Well, yes, this is how it normally should be. There should be at least 3 environments - Development, Testing, Production.
XPO export-import is the one way to go. Others just copy over the whole layer file (.aod files), but last option is safer to be done from TEST to PROD environments. Try not copy layers from DEV to TEST as you never know if there are no bugs (and code/data conflicts) left on DEV. Copying layers however is a good approach as you never have ID conflicts and you are 99.999% sure that PROD has to have just the same logic as TEST had when you last tested it.
For testing… well, business people or business analysts should test changes before applciation modifications are transfered to PROD.
About tools - Team Foundation Server with Testing Suite is the ultimate tool for testing, but as this is so powerfull tool I will not even touch any aspects of what it can do…
As Janis suggested three environments, DEV, TEST and PROD
Have a build process when checking in any piece of functionality, the build process should compile all AOT and furthermore should run unit tests. The build process should produce the .aod files to be imported to the test environment. I believe this could be done with TFS but never tried it.
Copy the .aod files produced to the TEST environment to run functional tests
Copy the .aod files produced to the PROD environment when functional tests pass