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Test Planning

5 Big Picture Beta Test Planning Tips

December 13, 2011

With the release of our software and hardware beta test planning kits, there’s been a lot of focus on beta planning details recently. So we thought this would be a good time to step back and take a look at the big picture. After all, what good is all that time spent on planning if you can’t see the forest for the trees? These five big picture tips, taken from our free resource 100 Tips for Better Beta Tests, will help you approach beta planning with the necessary perspective.

1. Set Realistic Goals

There may be many goals you want to accomplish during your beta, like stressing certain features or testing different teams and resources under live customer action. However, you can only move so many mountains during a single project. If you think of each beta goal as a mini project that requires scarce resources like time and the focus of your tester team, you’ll understand why it’s important to space things out. Generally, we recommend specifying one named goal per week, in addition to basic test functions like validating quality and collecting general product feedback. If you try to accomplish several major goals at once, you risk making little progress with any of them.

2. Balance Your Core Parameters

There are three core “moving parts” in every beta test: (1) the size of your beta tester team, (2) the duration of your beta test, and (3) the set of specific goals that you’re trying to achieve. It’s useful to think of these resources in equilibrium, where an adjustment to one has a countervailing effect on the others. Use this to your advantage in planning the most effective test. For example, increasing your test duration will allow you to accomplish more goals. If your schedule gets cut, you can often compensate by adding more testers and still achieve your goals. Factor these three parameters into your planning, but also keep them in mind when unexpected events require you to make adjustments throughout your beta.

3. Size Your Tester Team Based on Your Target Markets

Most beta tests introduce a product to numerous target markets (or market segments), typically based on attributes such as region, gender, income, and technical knowledge or requirements. It’s important to keep in mind that the number of market segments you need to reach should directly increase the size of your tester team. You don’t want to work in the other direction and select a number of testers to recruit, then hope you’ve adequately covered your target market. If the composition of your tester team doesn’t bear an accurate relationship to desired market segments, it’s difficult to weigh the relevance or importance of survey results (i.e., they become anecdotal).

4. Don’t Forget About Ramp-Up Time

If you’re starting a beta program from scratch, recruiting a great tester team can easily take two weeks or more, depending on your target market requirements and the size of your test. If you’re starting a beta project with either an existing (hopefully interested) customer list or an established beta community, ramp-up can be reduced to only a few days. Either way, it’s important to include this period in your plan. The last thing you want is to sacrifice planned testing time to make your product release window because unanticipated recruitment delays consumed 25% of your beta testing schedule.

5. Plan for Idle Participants

It’s extremely uncommon for every beta tester to meet the goals you’ll set for them. Sometimes participants are simply unmotivated, but many times other personal or business responsibilities take precedence. It’s crucial to factor this into the recruitment section of your beta plan. If you’ve never managed a beta test before (therefore having minimal recruitment and participation management experience), you should plan to include at least two to three times the necessary participants to meet your goals.

From what we’ve seen, the relationship between goals, testers, and test length is one of the most overlooked, yet critically important, considerations in beta testing. If you master it, you’ll be ahead of the curve. So keep these tips in mind as you plan your next beta — they’ll help you better accomplish your goals in the finite time available.

Download 100 Tips for Better Beta Tests now!
Image courtesy of Flickr user Ernst Vikne.

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