I'm working on a internal system for a company at the moment and I'm having huge trouble recruiting participants for user testing.

That this is a system they themselves will have to use when it goes live does not help much in recruiting people, with only a fraction of those invited ever agreeing to attend. The trouble is people are just too busy with the work they have to do now to worry about their work next year.

How can I turn things around? How can I convince these internal participants to agree to attend my user testing sessions?

  • 2
    Have you spoken to them about the benefits of testing and being an integral part of the development? If they are users of the end system they really should be enthusiastic about shaping it. Aug 14 '17 at 7:50
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    If they are internal users, why can't the management assign testing duties to selected employees? This way you will pick the best for the job and their efforts will be acknowledged by their managers. Aug 14 '17 at 8:29
  • The application is owned by one department, where we've no trouble getting people, though one side of it will be heavily used by another department. It would be a major political mess to go way up to the common boss between the two. Aug 14 '17 at 9:35

Don't just ask: do.

Employ guerilla research techniques:

Grab yourself a clipboard and go find any one of your users - Sit next to them and say do you "I'm just going to watch how you user the software so I can find ways to improve it" and take notes.

Take the opportunity to raise the subject of the software whenever you get a chance to chat to a user - It doesn't matter what the original chat is about: "So, how are you finding the software?", and listen to what they have to say.

Attend training sessions for new users to find out how they adapt to the software.

If you ask for test candidates very few people will volunteer unless there's something in it for them - 5 minutes chat for a coffee and a cookie, 15 minutes for a free lunch... it's expensive so you'll need a budget if you want to go down that route.

It's far easier just to go to them rather than asking them to come to you.

If you want to test prototypes then do exactly the same - go to users and tell them someone is trying to improve the software and want to know their opinion on what's been done so far (always tell them it's someone else's work so they're more honest with you).


Do you have a budget? I found out its really easy to recruit people for testing if you invite them for lunch and tell them to eat something while testing your application, you pay for their lunch (7-12€) and they review your application, of course that only makes sense if you have a budget, please don't do this with your own money.

If your test fits in a timeframe of 10-40 minutes this option is pretty good. A nice side effect is that you get to know people better.


Lots of good ideas already. My in-house team exclusively designs for employees. We've had a range of experiences with participant recruitment for depth interviews, concept feedback, prototype testing, etc - and developed a stack of tricks. We've found similar - everyone is always busy! But they can be motivated.

These days, we always consider how to fit the research method around the recruitment reality. If we can't find 45 mins with people to do a length, focused session, then we have to be inventive with alternatives.

You did mention some potential for "major political mess" in asking for senior support. This would raise a bit of a red flag for me! Sorry, I can't help with that one.

It does depend on what you want to research, but your question seemed to be specially about testing a thing, I'm assuming a prototype? These suggestions aren't mutually exclusive. In no particular order:

  1. Setting up somewhere busy, like a canteen/kitchen or near a vending/coffee machine. Make a sign, get some sweets/snacks of choice to give and ask people for 10 mins (short) to make their lives easier. You need to keep it short.
  2. Get the boss/person of authority to email teams telling them what you're doing, and encouraging them to take part. This can help reduce any fears about taking the time to get involved.
  3. Incentives are tricky. We don't have a policy of paying people for their time. However, we do have some cheap and cheerful give-aways (pens, tote bags) to help people remember that taking part was a nice experience.
  4. Prize-draws as an alternative for individual incentives. Depending on if you have rules and budget, then this can make a bit more of an up-front draw.
  5. Target people - get managers to nominate them. Extreme version: teams compete to see how many people from their area can take part.
  6. Review any existing contacts about the existing system: emails, helpdesk calls, feedback - where people may have already asked for help or complained about the existing system. Contact them to see if they would be interested in helping more.
  7. Walk the floors and pick on people. Use with caution! Very much based on your office culture. We found this can be too disruptive, and for longer testing not ideal. Best for 1 or 2 questions.
  8. Once we do find people, we keep records, so either we can go back if needed, or we deliberately know to leave them alone for a while.
  9. Not sure if your organising offer training or inductions to staff, but these can help identify people. Or you can sit in with these sessions, and ask if people are available to help after.
  10. If you can offer a feedback channel in the new release too.

Hope that helps. Good luck.


I agree that the best way to go about this is to go through a manager. Your testers might need to have manager approval anyway, and having a manager ask for volunteers will probably work better than if you do.

I don't imagine you'll need to go to the common boss of both departments. Just approach the immediate bosses of the teams you want to test with. Or have your boss make the connection. I've had success having my Project Manager make the arrangements since they've usually already had contact with someone with authority on the users' teams.

I assume your design and development teams have already had contact with the department you want to test with. Who did you gather requirements from and do your up-front user research with? (Trick question!) Those contacts can probably help make the necessary arrangements.

A couple additional thoughts: (1) Go to them. Perform the test at the user's desk (or in a conference room in their office). (2) Phrase the request as "an opportunity to help us improve the software you're using." My testers are usually enthusiastic to help with that. (3) For mass recruiting for non-moderated remote testing, I usually saw about a 3% response rate. So I'd send 1000 requests to get 30 testers.

Good luck.

  • In a business environment, this is the only correct way to proceed. "Guerrilla Testing" is a nice term, but employees are rarely at liberty to commit to such projects without a clear directive from management. Aug 14 '17 at 17:27

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