There isn’t a one-size-fits-all method of product development that’s guaranteed to work for your organization. Take Agile, for example. Eighty percent of today’s tech companies have adopted agile practices — so there must be something to it, right? But not everyone practices Agile the same way. In fact, what counts as “agile development” can vary widely from company to company — and two very different forms can both produce spectacular results.
Customer testing programs are the same way. Yes, customer testing is a necessary part of releasing high-quality products. But what your optimal beta, field, or Delta Testing program looks like will depend on your product, the size of your team, available resources, stakeholder support, and company expectations.
We talk a lot about the benefits of centralizing your customer testing program (for good reason!). But while at first glance, “centralized” sounds like the best possible option, decentralized customer testing programs also have unique benefits that work great for our customers.
First off, let’s talk about what we mean when we say “centralized” and “decentralized”. As with many development processes, centralized customer testing is handled by an individual or team that serves any combination of product lines or development groups within the organization. Decentralized testing means projects are often run in a silo by the product manager responsible for each product.
Wondering which program style works best for you? Here’s a thorough breakdown on the benefits of both decentralized and centralized customer testing programs.
Centralized Programs: Consistent, Collaborative,
Here are some of the common characteristics of centralized customer testing programs.
- Dedicated individual or team focused on managing projects
- Stakeholder buy-in
- Top-down initiative from directors, VP, or C-suite
- Agency-like setup
- Accountability for continuous improvement
- Standardized deliverables
- Quality goals shared across the organization
Because centralized testing programs often have more organizational buy-in, there’s a focus on repeating processes that work and tweaking ones that don’t — which lends itself to more consistent results and higher program effectiveness over time. The benefits of centralized processes include:
Increased Tester Engagement
When the testing program is the team’s sole focus, they can spend less time negotiating the details of how to run a test and more time managing feedback and encouraging engagement from testers. This results in more feedback, happier testers, and more consistent results. It also secures one of the more common program aspects that fall by the wayside in a decentralized program: community engagement and nurturing. A centralized program allows for specialized roles that focus on areas like tester community engagement. This prevents data decay in your tester community.
The consistency also helps testers to learn the way customer tests run at your organization. Knowing what to expect encourages them to stay engaged and provide better quality feedback. Educated testers also reduce the time a team or individual needs to manage compliance on tests, allowing managers more bandwidth to focus on other crucial project tasks.
Fewer Surprises from Stakeholders
Internal teams (e.g., Product, Engineering, QA, etc.) are familiar with the required inputs and time necessary to spin up and run a project. The result is less friction in the planning phase and fewer last-minute requests.
Improvement Over Time
A centralized program with a single team can capture and monitor program key performance indicators (KPIs) on a consistent and long-term basis. These KPIs help set benchmarks for future program improvement monitoring and accountability.
With KPIs in place, the testing program team will have the tools to establish a continuous improvement process that ensures they’re always delivering the best results possible. It also positions the test team to continually deepen their customer testing knowledge and skills, enabling even more impactful tests as the program matures.
Data-Driven Product Recommendations
When your testing program manager isn’t also a product manager, they can serve as an unbiased analyst of tester feedback. Instead of hunting through feedback and choosing what to implement, program managers can focus exclusively on surfacing the most impactful issues. They can then utilize signals and data to demonstrate exactly which feedback should be addressed to achieve the highest quality results.
Decentralized Testing Programs: Fast, Flexible, Self-Serve
The characteristics that define a decentralized customer testing program are:
- Product managers and other individuals are responsible for testing their own products
- Bottom-up initiative, usually springing out of need at an execution level
- Collective responsibility for quality and processes
- Ad-hoc deliverables
- Quality goals on a team-by-team (or product-by-product) basis
With so many benefits to centralized testing, it might seem incredible that an organization would want to run their tests any other way. But decentralized programs offer quick ramp-up times and flexibility that are crucial in organizations that prize flexibility. Here are the perks that go hand in hand with a decentralized testing program.
Everyone Can Be a Testing Program Manager
With the right templates and tools, a decentralized testing program can scale across an entire organization. Everyone can learn to be a program manager and run successful customer tests, eliminating the need for dedicated resources — and saving the company money. Letting anyone with bandwidth pick up testing makes workload planning and resource allocation easier and helps product development stays on schedule.
The Right Data Gets to the Right Team Faster
If the product manager is running the testing program, feedback is being delivered directly to the source of inquiry. Cutting out the middleman allows for more agile product improvement and makes it easier to meet deadlines.
Not having to wait for a dedicated party to manage their customer test means product managers are able to run tests more frequently and gather more feedback to produce a high-quality product. While it does take up individual bandwidth, testing on-demand means delays in the product schedules won’t impact testing timelines, which makes this part of the product development process more flexible.
Product Teams Are Closer to Their Customers
As a result of product owners managing their own testing programs, they’re able to bridge the gap between developers and customers. Program owners are able to implement feedback provided by customer testers directly. This helps to close the feedback loop, which often remains open in more centralized programs.
In a recent Centercode survey, testers indicated that they are more excited and engaged in a project when they knew they were communicating directly with the product team. That immediate line of contact fuels higher participation and makes testers feel like “celebrities.”
Which One Works Best for You?
Are you for Team Centralized or Team Decentralized? If you’re still not sure which program type you should aim for, try answering these “Would You Rather” questions.
Would you rather have a dedicated expert available to run a test at any time or deliver data faster by empowering anyone to run a test?
Does a dedicated testing project manager sound like a dream? You might be leaning toward a centralized program. If the flexibility of letting whoever has the bandwidth manage a customer test sounds like a better fit, a decentralized program is the way to go.
Do you need highly profiled testers available for specific engagements, or rapid engagements with less targeted testers more often?
It takes time and consistency to nurture a thriving tester community — but engaging your testers at the community level means less data decay, quicker, more targeted recruitments, and higher engagement overall. If you’re all about target market representation, score one for a centralized testing program. If you’d rather see your product team frequently connecting directly with your testers, chalk one up for a decentralized testing program.
Would you rather track KPIs and improve your program consistently or drop the overhead and spin up tests as needed?
Benchmarking and consistent metrics create a blueprint for how to improve the efficiency of your customer testing program. But it’s extremely difficult to keep track of without a dedicated individual or team to a) reinforce consistent practices and b) implement changes and measure their impact. On the other hand, templates and training do count for something when it comes to running customer tests. If you’re interested in seeing long-term improvements, aim for a centralized program. If you think your resources are better used elsewhere, go for a decentralized program.
How Centercode Supports All Program Types
We talk about them in contrast to one another, but let me stress — the best program style is the one that works best for your organization. It’s okay to prize both the flexibility and speed of decentralized programs and the dedicated resources and buy-in of centralized programs. The point is that your customer testing program is supporting higher-quality products, happier customers, and bigger bottom lines — and that your organization sees that.
Centercode supports all program types with tools and resources that empower processes that are fast, flexible, consistent, and data-driven. We handle the heavy lifting so that test management is easy — whether you’re a product manager running tests alongside your other responsibilities or a centralized test team scaling your efforts for an entire organization.
With groundbreaking platform automation, time-tested best practices, and a team of experts to step in when you needed a project spun up yesterday, we’ve helped hundreds of companies put thousands of products into the hands of their customers. See firsthand how Centercode customers are killing it in this report, The ROI of Testing Pre-Release Products with Centercode.