Beta often suffers from a bad reputation among product managers due to the challenges inhibiting a successful project. Here are some of the most common ones.
While a comprehensive plan is critical to a successful beta test, designing that plan requires a depth of knowledge of not only the product, but also the beta testing process itself. Designing a successful beta test involves effectively balancing participants, schedules, and objectives, while including appropriate staff, adjacent organizations and existing processes, all of which are heavily influenced by scarcity (limited schedules, unit availability, etc.)
Beta testing typically strikes at the most inopportune time, when everyone is at their absolute busiest point — preparing for launch. Without dedicated beta management resources, contributing the amount of time necessary to run a successful project is nearly impossible without working around the clock.
While a great deal of hard work ensures product launches adhere to their scheduled release dates, the processes leading up to them are often compromised. Beta testing, being one of the final stages prior to launch, is often a casualty of other activities slipping, leaving those in charge of them with the necessity of adjusting their plans while still attempting to meet their crucial objectives.
While it's tempting to invite those at arm's length (friends and family, coworkers and partners) into a beta test, their relationships form a bias that prevents them from truly representing your market. Thus, building a pool of anonymous, unbiased, enthusiastic beta candidates who meet the specific market requirements of a product, from scratch (and often within a tight and shifting schedule), can be a deeply challenging exercise.
Once a panel of interested candidates has been identified, selecting a limited set of the most qualified applicants is a difficult task. To make matters worse, most products (and by extension their beta tests) target a variety of different personas, technology platforms, geographies, etc. Each additional variable increases the difficulty of the selection process as you try to achieve adequate coverage.
While most established companies have highly efficient processes in place for distributing their products (both software and hardware), the same systems don't typically apply to unreleased products. For hardware tests, manually managing logistics is a time-consuming task that involves the cooperation of both internal teams and individual testers. For software tests, distributing controlled beta releases under a secure context typically requires the involvement of scarce IT resources.
Product and marketing teams carefully work to ensure that their message and crucial product details are controlled up until just the right moment. While in reality leaks are rare, beta testing is one of many pre-release opportunities for them to occur — compromising sophisticated release plans.
Sufficient participation is the principal challenge of nearly every beta test. While identifying enthusiastic beta testers is something ultimately achieved by many, active engagement throughout an entire test is a feat experienced by very few. Typical participation rates in beta tests range from 20-30%, resulting in significant wasted expense in terms of both time and money (beta units, logistics, etc.).
Meaningful beta feedback typically meets one of two qualifications: (1) It directly improves the quality of the product; or (2) It addresses some other established goal of the project. Feedback outside of this criteria is effectively noise, yet can consume a great deal of the product team's time and energy, ultimately reducing the impact of the beta test.
Without knowing how much effort your participants contributed, rewarding them fairly can be an extremely difficult task. Lacking this visibility, many companies overcompensate at great expense, rather than risk under-rewarding their hardworking testers.
Without the appropriate tools, analyzing and classifying hundreds to thousands of independent pieces of customer feedback, varying in size, structure, and purpose, can be both extremely difficult and time-consuming.
The most successful beta test in the world is meaningless if its results aren't effectively integrated into the organizations that can impact the final product. Without dedicated tools and processes, sharing and implementing these necessary changes is a nearly impossible task.