With the site finished, the big question facing the team is: "Does it work?" Though you may have been testing the bits and pieces of the project as you went along, the answer to that question is rarely, "Of course it does."
Though you may have been testing using the Test in Browser features of Dreamweaver MX 2004 and Fireworks MX 2004 or the Test Movie feature of Flash MX 2004, they really aren't the same as actually testing the site. Even if you have been using the Flash Communication Server MX and ColdFusion MX locally, nothing can come close to the "real thing." At this stage of the game, the team has to pull back from looking at the trees and focus on the forest. This means everything, and we mean everything, has to work.
The first thing you have to realize is that testing is a time-consuming process. You have to look for spelling errors and broken links or links that go to the wrong place. You have to examine each piece of data to ensure it is correct and current. If you have streaming video and audio feeds, you have to ensure they work. The stuff you can see is the easy part of the process. The really hard part is finding bugs and fixing them. This would include the wrong font in a CSS Style Sheet, images that don't load, plugins that don't work, browser crashes caused by antiquated software or plugin difficulty, and any other of the million possible things that can go wrong.
Then there are the accessibility issues. More and more, jurisdictions are not regarding your work as simply a web site. They see the site as an "application," and as such, governments from the United States (Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act) to the European Union have some pretty stringent and specific accessibility standards, rules, or guidelines that must be met. For example, Section 508 plainly states that all federal and government-owned electronic information must be accessible by the disabled. A good web site for further information is http://www.section508.gov.
Hours are spent fixing problems and addressing accessibility issues, and then you reinvest even more hours to start the process all over again to ensure everything works to the project's technical and creative specifications before going live. The time spent here, being rigorous and meticulous, is not wasted time. In fact, it will be the most valuable investment you will make in the project. A good rule of thumb at this stage is to have your production budget allow for ten percent of the project's time for quality assurance and testing.
The testing process can be informal or formal. It can be done in-house by a few of the team members, or you can retain the services of an outside company to undertake the process on your behalf. No matter how you approach testing, do it.