testing in this phase, it’s important to prepare ahead and develop a plan. What are the criteria for running user acceptance tests, and what are considered best practices for successful results?

  • Complete other test phases: Before initiating UAT, it’s best to finish unit testing, integration testing, and system testing. Most faults and vulnerabilities should be resolved and eliminated at this point. The software should be fully functioning prior to end-user acceptance.
  • Identify your target audience: The most well-designed software or application may fall flat if it doesn’t resonate with its target audience, so it’s crucial to identify and study your market base.
  • Develop a test plan: Outline the objectives and scope of the user acceptance test and create a timeline. Good preparation is key in minimizing any obstacles and reducing UAT cycles.
  • Create scripted test cases: Identify scenarios you want to test and document them so that testers can work with scripted test cases. Having this information will make their feedback more useful for the development team. Include goals such as timelines and expectations.
  • Select testers: Even if in-house analysts are used for running UAT, it’s advisable to include users from the target audience. Both sets of results will have their respective value to the team, but the actual users will give you a picture of the real-world acceptance of the software and its UI.
  • Test the environment: After selecting testers and providing them with credentials and access, test the environment to make sure it functions as intended. Failure to do this might result in frustration and negative feedback if functionality is less than adequate even before testing begins.
  • Determine protocols for reports and resolutions: Establish a standard for reporting errors, bugs, and other test feedback. Determine priorities and documentation protocol. Communicate to team members and testers how reports will be handled and how new test cycles will be initiated.
  • Clearly define acceptance criteria: Clearly defined goals and criteria will determine the effectiveness of the UAT and have a direct impact on the quality and marketability of the end product.

UAT challenges

As a testing plan is created and a timeline is established, it’s good to keep in mind some of the challenges that may occur during the process. The team can then plan for and mitigate obstacles to the testing phase. Such obstacles include:

  • New requirements: Business and client requirements change over time. Last-minute changes can derail planned UAT, so stay on top of any adjustments that could cost time and resources if not implemented promptly.
  • Poor UAT tester engagement: Testers who lack training or clear objectives will be unable to produce test results that impact a project positively. Plan for training and proper oversight of the testing process to reduce wasted time and resources. Make sure your team can address technical issues and answer questions during the process.
  • Time constraints: Since UATs are conducted toward the end of a development project, just before it goes live, time may be limited. Proper planning is vital to avoid unnecessary delays.
  • Communication issues: Good communication removes ambiguity and promotes problem-solving rather than blame. If a clear and simple protocol for communication between testers and developers isn’t established, things can quickly spiral out of control.

Types of user acceptance tests

In general, user acceptance testing refers to testing among simulated and real users. But there are other facets of UAT that play a role in this phase of development as well.

Alpha testing

This is usually done by internal staff members in a controlled environment. It provides early detection of bugs and other issues that can be easily identified by professionals testing in the development environment.

Beta testing

Beta testing can be understood to be “field testing.” It’s done by a selected group of real users in their environment. Their feedback helps further identify bugs and improve the overall product and its features.

Business acceptance testing

This type of test follows the test case parameters, but its function is to ensure the system meets business requirements and assures marketability and profit.

Contract acceptance testing

In contract acceptance testing, the software under development is tested according to the specifications and criteria agreed upon in a predefined contract.

Regulation acceptance testing

This is also called compliance acceptance testing, and it’s used to ensure that the software complies with state and federal laws and regulations where it’s being released.

Operational acceptance testing

This type of acceptance test is also known as production acceptance testing or operational readiness testing. It assures that the software is ready for production and that workflows exist, including maintenance processes, security checks, user training, and backup plans.

Black box testing

Many categorize black box testing, or behavioral testing, as functional testing, but it can also be viewed as a facet of acceptance testing. Testers are unable to see the codebase or structure. They’re only given requirements that the software should satisfy. The results validate that the software meets its functional requirements.

Tools for user acceptance testing

Having a plan in place that’ll help ensure that UATs produce the desired results, the team can now prepare to execute the tests. Tools that are available to augment the process for acceptance testing can be categorized as follows:

Project management and issue tracking

Jira is a tool commonly used for project management and issue tracking. It has features for creating workflows, facilitating communication, tracking issues, and distributing tasks. Other similar products are Rally and Tricentis qTest.

Test management

Tools for creating tests and managing their execution and results are also available. An example is Zephyr, which can be used with Jira to provide test management capabilities. Other similar products are PractiTest, QMetry, and TestRail.

Tools for automated acceptance testing

Tools designed for automating testing or for software written in specific languages are also available. Some examples:

  • Concordion: Concordion is an open-source tool for automating specification by example for Java. It can be used for earlier stages of testing, such as regression testing, and it also facilitates collaboration and documentation in acceptance testing.
  • FitNesse: This is an open-source testing framework for major programming languages, such as Java, Python, and C++. It’s used for automating test scenarios and returning the results in a table for analysis.
  • Watir: This toolkit is designed for automating browser-based tests for programs written with Ruby.

Additional need for acceptance testing

While acceptance testing is typically performed just before production, there are other times when additional acceptance testing may need to be done, such as:

  • Phased releases: Some organizations release software or applications in phases. In cases like this, the UAT plan needs to include testing before each production phase.
  • Hotfixes: After release, bugs or vulnerabilities may be discovered that need to be fixed immediately. These patches will need at least minimal acceptance testing.
  • Additional releases, updates, or modifications: Nearly all software is periodically updated, and some organizations have multiple releases. Take Microsoft as an example. They generally produce Limited Distribution Releases (LDR) and General Distribution Releases (GDR). Each release, modification, or scheduled update requires acceptance testing for quality assurance.
  • Upgrades: Sometimes software is upgraded, meaning more is done than just an update. They may change features, redesign their UI, or evolve the software to be relevant to new technologies. Since a complete upgrade changes both client and business requirements significantly, extensive acceptance testing will likely be necessary.

Careers using UAT

Numerous careers connected to software development require either the implementation of acceptance testing or the leveraging of its results. Here are some examples:

  • UAT Contractor: A third-party tester with professional qualifications and a background in computer science, engineering, or IT.
  • Systems Analyst: A member of the development team who performs tests, analyzes results, and provides support and maintenance.
  • Business Analyst: A facilitator and mediator between the development team and stakeholders or management, ensuring that development follows the business requirements and criteria for marketability. You can learn business analysis skills by signing up for relevant courses like our Business Intelligence Data Analyst career path.
  • Quality Assurance Engineers, Analysts, and Managers: Various positions assuring quality control and assurance within a software development project.

Many tech careers will either directly or indirectly involve acceptance testing. Check out the courses below to start learning some of the languages commonly used for software development and testing:

Code Foundations Courses & Tutorials | Codecademy
Interested in learning how to code, but unsure where to start? Our Code Foundations domain provides an overview of the main applications of programming and teaches important concepts that you’ll find in every programming language. This content will prepare you to chart a course to a more technical c…

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