Alpha vs. Beta Testing

This post was updated on October 18, 2017.

The three Customer Validation methodologies of Alpha Testing, Beta Testing, and Field Testing build on each other to increase product success at launch and over the product’s lifespan. All three of these test types rely on feedback from real customers using real products in real environments, but they are driven by distinct goals and processes.

One question that we often get is about the difference between Alpha vs. Beta Testing in particular. These two terms are sometimes even used interchangeably, but they describe two separate and equally important parts of the CV stage of your product development process. The information in the table below is a good general overview of the objectives and techniques for these two test types:

Note! If you want to know more about the differences between Alpha and Beta Testing, you might be interested in watching our four-part webinar series on Customer Validation, which covers each CV testing phase in more depth.

Alpha Tests Beta Tests
Test Goals
Evaluate the quality of the product and ensure Beta readiness. These tests focus on finding bugs, and answer the question: Does the product work? Evaluate customer satisfaction and ensure release readiness. These tests take users on a guided tour of the product to answer the question: Do customers like the product?
When they happen
After initial QA testing but before Beta Testing, in the stage of the development process when the product is 60%-80% complete (it’s stable enough for technical users, but not yet feature complete). After Alpha Testing but before Field Testing, in the stage of the development process when the product is 80%-90% complete (it’s stable enough for mainstream users, and mostly feature-complete).
Test length
Typically 1-2 weeks per test cycle with numerous cycles based on how many issues are discovered and how many new features are released. It’s not uncommon for the total Alpha phase to be 3-5x the length of the following Beta phase. Usually 3-6 weeks per test cycle with only 1-2 cycles. Additional cycles are added if significant new features are introduced or if a core component is changed.
Primary stakeholders
Engineering, Quality Assurance (QA), and Product Management teams. User Experience (UX), Quality Management, and Product Management teams.
Participants (testers)
Strangers from a variety of targeted technical environments, who can handle giving technical feedback during the test. Involving employees in this stage of testing (a.k.a. dogfooding) helps improve internal alignment and prepare your teams for live-support after launch. Strangers (not friends and family) from your product’s target market. They’ll provide objective insights on the product experience that are relevant to the product’s success and help you better understand your true customers.
What testers should expect
A product with plenty of bugs and crashes, as well as some missing documents and features. A near feature-complete product with some bugs, fewer crashes, and mostly complete documentation.
How feedback is addressed
Most known critical and severe issues are fixed, and some features may change or be added as a result of early feedback. Critical or important issues are fixed, and simple user experience improvements are made before product launch. Future versions of the product are heavily influenced by the results.
What they achieve
Identification of critical issues that cannot be tested in the lab, and insurance of your Betas by addressing show-stopping bugs that would otherwise cripple those tests. They also improve internal alignment and launch-readiness of customer-facing teams. Improvement of launch success by providing evidence-based recommendations for product improvements and a complete view of your customers’ experience with your product.
When are they over?
A product is Beta-ready when it meets design criteria, all of its primary features work, and Alpha testers are no longer finding critical or blocking issues. A product is Field-ready when mainstream users from your target market are comfortable with the user interface, and are satisfied with their experiences with the product and its features.
What happens next?
Beta Testing! Field Testing!

Some additional points to consider:

  • Both terms (Alpha and Beta) originated in the technology industry (software and hardware), but are used for testing all types of products with consumer, business, or enterprise customers.
  • Most technical products go through the Alpha, Beta, and Field Testing phases of Customer Validation during their development.
  • Both phases are excellent at discovering bugs and helping product managers better understand target customers and how they experience a product.
  • Both phases often shift their goals and methods in real-time based on the on-going results.
  • Some companies use terms like field trials, prerelease, Customer Validation, CAT (customer acceptance testing), UAT (user acceptance testing), and beta testing synonymously.

Have any thoughts or questions about Alpha vs. Beta Testing to share? Feel free to add them below!

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  • http://twitter.com/jmckey James McKey

    Great stuff! CAT is also often referred to UAT (User Acceptance Testing) and the term is mentioned in wikipedia for Beta testing a couple of times (though I don’t think there are specific citations): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acceptance_testing#Types_of_acceptance_testing

    As you mention, there’s not really a ‘standard’. The IEEE would seem the place for this to be defined (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEEE_829), but it gives me a headache digging through their standards 🙂 Plus, in my experience at least, it seems most software engineers resist being pigeon holed into strict policies/procedures, though many appreciate ‘best practices’ for advice.

  • Vidya

    Thanxx!!
    Its very Helpful…

  • http://centercode jimmy

    thanks very help-full

  • Adnan TAYYAB

    Thnks this was vry helpful……!!!!!!!

  • cool

    Great explanation, clear and concise. Love it man

  • http://EasyBusy.fr Kevin Gilles

    Detailed and precised, thanks for the explanation !

  • Delia König

    thank you. what do you think about white box testing. I prefer it to black box testing. I also like integration, system, and UA testing. Best Regards

  • Martha C

    Very good info! Thanks!

  • http://hagailuger.com Hagai Luger

    Plain and simple explanation. Thanks!

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  • http://7quran.com/ Mohammad Alhobayyeb

    In two lines,
    Alpha: more bugs, missing features,
    Beta: less bugs, complete features.

  • http://www.ArmisGame.com Armis Game

    Wow, I was searching for Alpha and Beta testing to know what to expect for PICISI development, your material is certainly the most comprehensive of them all. Thanks for the knowledge.

    That knowledge will be used as we develop PICISI.com, a crowdfunding site presently under construction.

  • Edgar Wilson

    Simple presentation and effective explanation. Thank you, just what I was looking for.

  • pedrovarela

    Excellent post, also go to the link of the white paper and other download kits they have, 100% recommended.

    Thanks for this information.

  • Munir Ahmad Tarar

    Very handy!

  • Marshmallow22 Desert

    thanks for the info!

  • http://www.jolanphotos.com Jeff Griffith

    Thank you! I feel you covered the basics very well, in fact you said it best here “While there are no hard and fast rules, and many companies have their own definitions and unique processes” The table is precise and informative too 🙂

  • http://www.twitter.com/jezebelisgone/ Jezebelisgone

    Wow! What an excellent explanation! Couldn’t find a decent definition until I stumbled upon you. I now understand and am well informed. Thank you!

  • Yewie

    Thanks for this, very detailed and helpful.