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Test Strategy

Alpha vs. Beta Testing

January 17, 2011

This post was updated on May 31, 2019.

The three Customer Validation methodologies of Alpha Testing, Beta Testing, and Delta (continuous) Testing build on each other to increase product success at launch and over the product’s lifespan. All three of these test types rely on feedback from real customers using real products in real environments, but they are driven by distinct goals and processes.

One question that we often get is about the difference between Alpha vs. Beta Testing in particular. These two terms are sometimes even used interchangeably, but they describe two separate and equally important parts of the CV stage of your product development process. The information in the table below is a good general overview of the objectives and techniques for these two test types:

Note! If you want to know more about the differences between Alpha and Beta Testing, you might be interested in watching a quick webinar on choosing the right test strategy for your specific needs.

Alpha Tests:

  • Test Goals: Evaluate the quality of the product and ensure Beta readiness. These tests focus on finding bugs, and answer the question: Does the product work?
  • When they happen: After initial QA testing but before Beta Testing, in the stage of the development process when the product is 60%-80% complete (it’s stable enough for technical users, but not yet feature complete).
  • Test length: Typically 1-2 weeks per test cycle with numerous cycles based on how many issues are discovered and how many new features are released. It’s not uncommon for the total Alpha phase to be 3-5x the length of the following Beta phase.
  • Primary stakeholders: Engineering, Quality Assurance (QA), and Product Management teams.
  • Participants (testers): Strangers from a variety of targeted technical environments, who can handle giving technical feedback during the test. Involving employees in this stage of testing (a.k.a. dogfooding) helps improve internal alignment and prepare your teams for live-support after launch.
  • What testers should expect: A product with plenty of bugs and crashes, as well as some missing documents and features.
  • How feedback is addressed: Most known critical and severe issues are fixed, and some features may change or be added as a result of early feedback.
  • What they achieve: Identification of critical issues that cannot be tested in the lab, and insurance of your Betas by addressing show-stopping bugs that would otherwise cripple those tests. They also improve internal alignment and launch-readiness of customer-facing teams.
  • When are they over? A product is Beta-ready when it meets design criteria, all of its primary features work, and Alpha testers are no longer finding critical or blocking issues.
  • What happens next? Beta Testing!

Beta Tests:

  • Test Goals: Evaluate customer satisfaction and ensure release readiness. These tests take users on a guided tour of the product to answer the question: Do customers like the product?
  • When they happen: After Alpha Testing, in the stage of the development process when the product is 80%-90% complete (it’s stable enough for mainstream users, and mostly feature-complete).
  • Test length: Usually 3-6 weeks per test cycle with only 1-2 cycles. Additional cycles are added if significant new features are introduced or if a core component is changed.
  • Primary stakeholders: User Experience (UX), Quality Management, and Product Management teams.
  • Participants (testers): Strangers (not friends and family) from your product’s target market. They’ll provide objective insights on the product experience that are relevant to the product’s success and help you better understand your true customers.
  • What testers should expect: A near feature-complete product with some bugs, fewer crashes, and mostly complete documentation.
  • How feedback is addressed: Critical or important issues are fixed, and simple user experience improvements are made before product launch. Future versions of the product are heavily influenced by the results.
  • What they achieve: Improvement of launch success by providing evidence-based recommendations for product improvements and a complete view of your customers’ experience with your product.
  • When are they over? A product is launch-ready when mainstream users from your target market are comfortable with the user interface, and are satisfied with their experiences with the product and its features.
  • What happens next? Launch and Delta Testing!

Some additional points to consider:

  • Both terms (Alpha and Beta) originated in the technology industry (software and hardware), but are used for testing all types of products with consumer, business, or enterprise customers.
  • Most technical products go through the Alpha, Beta, and Delta Testing phases of Customer Validation during their development.
  • Both phases are excellent at discovering bugs and helping product managers better understand target customers and how they experience a product.
  • Both phases often shift their goals and methods in real-time based on the ongoing results.
  • Some companies use terms like field trials, prerelease, Customer Validation, CAT (customer acceptance testing), UAT (user acceptance testing), and beta testing synonymously.

Have any thoughts or questions about Alpha vs. Beta Testing to share? Feel free to add them below!

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