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Test Strategy

The Five W’s of Alpha Testing

September 6, 2017

Most companies run Beta Tests, but it’s important to fix critical real-world issues before putting your products in the hands of Beta users, and eventually your customers. Alpha Tests provide an opportunity to get your products into real user environments with technical users who can help you identify and prioritize bugs. Here’s a rundown of exactly what Alpha Testing is, along with some tips for planning and running these types of tests effectively.

What is Alpha Testing?

Alpha Testing, the first testing methodology in Customer Validation, helps evaluate the stability and quality of a product by gathering feedback from technical users, helping to discover show stopping defects, major usability problems, critical feature gaps, and in-the-wild interoperability problems. Your product should be more than halfway complete, with testers focused on finding as many bugs and major issues as possible.

Keep in mind that Alpha Tests follow the same three requirements of Customer Validation (real people, real environments, real products) but it answers one very specific question: does the product work?

Why Should My Company Invest in Alpha Testing?

An effective Alpha Test helps ensure your product is ready for Beta. A common mistake we hear, is companies skipping the Alpha stage and moving right into Beta. When this happens, testers often come across critical blocking issues that make it impossible to continue using the product and they end up having to send it back to the development team to fix — causing more delays and wasting unnecessary time and resources.

What makes an Alpha Test unique is that it can leverage both real customers and your company’s employees. By testing with employees (or dogfooding) you’re encouraging different departments to experience the product and gain insight on how it actually works, which will improve alignment within your organization. You’re also giving your customer-facing teams an early opportunity to prepare for questions and concerns they might receive once the product has been released.

On the other hand, testing with real customers will help you find gaps and gain a better understanding of your current testing processes, allowing you to see how the product is being used in different ecosystems, and helping to fix blocking issues before starting a Beta Test.

Who Does Alpha Testing Apply to?

Similar to Customer Validation, Alpha Tests apply to every product with a customer base. This means any hardware, software, and services product with a consumer, business, and enterprise clientele will find value in Alpha Testing. Hardware products, in particular, need to pass Alpha Tests with flying colors since they can’t be updated as easily as software products.

Where Does Alpha Testing Live in My Company?

Having a team devoted to running Customer Validation tests of all types is ideal, that way your company can ensure that your Alpha, Beta, and Field Tests are being run as part of a cohesive program.

Beyond that, the primary stakeholders in an Alpha Test are going to be quality assurance and product management. These are the groups that most directly benefit from the early quality feedback on the product, though the value of releasing a high-quality product will eventually radiate out to all teams associated with it.

When Does Alpha Testing Take Place Within the Product Lifecycle?

Alpha Testing predominantly occurs during the development stage when your product is 60%-80% complete. Before you begin Alpha Testing, you should already have completed concept validation, iterative usability testing, and initial QA and engineering testing to ensure the product is generally stable. After passing the initial QA tests, you should also make sure selective features are working correctly and there’s a relatively low risk of any blocking issues.

To be more specific, while quality assurance teams focus on professional white box testing in controlled environments with automated acceptance tests, Alpha Tests focus on customer and employee black box testing in real environments to gather feedback on the experience of the product.

How Do You Run Alpha Tests?

As with any Customer Validation test, Alpha Tests follow a specific plan, schedule, and message to meet certain objectives. Mapping topics, recruiting testers, structuring bug hunts, and analyzing feedback are only part of the equation.

Download the free Software Beta Test Planning Kit, which is packed full of templates, best practices, and tips you can use for your next Alpha Test.

Get the free Software Beta Test Planning Kit

Download the Software Beta Planning Kit
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