If you want to run an effective beta test, being active and engaged is crucial. It can be tough if beta management isn’t your full-time job, but it’s hard to argue with the increased feedback and participation you’ll see from being that involved. And nobody wants to be the person who let critical bug reports go unnoticed. Luckily, we’ve got some helpful tips to get as much benefit as you can from the time you have to participate.
What does it mean to actively engage with your participants? It’s not around-the-clock beta management. However, it does entail responding to their feedback quickly and trying to fix issues during the test as opposed to after. Set aside some time for bugs in the morning, product suggestions after lunch, and forums at the end of the day, and the commitment shouldn’t feel too overwhelming. If it does, we also have some tips to save time managing your beta.
So what are the benefits of this extra attention, you ask?
More Detailed Feedback
One of the biggest gains you’ll see when you’re more active in your beta is the quality of the feedback. If you put off reviewing your data, you might find yourself stuck with what you get. Some participants offer up pages of detailed feedback with screenshots and logs, while others write a single line and some small details. But if you’re engaged with testers throughout the process, you can drill down into bugs they are experiencing, collect additional feedback after you fix problems, ask for elaboration on suggestions, and discuss how they’re using features (or why they’re not). It gives you the chance to raise the bar.
Don’t be afraid of specificity here. Detailed comments to users about what you’re seeking will get you much further with your goals. It doesn’t invalidate your test to ask for more information to help you debug a problem. However, if you’re collecting feature suggestions or performing usability tests, you do want to be careful about leading questions that inhibit open, unbiased feedback.
We’ve discussed ways to increase beta tester participation in the past, and being more active in the test yourself could easily be added to that list. Few things are as demotivating to beta testers as feeling like their feedback is being ignored. By responding to feedback and participating in discussion forums, you show that you’re listening and it provides an incentive for participants to keep giving you more feedback.
Try to post comments that not only address the participant’s bugs or suggestions, but also provide positive reinforcement. Stating that you appreciate their contribution and that it’s being looked into conveys a clear message that you value their feedback. You might just find that your beta tests sustain their momentum much better this way.
Opportunities to Explore Alternatives
There are times when it’s beneficial to experiment in your beta test. If you discover that users are struggling with part of your product, for example, you can test a variation in the next beta release and see if it fares better. But if you’re lax in managing an already-short beta test, you might lose that opportunity. You can still make changes after beta and before you launch, but you won’t be getting pre-release feedback.
Before you devote testing time to alternatives, though, you want to be sure the core product has received sufficient attention. That’s why we recommend targeting the end of your beta for this kind of testing. At the end of the test, your users are likely to have covered your entire product and releasing something that they haven’t yet seen is a great way to keep them engaged.
Better Issue Verification
The more involved you are with your beta, the better you can leverage your beta testers in verifying reported issues. You can send them specific details on what you need evaluated, identify key points you want them to cover, and provide instructions on how to replicate the problem. It’s also a good idea to give your testers easy access to their reported bugs so they can go back and review issues you believe you’ve fixed.
Knowing your participants’ test platforms and having the ability to make segmented lists of testers will make your issue verification that much better. If you have twenty five testers engaged and twenty of them see an issue, you can identify common elements among their systems and explore ways to address the problem. And if you can target and enlist your most reliable beta testers when a critical bug needs to be explored immediately, you’ll get some added peace of mind.
One thing you might find as you get more involved with your beta test is that tools matter a lot. You’ll be keeping track of an ever-increasing amount of information, and running your beta from MS Office can really limit your effectiveness. If you were using Centercode, though, you’d get the benefit of ten years spent developing and optimizing beta-specific tools. Just a little food for thought.
What do you do to stay engaged with your beta testers? Please comment!