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5 Tips for Handling NDAs and Legal Agreements

October 9, 2012

Our fourth Beta Tips post looks at how to distribute and manage the legal documents associated with a beta test, namely non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and beta participation agreements (BPAs). For a more in-depth explanation of these documents (along with some templates), download our free beta test agreement kit.

1. Always Use an NDA

This may not need mentioning, since companies now seem to request NDAs before they’ll tell you where their restrooms are, but in the context of beta testing, NDAs are critical. They offer you legal protection, but more to the point, executing an NDA (accompanied by a plain-English explanation) reinforces the importance of beta secrecy to your tester team so that (hopefully) you don’t have to enforce it. The beta test agreement kit mentioned above includes templates and instructions to help you write and execute your NDAs.

2. Use a Participation Agreement

The role of beta participation agreements (BPAs) is a little less obvious than that of NDAs, but still very important. They’ll cover things like participation expectations, receipt and return of the test product, limitations on what can be done with the product, etc. While they’re binding legal documents, they’re generally not something you try to enforce in court. Their value is in clearly communicating what’s expected from your testers and reminding stray testers about their commitments to the beta testing process. Our kit also contains a lot of information about participation agreements, including the key elements that should be included in every agreement.

3. Manage the Agreements Electronically

In the past, beta test agreements (both NDA and BPA) were executed manually by instructing beta testers to print the agreement, sign it, and fax it back to a designated number. The beta manager would then track, organize, and manage agreements manually. Today there are a number of digital (online or browser-based) agreement systems available, including the content agreement functionality found in the Centercode platform, which automates the process entirely. These tools make it much easier to distribute and track paperwork, helping to ensure that missing paperwork doesn’t delay your test.

4. Send Out NDA Reminders

Sometimes, especially in longer betas, it’s a good idea to send out a mid-test email about the terms of the NDA agreement. We find that a good time is after the first few weeks or if you have a break in testing between phases. Basically, when enough time has passed for excited testers to innocently forget that they can’t talk about the product, a gentle reminder of the NDA terms and the consequences of breaking them is all it takes to protect confidentiality and avoid an unpleasant situation.

5. Enforce Zero Tolerance

While it’s always on a new beta manager’s mind, beta NDA leaks are actually quite rare. That said, when it comes to confidentiality, no violation is too small. If someone leaks anything about your project, you shouldn’t give an inch. Immediately remove the tester from the beta and notify the other testers of the action and penalty. While legal action is generally not pursued in beta NDA leaks (outside of corporate espionage, violations are usually the result of accidents or ignorance), it’s an option.

Obviously this an uncomfortable series of events, but people need to recognize that you take the terms of the agreement very seriously. Sometimes just one crack in the dam is all it takes for the whole thing to come crumbling down. Have a tip for handling legal agreements in beta testing? Be sure to leave it in the comments below!

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