Sometimes, despite good planning, a beta test will fall off track. You could follow all of our best practices for planning and running a beta test, but there may be a moment when things begin to go wrong. There are a number of reasons why this might happen, and they are often beyond your control. Regardless, it could derail your entire beta test, leaving your team, your boss, and your beta testers frustrated.
There are five common red flags that signal a beta test is headed toward trouble: extreme delays, limited testing time, high-touch stakeholders, frustrated testers, and not enough participation. Here are our best practices to handle these five issues.
1. Extreme Delays
In product development, delays are unfortunately all too common. Usually, a week or two delay is manageable, but anything more could have your team missing key deadlines and milestones. While your team may have a plan to deal with this kind of extreme delay, your beta testers will not be as prepared. It’s important to remember that they’re volunteering their time and may have already organized their own time around your initial schedule in order to participate in your beta test.
Don’t go weeks or even days without letting them know where things stand. The best way to keep your beta testers from losing patience and interest is to keep them informed. It’s also important to keep your word; if you told your testers that you would reach out to them in a week with an update, reach out in a week.
Also be prepared to give them the opportunity to bow out. Don’t assume that testers will be free if your beta test is significantly delayed. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place to re-recruit testers when you’re ready to start the test again.
2. Limited Test Time
While we strongly recommend against short beta tests, if you have only, for example, a week or two to test because of time restrictions or an imminent release date, make sure you communicate the short test duration to your testers. This will help set the expectation that you’ll require a higher participation rate in a shorter amount of time and that they’ll need to make sure they set aside enough time during this period.
You should also, when possible, recruit proven testers. While we usually champion recruiting a mix of testers, proven testers will already know how the beta testing process works, so it’ll be far easier and quicker to get the feedback you need rather than working with people who have never been part of a beta test before.
Perhaps the most important best practice for short tests is to stay on schedule, otherwise, things will pile up quickly. Stick to the schedule and you’ll stay on top of things and meet the deadline that forced the time limit on you in the first place. Here are our tips for dealing with scheduling.
3. High-touch Stakeholders
Sometimes, your boss or other stakeholders may be particularly demanding about data and updates during the beta test. This can be time consuming (and distracting), but the best way to deal with them is how you would deal with your testers — set expectations ahead of time. Be very clear about how the beta test and your team will operate, along with what they can expect from you and what you expect from them.
You can also schedule short, but frequent check-ins. This will help ensure you’re setting aside the time you’ll need to update them on what’s going on with the project. It may also make them more hesitant to contact you outside of this specified time.
4. Frustrated Testers
From defective beta products to confusing survey questions, there are many reasons why you might end up with frustrated testers. If you do find yourself with testers who are losing patience, it’s important to maintain an open channel of communication with them.
Try and identify areas of confusion by walking through their experience with them. This will not only help you figure out the problem, but it will also make the testers feel like they’re actually being heard.
It’s also okay to fall on your sword and apologize. Be humble and appreciative of your testers’ help and time. Unless they’re doing something egregious like violating their NDA, if you chastise or lose patience with them, you’ll only make them more frustrated, leaving them wondering why they’re even bothering to provide feedback at all.
5. Little or No Participation
We’ve found that testers are less likely to participate if you don’t communicate with them frequently. By keeping them up to date on what’s going on with the project, they’ll feel like they are part of the team. And testers are more likely to participate if they feel like they are actually making a difference.
If there are certain testers who aren’t participating or if you see their participation drop off, reach out individually via phone or email. Putting a voice to the name on a screen can have a huge impact on a tester’s dedication to a project.
You may also need to look at your surveys and tasks. Are they too long or asking too much of your testers? Surveys should be fewer than 20 questions and you shouldn’t have more than one per week. Your testers are volunteering their time, so don’t pile on too many tasks.
As a last resort, remind testers about the incentive. Generally, we don’t tell testers about an incentive until very late in a test. But if you’re really struggling to get participation rates a little higher, you can let testers know that they’ll need to complete the majority of the assigned tasks in order to be eligible for the incentive. You can also experiment with incentive strategies, such as a raffle for completing weekly task lists.
A lot of psychology goes into beta tester engagement. If you’re looking for more advice, check out our post on increasing tester participation.
There are many variables involved in a beta test, along with a myriad of voices and expectations to juggle, so it’s easy for things to fall off the wagon. Identifying these risks as they begin to appear is key. If you learn how to spot them, you’ll be able to take action before your test comes to a grinding (and costly) halt. So keep these red flags in mind during your next test, meet them head on, and see your beta program flourish.
Check out our library for more beta best practices!