Product Development

How the Pros Run Their Beta Programs

So you want to run a beta program. Whether you got here after running a handful of beta tests on your own, or your boss handed the task over to you, the insights you get from beta testing open the door to an incredibly enriching world of customer knowledge and product insight. We're stoked for you!

Unlike usability testing, which shows you whether or not a concept is usable, beta testing shows how your customers are using (or will use) your product in the real world. Running a beta program keeps the flow of insight into product areas and users' experiences coming. It also paves the way for co-creating solutions with customers and eliminating friction and bugs before launch.

You've probably got the basics of beta (testers, product, feedback, surveys…?) and a roundabout idea of what needs to happen when. But the specifics of what goes into a beta program are likely a little fuzzy, and that's because beta has many moving parts to account for. Where do you start? How do you know you've got the essentials covered and that you'll consistently get meaningful feedback? Is this all harder or easier than you think?

Padawan, it's both: it's harder and easier than you think to run a beta program. When you're just starting out, you'll find certain aspects come naturally to you (based on your role, experience, or education, for example) while others will sideline you if you're not looking out for them ("Ummm, did my testers just drop off the face of the planet? Where's all the feedback?").

Factors like the tools you're using, the product you're testing, and the testers you're testing it with will all influence the approach you take. But rest assured that nearly every beta program manager has started out exactly like you: as a driven individual who cares deeply about understanding their customers, who has a vested interest in improving their product, and who didn't get the "how to run a beta program" manual from their predecessors.

That's probably what brought you here, and congratulations, you've made it to the right place. We've been helping companies run their beta programs for over twenty years, and those companies have gone on to create some of the most wildly successful and influential products in the world.

So how do those professionals run their beta programs, you ask?

What The Pros Have In Common: Automation

When you first start running a beta program, you might feel like things would be a lot easier if you just had more experience. But your tools play an important (if not the most important) part in the success of your endeavors. And user testing automation tools are the best of all, helping beta programs of all sizes save time for their managers, increase efficiency, and improve outcomes across the board.

User testing automation directly addresses a lot of the time-sinks, resource constraints, and process challenges that impact beta program managers at all levels of experience. Here are some examples.

  • Automation gives you plug-and-play templates that make it easy to both plan your test and standardize your outcomes. They're also reinforced with best practices, so you can start that upward trajectory toward improving those outcomes from day one.
  • It allows you to easily manage your tester community and increases its effectiveness by prompting testers to add the devices they own and use to their tester profiles. It then keeps track of their details so you can filter for candidates by device, making project recruitment easier and more efficient. And it reminds testers to update them on a regular cadence so your tester data stays fresh.
  • User testing automation comes with dashboards that track key user testing metrics, like product success, the impact of your program on your product's success over time, and the health of each individual project. You can see them all at a glance or drill down for deeper insights.
  • It eliminates the need to be an expert on beta management or document your processes because the processes are already built-in. And if you're using Centercode, your tool will walk you step-by-step through the testing process. It's like a mecha suit of best practices, dramatically increasing your abilities as a beta program manager. It also ensures that whoever helps you run a project, joins your testing team, or inherits your program down the road doesn't need a manual to produce actionable, expert-level results.

Wait, I'm Not Ready!

We get that not everyone is ready to automate, and that's okay, too! For those of you who want to try it out the manual way, we've condensed our experiences into five pro tips for running beta manually that are chock full of best practices, trusted shortcuts, resources, and advice. Use these resources to hit the ground running as you're running your first beta program.

Pro Tip #1: Recruit for a Community, Not Just a Test

Every beta test needs testers to provide the product insights and real-world feedback that'll make your whole beta program worthwhile. The problem is that when you're first starting out, wrangling these testers (i.e., recruitment) can be pretty challenging. Finding testers in your target market, sending out beta invitations, making sure they have the right qualifications and equipment to test are all necessary but time-consuming tasks you'll have to do. (We've got plenty of best practices for recruitment in this handy-dandy kit, if you're interested.)

But instead of thinking at a project level (and cycling through those tedious tasks over and over), building a beta community makes recruitment easier over time as your pool of reliable and interested testers grows. While every beta project will involve recruiting the right folks and sending out invites, a community keeps you connected with vetted testers who you've worked with before — and who already know the ropes.

Building your first beta community? Instead of an email list (read: one big silo), start with a hub where you can talk with, answer FAQs, and post new testing opportunities to your testers all at once, like a Facebook or LinkedIn group, private Twitter account, or Discord server.

Pro Tip #2: Develop and Use Templates

We love a template, and here's why you should, too: Templates help with standardization, efficiency, and consistency as you run your beta program. With templates, there's no need to reinvent the wheel every time you plan a test, for example. The trick is auditing your templates every so often to make sure they're up-to-date with your processes and still have all the information you need to succeed.

The Beta Test Planning Kit comes with a downloadable test plan template and a step-by-step guide for using it soooo… 👀

Pro Tip #3: Start Benchmarking

In order to set a trajectory for all the cool stuff you want to accomplish with your beta program, you need to know where you're at right now. Benchmarks have entered the chat.

By setting up benchmarks early, you can quickly prove the value of your beta efforts when you need to. If you have them, start with the results from previous beta testing efforts at your organization to establish a baseline and start measuring whatever improvements you make from there.

Not sure what to measure? Check out the Beginner's Guide to Identifying Beta Program Metrics, put together by our very own product director (and metrics enthusiast) Chris Rader.

Pro Tip #4: Establish Continuous Improvement Processes

Templates? Check. Benchmarks? Check. Now, you've got two big hands up improving your processes. Your processes will allow you to identify positive or negative trends you can then repeat or correct to continue improving your beta program's performance. Remember that stuff we said about consistency and efficiency in Tip #2? This is where those chickens will come to roost.

Many professionals feel like they don't have enough time to get through all the tasks of beta testing, especially when they're just starting out. But there's a light for you if you're working with defined processes — you're much less likely to feel those same time constraints in a year.

Pro Tip #5: Write Your Own Manual

This is the part of the hero's journey where you realize you were the architect of your own success all along. Document your processes and standards. Try to run tests the same way so that you can make yourself more efficient over time. If necessary, you can branch out and determine different types of tests you'll need to run, then make slight adjustments to accommodate those different use cases.

Explore the World of Automation

Still on the fence about whether or not you should automate your beta program? This free ebook highlights exactly how technology is driving the future of user testing.