Maturity or Bureaucracy?--
In his latest Alert Box, Jacob Nielsen talks about the pros and cons of developers doing their own usability testing. For a while, now, Nielsen has had a maturity model that basically states the more mature an organization is about usability, the more independent the usability function is within that organization. Therefore, developers doing their own testing is an indication of low maturity.
I disagree. One of the most mature organizations I ever worked at from a usability perspective was CheckFree Corporation. For one, the concept of ease-of-use was embedded in their corporate mission statement and they had their own usability lab. The lab was run, however, by designers in the UX department. These folks were part of the Development organization and their main deliverable was not test reports; rather it was the wireframes from which the development team coded the product. A salesman for an external lab once asked me how I sold my usability value within the company. I told him I didn't, the only reason I did usability testing was that I wanted the data to see if my designs would work before the marketplace provided that feedback. My company valued my wireframes; I valued the data that informed those wireframes.
Still, there persists this popular belief that usability has really made it when it is an independent department in a company. To me that's like measuring the maturity of an engineering company by whether or not it has an independent department for doing the math. It doesn't make sense for engineers not to do their own math, nor does it necessarily make sense for designers not to do their own usability testing. To say it is not in their basic skill set merely sets up the question, "Why the hell not?"
About 25 years ago I was managing a training department when my company was making the transition from having a department secretary who typed our video scripts to having the instructional designers use word processors. There was almost a mutiny. Today, we see word processors as cognitive tools, things writers use to help compose and organize their thinking--not merely as output devices.
Usability testing should be the same. It shouldn't be something we send over to the usability pool to have done by "those people." It should be a routine task in the course of doing design.