The last couple of posts here and here have been critical of boutique usability companies that offer user testing services. In the final part of my rant, here’s an alternative approach. Seed into the development teams someone with a usability background (probably with a psychology degree), someone who can create as well as critique. Align them to Marketing (or ‘the business’) but physically locate them in IT. To be successful they must be a passionate advocate for the business vision (hence business alignment), but unless they have a daily relationship with the developers (on hand to support immediate design decisions) they will fail. (The only way to do this is for them to be part of the development team, same building, same floor, same location).
It is better than they Eschew the formal usability testing process for more informal guerilla usability testing. In an agile project treat this as akin to the showcase. Testing sketches and wireframes prior to the development iteration, and putting working software when it has sufficient UI coherence in front of users and well as business stakeholders, with the developers as observers in the process. One person can cover multiple workstreams. This is a far better use of a limited budget than commissioning ad-hoc reports too late in the day.