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Test Planning

Can a One-Week Beta Test Still Be Effective?

April 19, 2011

People frequently ask us if there’s a minimum length for a beta test. Like many things in life, it depends. If there’s one constant, though, it’s that a one-week beta test is just too short. By understanding why that’s true, you’ll have a better idea of how long your next beta test needs to be. So, today we’re discussing 5 inherent challenges of a one-week beta test.

  1. Product Complexity. The complexity of your product is critical in deciding test length. If your product is very simple, this won’t be a concern for you. However, most products take time to install, understand, and use. If you only give your testers a single week, can you really expect them to understand and provide feedback about the full range of your product’s functionality?
  2. Launch Lag. Beta testers, like anyone else, lead busy lives. We’ve found that it often takes testers a day or two to install the product and begin working — a tendency we call “launch lag”. In a multi-week test, the impact is minimal. But for very short tests, the effect is much more significant and compounds all the other challenges you’d be facing. If you have two days of launch lag in a one-week beta test, that means 28% of your testing period is over before participation begins.
  3. Total Testing Hours. Even after the launch lag phase, the average beta tester can only commit a few hours each day (at most) to testing your product. If you’re attempting a one-week beta, that means you should expect 5-12 hours of total testing time from each participant (remembering that beta test participation rates often hover around 25%-50%). Ask yourself if these numbers are really adequate to test your product.
  4. Hindering Your Developers. To have an effective beta test, your development team needs time to review feedback, engage with testers, and debug problems during the actual testing period. With a one-week beta, they might be able to pick two of those things, but something is always sacrificed. They can review feedback and engage with testers, debugging after the test is over. Or maybe they’ll review feedback and debug, but have little to no engagement with the frustrated testers. Either way, you’re not going to get as much out of your beta test as you might otherwise.
  5. Higher Risk. If you encounter any serious issues in a one-week test, you’re in big trouble. If you’re lucky, you might be able to accomplish some secondary goals still, but it could be over right then. In a longer test, you have the chance to direct users toward other parts of the product while your development team to addresses the issues. But with a very short testing period, it will probably end before you can fix the problem and distribute a new release.

One area to keep an eye on when it comes to very short beta tests is mobile. For simple apps, it may be entirely appropriate to plan your beta around a one-week time frame. But there are also certain feature sets of mobile where this might not apply (e.g., geo) and certain platforms that have their own challenges (i.e., iOS). Mobile beta is something that we’ll be exploring a lot more in the coming months, so keep an eye out for updates on mobile beta testing programs.

Have you had experience with very short beta tests?  Please comment!

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