I’m Tony Fisher, Centercode’s primary “support guy.” If you’ve contacted us for help in the last two years, you’ve probably been talking to me. This article is meant to share some of the lessons I’ve learned working with hundreds of beta test managers using the Centercode platform. Enjoy!
Reading through this blog, you might be looking for advice on your next beta, or perhaps debating whether to run a beta at all. You could be neck-deep in five projects, or speeding through our training materials preparing for your first. No matter your scenario, there are some simple (yet critical) concepts that directly influence your ability to run a successful test. Sophisticated or basic, legacy or brand new, the concepts of planning ahead, simplifying, and templating will dramatically reduce your setup time, maximize your efficiency during your project, and decrease friction and confusion on your next go-around.
Think It Out
Most of the time, your schedule is “go, go, go!” Despite that, taking a moment to establish a plan of attack (even though product development rarely goes “according to plan”) will expedite the configuration of your project as well as give you parameters to work within. We’ve provided a lot of resources and functionality that both make planning easier for and beneficial to well-prepared beta managers (that’s you!).
For starters, we provide test planning kits you can download, but we’ve also built them into Program Edition in the form of Project Profiles. We highly recommend you take a look at these before you begin your next project and put them to work for you. Truthfully, whether you’re using Centercode as your beta platform or not, going into testing with established metrics, responsibilities, and goals makes dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s much less difficult. As each test is different, filling out these test plans prior to kickoff is an excellent addition to your standard practice. Obviously, there’s a lot of moving parts including NDA procurement, applicant qualification, software/hardware distribution, feedback collection, and general communication with your testers. If your planning is lacking in any of these areas then delays, frustration, and confusion are right around the corner.
Keep it Simple
One of the great momentum-killers I’ve seen when helping our customers is over complication. Our platform is a sandbox, full of functionality and endless possible configurations. If there’s something you want to accomplish, 90% of the time the question is more about how to do it than if it’s possible. This is often a great thing for those who planned ahead. They have a straightforward means to accomplish exactly what they planned for and a guiding light to keep them focused on the important aspects of their project. Once things start to deviate from the plan, however, sandboxes can become rabbit holes. It’s in these times when you need to take a step back and review what you’re trying to accomplish at a basic level. If you feel like you’re getting in over your head and don’t have time to get back to fundamentals, consider that our system exists to make these processes easier. Once you’re up to speed on the basics, your beta program’s growth can be downright explosive. Make the time to reinforce your foundation — it’s worth it.
For all those experienced users reading this, don’t think you’re exempt from the perils of over complication. While you may have an excellent grasp on automating your processes with macros and distributions, clutter comes in many forms. Not a week goes by where I don’t get requests to help find out why something is behaving in an unexpected manner. This nearly always comes from extraneous resources, twisted team configurations, or assumed configurations that have been corrupted over time. Sophisticated beta programs tend to get messy as time goes on. It’s the program or community manager’s duty to establish structure to prevent small inefficiencies from being compounded into crippling delays. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Something else to consider before you reach zero hour is how often you’ll be recreating the same forms, communications, etc. Look for resources you could reuse or areas of the platform you’ll need often and turn those into templates. Pay special attention to those aspects of the tool. If you’re concerned about messaging or will be sending frequent emails, get friendly with email templates. If you have a lot of questionnaires to send out during your test, establish a standard survey template with basic tester access, then add non-standard questions to the form as needed. Homogenizing your forms, processes, and communication saves tons of time and frustration. A project full of non-standard resources gets cluttered and chaotic very quickly. Keep that stuff organized and you’ll spend less time repairing your project with me and more time getting results!
What’s better than establishing reusable resources within your project? Establishing reusable projects. Preserving your best practices culminates with project templates, allowing you to preserve all the work you’ve put into planning, simplifying, and preparing. Cloning from a core template will copy all the default settings, access configurations, feedback forms, and communication resources — all you’ll have to do is add testers and conditional resources (software builds, special NDA documents, etc.) and you’re operating at full speed. In combination with proper planning and simplification, templates are one of the most powerful (and tragically underutilized) resources at your disposal.
For More Help
If you’re looking for more ways to hone your skills or learn new ones, take a look at our training videos. If you need help from me or someone else at Centercode, try using the chat box in the bottom corner of our web site. If you’re looking for those planning kits I mentioned, head over to our resource library. We also do free beta test plan consultations if you’d like some help planning your next test.