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Test Planning

Three Best Practices Every Beta Manager Should Embrace

July 29, 2016

As part of a team that helps develop pre-release testing strategies for everything from new mobile games to smart baby monitors, I’ve seen my fair share of challenges when figuring out the best way to gain customer validation for a new product. Personally, this is one of my favorite things about working at Centercode — new, evolving challenges requiring our team to come together to address the many complexities of beta testing.

What I’ve found is that there isn’t a “one size fits all” solution when it comes to scoping a successful beta test. Often it’s creative, out-of-the-box thinking that leads to the results we’re looking for. Depending on the product, this can yield vastly different tests. Despite this, there are a few key ideas every beta manager should keep in mind that will deliver a more successful beta, no matter what your specific needs or limitations are.

1. More is Not Always Better

A beta manager from one company I recently spoke with ran a beta program supporting almost 500,000 participants. The assumption was that more testers equal more feedback. But raw data isn’t always enough.

At Centercode, we tend to encourage companies to start with smaller tester groups. This is because a targeted tester group will likely give you more meaningful data from your actual target audience, rather than just giving you mass amounts of directionless information.

Having a smaller tester group also makes it easier to create an environment in which testers feel like they’re actually part of a development team and their feedback is making a difference, which in turn drives better engagement (we’ll get into this in more detail in a little bit). This means you’ll get the data you need without having to recruit massive amounts of people to do so. It’s more about the amount of engagement than the number of testers.

For more information on determining the number of participants your beta program will need, you should read our blog post: “How Many Beta Testers Do I Need?”

2. Screen Your Testers

Going hand-in-hand with finding the right number of testers should be a process that helps you identify the types of people most likely to give you the feedback you want. What ensures your testers are high quality and exactly what you’re looking for? A strategic applicant screening process.

The key to this application process is to be able to gauge how enthusiastic and qualified each of your applicants is, so you can select the right mix of people. At Centercode, we emphasize things like required open-ended questions in tester applications, which give test applicants an opportunity to show us their writing, professionalism, and excitement about testing.

3. Engage With Your Testers

I see people run into this problem a lot. The typical case involves having only one person who is tasked with handling all of the incoming feedback from testers — the keyword there being “all”. That point person quickly gets overwhelmed with reacting to feedback and doesn’t have the time to properly engage with testers, which can quickly lead to decreased participation and less feedback.

No matter how many testers you recruit, exactly zero will enjoy being ignored, especially since they’re volunteering their time to help. Authentic engagement drives participation more than any amount of product hype or brand association ever can.

It’s a natural response to return behavior with like behavior. So when a tester goes out of his or her way to leave you quality feedback, and it’s not clear it was appreciated or even read, that tester isn’t incentivized to do so in the future. As a result, your testers get more and more frustrated, and you get less and less feedback. Setting regular beta activities like tasks and surveys, updating testers on product progress, and responding to individual feedback will help keep them engaged and contributing.

While it may be difficult to discover right away how best to execute any given beta test, particularly those involving atypical testing situations, these three points should start you off in the right direction. With smart planning, a solid understanding of your target market, and active engagement throughout the process,  you can turn any tough beta situation into a valuable source of customer feedback.

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