Guerilla Testing


What is guerrilla testing

This is also sometimes referred to as the “Starbucks” testing method. But, for copyright purposes let’s stick with calling it guerrilla testing.


Guerrilla testing is a fast and low cost method of usability testing, where you take a prototype to a public place and ask people in your target market questions and go through the prototype to see how they interact and respond.


This tactic has long been in the usability designers toolbox, and product managers need to be mindful for when they should use this tactic and when to look elsewhere.

Let’s take an example to illustrate this method further. Let’s say you want to build a new app that curates content from various news sources and turns it into audio for commuters listening. You might have a napkin drawing of the app, and a list of the key features. To guerrilla test this you’d want to hop on a train with a bunch of commuters and talk to them about the app. Show the commuters the napkin and walk them through how the app would work. Solicit feedback. Would they use it? What would be their key features? What else would they want to add? These are the sorts of questions that will bring in great feedback and give you early direction. By leveraging guerrilla tactics and going to your target market early you can see if your idea holds weight with your target market and get direction on what to build first before you invest any time in building at all.

How to use guerrilla testing

This test methodology has some obvious flaws. There’s a big sampling bias issue where even if the 10 or so people you speak with all agree on something they can be an anomaly in your market, and not representative of the group as a whole. There’s also the danger of over explaining the app, since it isn’t built, and thereby shaping the responses that are colored by the person asking the questions. And lastly, it can be hard to control for other environmental variables when you’re “out in the wild” so all kinds of factors may end up having inadvertent effects on your testing. For example, gloomy weather could make people skew negative that day.

Despite the above challenges, there’s no doubt that guerrilla testing has a time and place. It’s cheap, fast, and can be done early in the product ideation process. It should be used to help you get quick reactions and see if your idea is something that the market will be interested in. Leverage people’s reactions, good or bad, by understanding how the product or service may fit into your user’s everyday life and getting a pulse on what features will be important in your MVP.


Additional reading on Guerrilla testing

  1. John Chan on SlideShare
  2. David Peter Simon on UX Booth
  3. Russ Unger on UX Mag
  4. Gavin Harris on Box UK



About Author

Co-founder of, ex-Audible (Amazon), AmEx and TribalScale Product Management leader, currently living in Portugal leading product management of vertical expansion for automotive within OLX. Mike has built products and coached teams all over the world.

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