Why is beta testing important now more than ever before? The product development lifecycle has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, and beta testing is no longer a phase that definitively ends shortly before product launch.
Product launch was traditionally the end of the product development lifecycle: (1) concept (2) design (3) build (4) launch. In this view, beta testing is something that lived and died in stage 3 (build and test). In contrast, with the rise of agile testing and continuous improvement, beta testing is more important than ever and can now be considered a process that not only occurs pre-launch, but also during the ongoing continuous improvement process prior to launching new features, design changes, or other product improvements.
Prior to launching a new feature or a new product, the aim of the alpha and beta phases is to steadily increase the probability that the product will succeed when it is launched. Continuous improvement is an ongoing effort and philosophy that continues in perpetuity with an aim to constantly evaluate and improve products over time. All of these test phases depend on feedback from real people, using the actual product in unique environments, though each phase is driven by definitive processes and objectives.
Sometimes, there is confusion over the distinction between alpha and beta testing. These two concepts are often interchangeable. However, they can be viewed as two consecutive phases of product testing with unique goals.
Alpha Testing & Beta Testing Important Differences
Alpha testing seeks to evaluate product quality and ensure readiness for beta. The focus of these tests is to find bugs and affirm the product generally works according to the expectations of the product development team. This phase occurs after preliminary QA testing and prior to beta testing. Ideally, the beta phase should occur when the product is about 65%-85% complete—which means that it has adequate stability for technical testers, but likely not feature complete.
Typically, the alpha phase runs 1-2 weeks on each test cycle and may continue for numerous test cycles—varying with the number issues found by the testers find and the number of new features in the release. For some teams, the entire alpha phase can even be 3 to 5 times the length of the beta phase that follows. The stakeholders that typically take interest in the alpha phase include the engineering, product management, and quality assurance teams.
In alpha testing, the testing participants ideally include a range of customers and potential users that are capable of providing meaningful technical feedback during the test. The involvement of employees in alpha testing can also help tighten internal cohesion and prepare staff for live-support after launch. Alpha testers should expect a product containing many bugs, induces crashes or significant failures, and may be missing elements or exhibit glitchy features.
The objective of alpha testing is to identify critical problems that are not testable in the lab and also capture show-stopper bugs that are likely to thwart upcoming beta testing. A product is ready for beta when it meets requirements and design specifications, all primary features function correctly, and the testers no longer find blocking issues.
Beta Testing Process
About the beta testing process
Beta testing evaluates the level of customer satisfaction and verifies readiness to release or deploy a new product, feature, or improvement. Beta tests typically include task and survey distributions to guide users in their engagement, and allow each user to discover new and changed product features. The goal is to gather feedback and make a judgement as to whether or not this is ready to be released into the wild.
Typically, a beta testing phase may run from 1-12 weeks, which may include many smaller iterative cycles. This may vary widely according to the type of product that is under development. For example, accounting system may require more than a month for a single cycle. By contrast, it may be quite sufficient to test a newsreader product on one-week test cycles—with new participants each week. More beta cycles may be necessary if additional features are added toward the end of the project.
Key stakeholders in beta testing include people with user experience (UX), quality management, and product management expertise. In beta, it’s important to recruit fresh, independent users that are drawn from the target market for your product. Great value comes from this vantage, since such testers can provide more objectivity and additional insights on product usage. This feedback can be a vital boost to the success potential for the product, and help provide greater value to your current and prospective customers.
Beta testers should expect a nearly feature-complete product that may still have some bugs, crashes, and incomplete documentation. The aim is to identify and fix critical / important issues, and suggest user experience improvements that are achievable before launching the product.
Beta testing seeks to improve success of the upcoming product launch or release, by providing evidential recommendations for product improvement and a comprehensive perspective of customer experience. Also, future product development is heavily influenced by beta testing outcomes.
A product is ready to move into a continuous improvement phase when typical target-market users are quite comfortable with the user interface, are satisfied with how the product functions, and indicate overall satisfaction with their experiences in using the product.
Agile beta testing important for continuous improvement
With the rise of agile, iterative development approaches, together with the advent of continuous delivery, conventional notions of a beta testing phase—in which product development ends while customers evaluate the software—is fading away. Today’s most product teams are focused on customer feedback, analyzing data, and working to continually improve the user experience by launching new builds weekly. This is what makes beta testing important today as a key component in a continuous improvement strategy.
Erlibird does not view each testing phase as having a strict beginning and end. We focus on simple, agile, and iterative testing phases—rather than one-and-done. We also strongly encourage and cultivate Continuous Improvement following any product launch. Beta testing important new features, design changes, or any major product changes is something that should occur with every release.
Agile development is flexible and high-speed, and therefore requires a beta testing approach that is also fast and flexible. Iterative testing is frequently conducted with a unique set of testers for each iteration, to ensure each participant can engage and provide feedback with open eyes, without the influence of their previous experiences. However, for some products, if makes more sense to re-engage the same set of testers continually, so that each user can receive a build after each sprint and provide updated feedback over time before the the final release ships to paying customers.
Why Is Beta Testing Important For The User Experience?
Like you, we at Erlibird encounter some surprising bugs. And sometimes we don’t fully delight our users. We’ve come to realize that users typically don’t have much patience in a competitive marketplace. If you ship something buggy, they won’t come back.
Whether you are launching a website, a new app, or a new mobile device, it is important that you have independent users test the product thoroughly prior to shipment. Beta testing serves multiple purposes, though all of those initiatives lead to one thing – improving customer experience.
Beta testing important new products is also known as user acceptance testing—UAT—and occurs near the end of the pre-release product development cycle. Though often neglected or glossed over, this validation activity reveals critical insights about how customers will perceive, engage with, and operate the software. It assesses how the product meets user expectations. In other words, beta testing move the development team very far along to answering the penultimate product question: Is it shippable?
The cost to ship bad software will always be quite high. If a prospective user downloads your application, there is a very short interval of time to convince that user of its value. In this short duration of time, this user will become a customer only if they perceive that your software will help solve a problem or meet a need, according to John Egan, Pinterest’s growth engineering manager:
“For activation, it all comes down to: Does the user get enough value from your product? For early stage startups, this means to figure out how to reach product-market-fit. And if you’re past that stage, it comes down to being able to communicate your product value to your users. When someone downloads your app, you have a couple of minutes to convince them that this is something they need to use on a regular basis. In this short time they need to understand how the app will help them accomplish whatever the product value is.”
It’s always important to remember that the penultimate goal of any product is to build something that is better than other alternatives and either solves a problem or meets a basic human need. Beta testing helps you achieve that top-level product development goal. When done properly, beta testing helps you iron out the wrinkles and find deficiencies prior to launching your product.
Gain Insights About Real-World Usage
Beta testing provides insights into product functionality, and also helps you better understand user experience. Going beyond lab performance tests, beta testing reveals whether or not the same level of performance is achievable in actual user environments. Many products need to perform well in hundreds of various environments and many different usage contexts.
By presenting the software to users that stand well outside the insular community of developers, beta testing serves to identify elements of functionality that are all too easily overlooked in the lab. In addition, your team benefits from feedback that can be very useful for improving future product versions—or even spawn ideas for entirely new products.
Why Is Beta Testing Important For Your Product?
Beta testing is more important now than ever before. There are many different reasons to beta test, but be sure to keep the following goals in mind:
- Customer Feedback – Beta testing important new products and features is one of the best ways to determine if your product provides value and solve a problem or satisfies a basic human need.
- Quality – Will the product function flawlessly on various devices and environments?
- Usability – Will users be able to accomplish what they want in an intuitive and enjoyable way?
- Performance – Will your product operate quickly and efficiently in the hands of real users?
- Save Money – Save money by fixing problems before they occur.
- Make Money – Improve usability and provide more value to users, leading to increased conversions and higher revenue.
- Vetting Ideas – Prior to launching a new product or feature, it’s important to put it into the hands of new users.
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