In the early 90s, the technological landscape was a very different place. Internet access wasn’t available in the average household. Cell phones weighed around a pound and a half. Spam was something you ate with eggs or over rice. And the idea of a home filled with technology that could wirelessly communicate not only with you but other pieces of technology was, for most, as out of reach as something on the Jetsons.
Product development also looked very different back then. Brainstorming product vision with your engineers and design team? Not really a thing. User Experience as a field? Still a pre-teen. The Waterfall methodology was king; agile development wouldn’t be a gleam in the eye for another decade. And nestled in the center of all this was beta testing, a practice (usually without standardized processes) that loosely applied to any sort of pre-launch product testing.
Today, We’re Living Like Jetsons
Well, minus the spaceships. (Give Elon a little more time.)
Things have come a long way in 30 years. While life may not look like the retro-futurist utopia we imagined, the reality is that modern mainstream technology is incredibly sophisticated. In a relatively short amount of time, we’ve gone from buying personal computers to buying televisions, cars, washing machines, even toothbrushes with their own computers inside. Our phones talk to our lightbulbs; our speakers communicate with our thermostats. We can have full-on conversations with Alexa. Okay, not really — but we can get her to make fart noises.
This rapid evolution shapes and is shaped by today’s customers. Instant gratification and customer expectations are at an all-time high. The connected nature of tech has both flooded us with information, shortened our attention spans, and made us far less patient. And that “connectedness” extends to other consumers. People have more influence over one another’s buying habits, with methods for endorsing or disavowing brands and products via reviews, star ratings, and social media.
Finally, product development has changed: we’re Agile now. At last count, seven out of ten companies have adopted some form of agile development. Product updates and releases happen very quickly. About 20% of companies release product updates every 1-2 weeks, while 35% release updates once a month, and another 27% release every few months.
The digital era has made relying on the voice of the customer indispensable. But throughout all these rapid product iterations, evolving customer needs, and incredible technological advances, the one thing that really hasn’t changed is beta testing.
Why It’s Vital to Move Beyond “Beta”
While most companies are running beta programs, beta testing never fully developed into its own field with standardized practices in the way user experience or market research did. But that wasn’t really a problem because product updates were few and far between.
Then along came Agile.
Today, with the stakes for tech product makers higher than ever, the need for faster, continuous customer testing results is at a fever pitch. Most companies have adopted Agile to both incorporate more customer insights and speed up development. What many haven’t done is changed the way they beta test. And recent data tells us that those companies are not satisfied with their results.
- Half of test managers report that finding time to manage tests is difficult (That’s unsurprising when 84% are juggling beta test management alongside their primary responsibilities).
- More than half are struggling to meet participation requirements and collect useful feedback.
- One in three is running into serious challenges organizing data across multiple systems.
- One in three has issues proving the ROI of their customer testing program, while one in four is not getting the stakeholder buy-in necessary to secure resources and support to make their programs better.
Today, like yesterday, the responsibility of beta gets shuffled between departments, inherited by professionals who genuinely care about their product and their customers but who already have a full plate of other responsibilities. But unlike yesterday, agile demands mean there’s even less time for beta.
Without training, documented processes, or adequate resources, these test managers are left to do as much as they can on their own — asking friends and coworkers to use the product; collecting feedback through email; sorting it into spreadsheets. So much of their time gets eaten up by manual tasks that analyzing results is much harder than it should be. And the variables in these ad-hoc processes make successes, when they do see them, much harder to repeat.
Bridging the Delta Between Beta and Agile
So how do we break the cycle, open the floodgates, and bring the massive benefits of beta up to speed with the demands of modern development?
Companies need to overhaul beta processes with automation.
And more and more have seen enormous success by embracing a methodology called Delta Testing.
Delta Testing is a movement in modern product development that re-imagines beta testing in a continuous fashion. It allows companies to capture early product feedback from customers as they’re leading into each release and use that feedback throughout the entire product development life cycle.
Its processes are built on decades of experience collecting and analyzing feedback from users for hundreds of software and hardware companies over thousands of products. These insights and methodologies take its customer-centric and product-centric cues from a wide splay of departments like Engineering, QA, CX/UX, and Support.
Automation supports these processes by eliminating both the heavy manual lift of beta test management and the challenges of repeating successes project after project. This enables test managers to deliver customer-driven recommendations that
- Help product teams drive roadmap decisions;
- Expand test coverage for QA teams in a fraction of the time and without having to invest in buying more devices for the lab;
- Prioritize the most impactful issues for Engineering so they can focus on fixing issues and implementing new features that have the greatest impact;
- Give marketing teams a better understanding of customers and what they liked best about your product; and
- Enable P&L owners, finance, and leadership to leverage early feedback and star ratings to help with predictability of product sales.
It’s a win-win-win-win-win (yup, it’s a five-win scenario). See the impact of Delta Testing for yourself in this recording of Product Director Chris Rader’s webinar, The Evolution of Beta Testing in Today’s Agile World.