Centercode has been running beta tests for over 18 years. That’s why we can say this on good authority: beta testing isn’t easy.
For one, there is no “one size fits all” formula that works for every product, every company, or every customer. Like a suit, your beta testing strategy needs to be tailored to fit well.
For another, there haven’t always been established structures and defined resources readily available. You can’t major in Beta Testing. Until recently, there wasn’t a course or certification you could take to grow those skills.
Even as groundswell for Beta Testing as a methodology develops, most people running beta tests still rely on tribal knowledge. Maybe you’ve sent (or even received) an email with the subject line, “Need Help Running a Beta Test.” You’re not alone there.
It’s not that your co-workers can’t or shouldn’t help out. They just probably have a few more hours of experience than you. If you want to net user feedback that will translate into real feature improvements – and you don’t want to spend hundreds of hours reinventing the wheel – then you’re going to need more than that email. You need a plan of attack.
Key Beta Testing Takeaways (If You’re Short on Time)
Sometimes, a single sentence can spark the idea you need to make a big step forward. Whether or not you are actively in beta testing, grab a nugget of knowledge that will help you succeed. This blog post breaks down a beta test into five steps, based on the framework we’ve developed and use in-house.
1. Decide a Strategy
Know what you’re trying to learn with the test. Identify product areas that are 1) feasible to test in the time that you have available, 2) a priority for your core stakeholders, and 3) will have a significant impact on the customer experience.
2. Create a Plan
Select the top five to ten product areas from that list and develop a test plan. Use the product areas as topics, write corresponding activities that outline what your testers need to assess for each one, and know how they’ll send you feedback. Put a schedule around it so you’ll know before it starts what you expect to get and when.
3. Recruit (the Right) Testers
Break down the defining characteristics of your target market. Identify required demographics, technographics, and geographic limitations. Divide those traits into “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” Use this as the basis for qualifying testers.
4. Collect Quality Feedback
Focus on maintaining a steady flow of feedback through tester interaction. Manage and filter that feedback to keep it organized. Use feedback scoring to pull high-priority feedback to the forefront.
5. Use Your Great Results
Build your discoveries based on your data. Rank your issues in order of prominence. Tailor your data storytelling to your stakeholders.
Step One: Decide a Strategy
The very first thing you should ask yourself is: what am I trying to learn? The results you’re looking for will determine the steps you take to figure it out.
While there is an unlimited number of questions you can ask, you don’t have unlimited time. Use your expertise to identify which product areas will have the most impact on your customers. Then, connect with the stakeholders who own those product areas. Is it a priority for them? If not, what are their priorities?
Do you need to make sure the product is stable – not just ‘a little buggy’? Alternately, do you need to know if the target customer will be able to use the workflows without a manual? These are two separate goals. Before you plan for testers to evaluate satisfaction, make sure there are no show-stopping issues that would distort their perception.
Finally, determine which of those areas you can feasibly assess and put into place with the time you have. Homing in on where those factors overlap will help you identify high-value testing opportunities.
3 Pro Tips for Initialization:
- Get Ahead of the Product Schedule. If you know that you’re the one who will be asked to run a beta test, get ahead of the game. Build four to six weeks into the product schedule for a thorough customer validation period.
- Host a Strategy Session. Before you start planning your test, interview your stakeholders. This will give you a chance to level set their expectations and align your efforts with their priorities.
- Choose a Goal and Stick with It. Scattering your testers’ attention across multiple objectives can ruin your data. Testers will naturally uncover issues along the way, but quality insights come from a balanced, guided focus. Resist the temptation to hodge-podge your goals.
Step Two: Create a Plan
The most common beta testing challenges, from low participation to irrelevant feedback, can be traced back to planning. Your test plan is your best asset for running a successful test. Thorough planning frees up bandwidth for high-value tasks, like recruitment and data analysis. It also ensures you and your stakeholders stay focused on what you set out to do.
For an in-depth guide to planning your beta test, download the Software Beta Test Planning Kit!
To build a test plan, look at what you singled out while strategizing. The features or product areas that you want to test should be:
- impactful to the customer experience
- a priority for your stakeholders, and
- feasible to test in the time you have.
The top five to ten identified areas will be your beta test topics. Any more and you won’t get enough feedback from testers to draw definite conclusions. These topics will be the scaffolding of your beta test plan. In your project schedule, aim to test two to four topics each week.
For each topic, write a corresponding set of activities. These are the steps your beta testers will need to take to evaluate that topic. When writing activities, you want to tell your testers what to do, but not how to do it. Learn more about crafting beta test topics and user scenarios.
Example: Writing Out Your Beta Test Activities
Too vague: Tell us what you think about setup.
Too specific: Open the app. Go to the Account Settings at the bottom of the left menu. Click Set Up My Account. Type your desired username and click “Choose This Username.” Upload a photo from your camera roll and click “Choose This Photo.”
Just right: Open the app and set up your account. Set a username and upload a profile picture.
3 Pro Tips for Test Planning:
- List Out Everything You Need. Write out everything your testers need to test your product. Shipping hardware? Draft a shipping plan that includes estimated cost and time for mail out and return. Testing an app? Make sure your internal delivery tool can handle external distribution. If you’re keeping your product under wraps, don’t forget about legal agreements.
- Plan for the Unexpected. Look ahead to areas where you could encounter friction. It could be mailing delays or action items assigned to a different department. Write down a plan for what you’ll do in those scenarios. This reduces mid-test distractions and delays that could hurt your test results.
- Build a Test Plan Template. Templates make it easier to reproduce what worked and fix what didn’t. If you need a place to start, download the free beta test plan template in the Software Test Planning Kit.
Further Reading: How Long Should My Beta Test Be?
In beta testing, the right test length is critical to collecting comprehensive feedback before you overwork your testers. Read our tips for identifying the best length for your beta test.
Step Three: Recruit (the Right) Testers
If your test plan is the car, then your testers are the fuel. But like fuel, you need the right kind of tester for your beta test to work properly.
Have you ever presented your beta testing results to stakeholders and heard this line?
Those comments probably weren’t from our real customers.
– Gary in Engineering
It’s frustrating, but the idea behind it holds water. Relevant feedback comes from a relevant audience. You probably have a picture of your target market in mind. Now you need to translate that into a viable tester recruitment strategy.
Further Reading: How Many Testers Do I Need?
For a ballpark number, start between 50 and 75. Scale up for more confidence and down if the product is not completely stable. Learn how to calculate the high and low numbers to ensure an adequate volume of feedback.
Start off by describing your target market using these three categories:
- Demographics. Who are they? Where do they live? How many people are in their household? What’s the breakdown of gender, age, and income for your target audience?
- Psychographics. What do they look for in their products? How much time do they spend at home, in the office, or wherever they’ll use your product? Are they tech-savvy and/or interested in new technology?
- Technographics. What kind of phone or computer do they use? What other products do they own that will interact with yours? What kind of house do they live in, and will that impact how your product works?
This list will be the blueprint for identifying your ideal testers. Break it down into “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” When you’re building your qualification survey, you can use “must-have” qualities to filter applications. Then, use “nice-to-haves” to single out the best candidates.
Example: Building Out Tester Qualifications
Product: A dating app that connects pet lovers in big cities.
+ Android smartphone or iPhone
+ Lives in an urban area
+ Owns at least one pet
+ Willing to meet with other pet owners
+ Enjoys outdoor walks
+ Owns two or more pets
+ Uses other dating apps
3 Pro Tips for Recruiting Testers
- Look for Enthusiastic Candidates. Ideal testers have one thing in common: their willingness to test. Look for qualified candidates who show genuine enthusiasm for helping you improve your product. They’re the ones who will stay engaged and give you quality feedback. Avoid people who seem like they’re after free products or incentives.
- Go Where Your Testers Are. What social media platforms do they use? Are they on product forums or websites? Recruit where the people you want to attract are spending their time. You can even announce your beta test for free on Betabound, our 200,000+ network of testers.
- Recruit by Segment. Your testers represent a portion of your target market. So if fifty percent of your target market uses an iPhone, your tester pool should reflect that for accurate results. Segmenting your testers by factors like gender, tech, or technical expertise can draw out nuances in the feedback you collect.
Further Reading: Recruiting Qualified Testers
Recruiting qualified testers is one of the most challenging tasks of running a beta test. Learn best practices for attracting testers from your target market in the Beta Tester Recruitment Kit.
Step Four: Collect Quality Feedback
You have a plan. You have your testers. They’ve signed their agreements and have access to your product. The test is officially open.
During this phase, you have two primary goals: maintaining participation and collecting feedback.
3 Pro Tips for Maintaining Tester Participation
- Set Expectations Early. High-quality testers want to help you improve your product, but they still need guidance. Level set your expectations for what, when, and how they should submit feedback early on. This keeps everyone on the same page.
- Acknowledge Feedback Submissions. In our experience, acknowledging testers’ efforts goes further than incentives. Communicate often. Thank your testers for feedback, and follow up if they have questions or blocking issues.
- Watch the Tester Workload. Incentives don’t change the fact that your testers are basically volunteering. Don’t overwhelm them with prolonged or complicated activities. Limit your requests to two hours of their time each week, for no longer than three to four weeks at a time. More than that and you could see a sharp decline in feedback quality. An exception: If your product is complex, you may need to “soak” it. But most of your feedback will come in the first 21 days, so balance your risk with diminishing returns.
3 Pro Tips for Collecting (and Filtering) Feedback
- Segment Feedback Based on Your Audience. You don’t want your iOS-tester feedback in the same place as your Android-tester feedback. Separating submissions by segments highlights any patterns specific to that group.
- Use Forms Instead of Emails. While email is the go-to feedback collection tool for most beta programs, it can be unwieldy when it comes to managing large amounts of feedback. Using forms allows you to bucket information as it comes in and funnel the results into a spreadsheet for further analysis.
- Prioritize Submissions with Feedback Scoring. Filtering feedback is one of the most time-consuming tasks for testing professionals. By attributing weights to feedback and multiplying those by their frequency, high-priority feedback floats to the top. You can learn more about feedback scoring in this whitepaper.
Further Reading: The Beta Feedback Playbook
You can learn everything you need to know about feedback collection, from keeping testers motivated to refining your processes, by downloading the Beta Feedback Playbook.
Step Five: Use Your Great Results
Now comes the fun part: reaping the benefit of your data. If you’ve secured a targeted group of enthusiastic testers, you’ll see a difference in the quality and quantity of feedback. Often, critical “show-stopping” issues are found during Customer Validation. But ignoring the rest of your data is leaving literal money on the table. Identify the top issues surfaced during the test. These will improve your product’s customer ratings, decrease return rates, and let your support team sleep easy.
As you close your test, take note of your testing superstars. These are testers whose insights and effort went beyond the norm. You’ll want to keep high performers around for your next test, so thank them and try to stay in touch.
Further Resources: Tester Community Building Webinar
A vibrant tester community can add enormous value to your customer testing efforts. Learn Centercode’s tactics for growing and maintaining our 200,000+ tester network.
This is also when the time you took to align your efforts with your stakeholders’ priorities pays off. Showcase your results and bring special attention to how the data answers their product questions.
3 Pro Tips for Presenting Results
- Appeal to Your Stakeholders. When presenting your results, speak directly to your stakeholders’ priorities. Show your work. Explain how you arrived at those conclusions to strengthen your argument.
- Rank Your Top Issues. Having this data before release is like having a crystal ball. When it comes to what your customers will say about your product, you want to be the smartest person in the room. Know your top issues in order of significance, and back up each point you make with specific data.
- Use Exact Quotes. The actual voice of the customer will do a lot more to win over your stakeholders than you think. Make note of the most compelling quotes you find while triaging feedback. They can add dimension and real-world context to an otherwise dry set of data into information that’s easier to grasp.
- Bonus: Have an Elevator Pitch Ready for Your Top 3 Items. Practice a spiel of your key points so you can bring them up quickly and succinctly when you get the spotlight.
A Last Word of Encouragement
Beta testing has many moving parts, but you’re not alone. All of us started where you are right now. By refining your processes and developing your tools, you will see an increase in your results.
2 Tips for Growing Your Beta Testing Knowledge
- Take Advantage of Free Resources. Centercode is a wellspring of beta testing knowledge for test managers of all experience levels. Check out the weekly updates to our blog, monthly webinars, and free content in our Resource Library.
- Talk to Our Experts. Need more specific advice for growing your customer validation efforts? Reach out to one of our experienced test plan builders.
Ready to get started? Request your free custom beta test plan today!