A successful beta test is not only about presenting your stakeholders with a well-rounded plan. It’s about setting their expectations, then knocking those expectations out of the park. A big part of that depends on setting the right test length.
Test length defines the scale of your project. It helps you focus on what you can get done within a given period. In turn, having a schedule outlined helps you manage stakeholder demands if they ask for too much in too short a timeframe.
How Long Should My Beta Test Be?
The typical duration of a beta test will vary depending on its objectives. Of the hundreds of tests we’ve run for customers in the last two years, about half of them were between three and five weeks of testing time.
But more than supporting your plans, the right test length supports follow-through. A well-scoped test encourages quality feedback, high participation, and noteworthy customer recommendations. It also sets up the results stakeholders can expect, when they can expect them, and how much time they have to make product improvements.
Beta test planning is a balancing act. It takes practice, but you’ll soon know how to find the right test length for every project. Here are three factors (and one example straight from our test plan template) to get you started.
Let’s start with deadlines. Beta tests are often reactionary. Our industry survey in 2022 revealed that one in two organizations have reactive processes. This means that half of organizations are scheduling their beta tests mid-development.
Beta testing also occurs near the end of the product development lifecycle. This means you’ll likely see delays beforehand that can eat into the time you have available to test.
Whether you’ve got plenty of time or not much time at all, your stakeholders will inform your project’s scope and schedule. Before mapping out a timeline, start by asking your stakeholders these vital questions:
- When is the product scheduled for release?
- When is the drop-dead date?
- When will testable builds be available?
Their answers will provide bookends for your test schedule. They will also help you manage expectations for what’s possible in both scope and scale.
Planning for Delays
In this industry, delays are inevitable. For the longest time, I would get nervous whenever our Managed Services Team neared test capacity. I’d express concerns to Management that the Services Team was about to be overloaded. But our CEO, who’s been in the business for 22 years now, would always assure me there would be delays. And you know what? He has yet to be wrong. Always have a backup plan in place should things take longer than expected. Chances are good that they will.
Your test’s goal is the guiding factor of your beta project. It influences every aspect of your test, from its scope and size to (you guessed it) the schedule. After all, the more questions you ask your testers, the more time they’ll need to answer them.
That’s why, as a rule, you want to focus your test on a single objective, like “satisfaction” or “stability.” Cramming multiple objectives into your test plan scatters tester focus and waters down feedback.
In short, choose one objective, and stick to three to four topics per week so that you don’t overload your testers. More tasks require more energy, which returns fewer results.
If you’re running a solo operation, there are many tasks that can eat at your bandwidth. Only 19% of companies are satisfied with the personnel available to support customer beta testing. Building in enough time to complete action items is crucial to balancing your workload and producing solid results.
The time you need will depend on your test and your resources for managing it. For instance, how many testers are you bringing in? That number affects the time it takes to recruit and qualify those testers. You’ll also need time to set them up in the project workspace and get them started with the product.
Then there’s the test itself. You’ll need to troubleshoot, respond to comments and queries, and process feedback. This all happens before even presenting your findings to your stakeholders.
Make a list of action items. Do some research. Decide a reasonable time span for completing each task, then build out your timeline. The more time sinks you account for, the fewer time crunches that will catch you by surprise come test time.
Saving Time with the Right Tools
Even seasoned test managers can struggle to balance all the moving parts of a beta test. Take test planning and execution to the next level with the Centercode Platform. Learn more about its templates, automation, and other time-saving features by scheduling a demo now.
How We Map Out Test Length
Here’s a simplified example of a test schedule, taken from one of our test plans.
In most cases, it takes about two weeks to prepare for a test. The Prep period covers recruitment, setting up the workspace, and distributing products. Depending on your bandwidth and the needs of your test, you may need more time. If you’re not sure, err on the side of more.
The timing for the testing period varies the most, lasting anywhere between two and eight weeks. Each week of the test, we meet with stakeholders to update them on the incoming results.
Finally, test closure takes about a week. Because of the weekly stakeholder updates leading into it, the closing report and wrap-up meeting are usually quick.
With product iterations already underway, your timeline isn’t as pressing. Still, plan time to button up tasks like product retrieval and incentive distribution. This will help to maintain a good relationship with any testers you want to invite back for future tests.
Want a little extra help planning your test? Download the templates and tips in the Beta Test Planning Kit.