During the early stages of planning a beta project, one of the first questions people ask is, “How long should my beta test be?” Usually, this question is followed by, “How many beta testers do I need?” While it’s understandable that scoping the number of testers and beta duration is the initial concern, many jump the gun and try to answer these questions before identifying the key factors driving these requirements.
Selecting the right length for your beta test is important for a few reasons. If your test is too long then you risk burning out your testers and having very low participation rates during the following weeks. If your test is too short you may not have enough time to fully validate the product or achieve your goals. You could also be up against deadlines that force a shorter beta period, which makes a great plan that much more critical to the success of your beta.
We generally recommend tests that are no shorter than two weeks and no longer than twelve, with most beta tests having between four and eight weeks of test time. Below are a four key factors to consider when deciding on the duration of your test.
1. Your Goals
By far the most critical item to consider when determining the duration of your beta is identifying the goals of the test. There are a lot of different goals you can achieve during beta testing, and the more you’re trying to achieve, the more time you’ll need to achieve it. For example, if you are looking to collect feedback on the out of the box experience, test compatibility, evaluate your internal support process, perform regression testing, and collect mock reviews — that’s a lot to cover in two weeks.
We recommend one week of testing per goal. Since beta testers are volunteers you want to give them enough time to focus on each of the different goals of the test. Otherwise you risk dividing your testers and only getting feedback from some on each area of the product, which will leave you with an incomplete picture. We’ve found a week is a good rule of thumb to make sure you can reach each of your objectives.
Note: There are two exceptions to this rule. Collecting bugs and feature requests are fundamental to any beta test. They will naturally come as testers work with the product, so they don’t need to be considered separate goals.
2. Available Resources
Do you have a team of people to assist you with the test or will you be doing it alone? Between supporting your testers, encouraging participation, and managing data, there’s a lot to do day-to-day in an active beta test. If you have a team then you can assign the various beta roles to other team members, which will allow you to move through the test at a faster pace. If you’re managing it alone you’ll want to plan for a longer test so you’ll have enough time to achieve the goals of the project.
In a Centercode Managed Beta Test we typically have 3-5 people working on each project. You could have an even bigger team if other departments (support, marketing, QA, etc.) are involved in your test. If you’re managing a test by yourself, we recommend giving yourself a week and a half of testing time per goal as opposed to the one week mentioned above.
3. Tester Limitations
The number of testers you’re able to have on your beta is directly related to overall test duration. If you have a large tester team then you may be able to cover more ground in less time, which can help if you’re up against a tight deadline or want to achieve a lot of goals during your beta.
If you have unit restrictions, however, and need to have a small group of testers, then you’ll want to extend your test to make sure you can get the feedback you need with the smaller group. These limitations are mostly found in hardware testing but we’ve seen restrictions in software tests as well (difficult recruitment, limited user seats, etc.). The longer test duration will allow you to work more closely with each tester, which will help you maximize the feedback you receive from each of the members of your limited tester team.
If your beta units are extremely limited (to fewer than 25 units, for example), then consider running multiple phases, so you can get feedback from more testers.
4. Multiple Phases
As we mentioned earlier, if you run a test for too long then you risk testers dropping out and your participation suffering. At the same time, many development teams want to have beta testers test multiple versions of the product so they can regress fixes and make additional improvements to the product. You also may be working under severe unit limitations, as mentioned above. If you’re in a situation where you want feedback over a longer period of time, consider breaking your test up into different phases.
Running multiple phases of your test (usually with one or two week breaks in between) will extend the overall duration of your beta period, but also has two distinct advantages. First, it helps you avoid tester burnout by giving your testers a chance to rest or allowing you to bring in fresh testers. Second, it gives you the flexibility to pivot between phases. Based on the data you collect during one phase you can change your goals, methods, or testers on subsequent phases to make sure you’re getting the maximum value out of your beta test.
The success of any beta test hinges on having a great plan. If you have questions or concerns about your test, we offer free test plan consultations to help you plan your next beta test. We also have software and hardware planning kits that can help you prepare for your next test.