Beta tests have four basic stages — planning, kickoff, managing, and closing — and each has its own best practices. We recently discussed planning your software beta test, so this week we’ll get into what you should do during kickoff to ensure a successful test.
Kicking off your software beta test is an exciting stage. Unfortunately, it’s also the stage when things can quickly start going off the rails. Testers may take too long to install your software or they might not know what type of feedback to give during the crucial early stages of the test. So, you’ll need to make sure you provide testers with all the relevant information and instructions they’ll need to begin giving you quality feedback right away.
To help your next test get started quickly and painlessly for both your team and your testers, we’ve put together a list of our best practices for kicking off your software beta test.
1. Send a welcome email
A welcome email is your chance to establish expectations and provide clear instructions for your testers. It is critical in setting the tone with your testers. This is when you’ll have their full attention, so you should cover the most important information, including your confidentiality requirements, feedback submission instructions, and how testers can get started with your product (more on that below).
2. Include detailed installation instructions
Provide your testers with clear and detailed directions on how to install your product — you can even include screenshots of the process if you feel it’s necessary. The beta test is also a great opportunity to test out your product’s installation documentation and support processes in the real world with people who aren’t familiar with your product or its function.
If you can, make your tester’s onboarding process exactly like what an actual customer’s experience would be once the product is released, assuming this documentation is ready. Testing this will help you find holes or other issues that could derail your customer’s experience, which could really hurt your product launch.
3. Budget time for setting up
You don’t want to underestimate the amount of time it will take testers to download, install, and/or sign up for your product. Doing so could throw off your test’s schedule. Allow users adequate time to get set up with your product before expecting feedback.
While some superstar testers will begin providing feedback right away, others may wait until they have time to focus on your product. Assess what a reasonable timeframe is and communicate this to your testers. Once that timeframe has passed, you can start following up with your testers to ask if they’ve run into any problems or if they have any feedback they can provide.
4. Use tasks & surveys for first impressions
Even though you’re probably interested in feedback on every aspect of the user’s experience with your software — right from installation, account creation, and training — your testers may not know what kind of feedback to give during this early stage of the test.
We suggest giving your testers a little guidance and direction at the beginning. This can be as simple as assigning tasks to check off, such as installing the product and using some of the core features. Tasks will give testers some initial experiences to get them started, but are also fodder for feedback. You can also build surveys about their onboarding experience, which will help you collect data about those crucial first impressions.
5. Give them freedom to explore
While tasks and surveys are a great way to focus your testers on aspects of the product that are important to you, don’t try to completely control your testers’ use of the product. Once your software is released, you won’t be able to control the way your customers use it, so it’s important to see how your testers interact with it naturally as well.
For the beta test, you’ll need to find a balance between directed tasks and letting testers explore the product on their own. You may be surprised to see how your testers use your product and what they end up discovering along the way.
6. Explain regression testing to your testers
One of the biggest benefits of beta testing your software product is having a group of volunteers who can duplicate issues in a variety of environments and regress fixes as you go. The thing to keep in mind is that many of your testers won’t know how program development works and have probably never heard of regression testing.
Explain to your testers during kickoff what regression testing is. Let them know that they’ll likely be asked to duplicate other testers’ bugs and to see if the issues they had submitted have been fixed in subsequent builds of the software. This will prepare them for these kinds of requests from your team later in the test.
Always remember that the most important aspect of the kickoff stage is making sure your testers know what to expect during the test and providing them with everything they’ll need to get set up. For more advice on running a successful software beta test, download our free Software Beta Test Planning Kit.