You've probably noticed in your research that beta testing has different meanings, and answering how to run a successful test is more complicated than you anticipated.
While the right way to conduct your test can vary, similar to software development processes, we've pulled together processes, best practices, tips, and examples to make beta painless.
Beta testing is software testing method used in product development to evaluate the quality with real users in real environments. The definition refers to the development stage after alpha, where a beta version of the software is evaluated by real users that provide feedback to improve the product before release. Its meaning comes from the second letter of the Greek alphabet, beta, after alpha.
Beta testing has existed since the early 1950s to test a product to discover bugs and feature gaps before launch. With over 70 years of beta testing, you would think that the tech industry would have a standard process for performing these tests.
As tech has evolved, so too has beta testing. However, the evolution of beta has actually turned into a monster. In an annual survey, Centercode created a question to discover alternative terms for beta testing. While beta testing was the most common term, there were over 60 names uncovered.
In some cases, the alternative names for beta were simply a synonym, while in other cases, they were modified ways of performing tests. Organizations started using these modified tests to capture different data, introduce testing earlier or later in development, and answer questions that traditional beta testing may not have answered. Ultimately, the evolution of beta led to the introduction and spin-off of many different types of product testing.
The amalgamation of these different “flavors” of beta has allowed this style of testing (real users, real environments) to be applied at nearly all stages of software development once a functional product exists. Each “flavor” has unique goals like market validation, understanding usage behaviors, or stress testing, for example.
Typically alpha testing comes before beta testing happens after the alpha stage and before general availability. However, different types of beta testing happen sooner in development and later in the release lifecycle.
If you’ve ever dabbled in project management, you'll know that projects have phases. Beta is no different, even if you run a frankenbeta, you'll have stages.
There are 5 stages for a successful test: initialization, planning, preparation, testing, and closure. These stages are used to organize activities around the setup of the test environment, finding testers, performing the test, and taking action on the results.
Before a project begins, the request to run a project must be made. The earlier the request is made, the better. Still, this typically happens before the development phase has kicked off or as the software is around the pre-alpha stage of development. This stage concludes when a meeting is scheduled to discuss the details for planning the beta test.
About 4-8 weeks before you start preparing to begin your test. During this time, assemble your stakeholders to decide what needs to be tested, who will be testing, and the schedule for testing. Building a plan should happen quickly, typically within 3-5 days. However, buy-in and optimizing the strategy happens over two weeks.
50% of tests spend between 40-150 days in the initialization stage.
Prepping your project usually happens 2-4 weeks before the start of the testing. The team should finalize the test plan, recruit the beta testers, and prepare the necessary documentation and resources.
This includes creating test scripts, user guides, FAQs, and setting up the test environment and feedback tracking system. The preparation stage concludes when all resources are ready to start testing. Agreements are one of the deliverables with the longest lead time, so it is recommended that you work with your legal team well in advance of the test start date.
Is your product ready for beta testing? Find out using our Beta Readiness Checklist!
The execution phase begins when the testers start using the software for you and typically lasts for 3-12 weeks. During this time, testers perform various tasks based on the test plan, and report any issues or feedback they encounter. The development team should monitor the feedback, prioritize reported issues, and communicate with testers regularly to address any questions or concerns.
As bugs are fixed and improvements are made, new builds may be released for further testing. This stage ends when the software has reached a level of stability and quality that meets the team's predefined criteria for release, called the beta exit criteria or launch readiness.
Once the testing goals have been met and the software is ready for release, the closure phase begins. In this stage, the team evaluates the overall success of the beta test, identifies any lessons learned, and documents the process for future reference.
Testers should be thanked for participating and may be offered incentives, such as early access to the final product, discounts, or gift cards. The team should also finalize the release notes, highlighting new features and resolved issues. The closure stage concludes when the software is officially launched.
Performing your beta test comes down to following ten steps that'll take you from definition to launch without breaking a sweat.
The first step is more of an internal dialogue. Why are you doing a beta test? Coming up with a list of objectives before meeting with your team is a helpful way to start the conversation. List out your goals and what features should be tested.
Defining your goals can narrow down what type of beta test you are running and can set the metrics used to measure success. Here are a handful of common objectives:
Get your team together for a meeting to discuss three simple things: what do we need to test, what does our ideal tester look like, and when will testing happen?
What do we need to test? A helpful practice for determining what needs to be tested is to think about the setup and general product usage experience of your personas or customers. Organize into features and activities that you'll use to collect feedback from testers.
Who is our ideal beta tester? Defining who you'll need to recruit should be easy at this stage in development. If you have personas or market definitions, leverage those. They should include demographics, technographics, and psychographics that will be used to narrow your tester audience.
When will testing happen? Setting a timeline is crucial for keeping your beta test on track and ensuring that you get the feedback you need in time for your product launch. Consider how long it will take to recruit testers, prepare test materials, and execute the test itself. Don't forget to allocate time for analyzing feedback and implementing changes based on the test results.
A successful beta test requires a diverse group of testers representing your target audience. Consider factors such as demographics, technical expertise, and prior experience with similar products when recruiting testers.
Based on the type of test you'll be running, you may prefer to have an application process or an open test that allows everyone to participate by opting in.
Either way, you'll need a page or form for people to sign up for your beta. It should include the presentation of vital information to the project, like why testers would be interested in joining, requirements for participating, and basic product or market information to promote applications.
Use your opportunity page as the primary call to action for your outreach to find testers. Use email, social media, and communities as a way to build your pool of potential testers. Those aren't the only ways to find testers, but they are the common sources.
Tip: if you are running a private or closed beta test, make sure to include a non-disclosure agreement as part of your onboarding process for testers.
Make sure your beta testers have everything they need to get started. This includes the beta version of your product, test instructions, guides, and surveys. Distribute these materials to your testers so they're ready to go.
Distributing your beta version to testers. There are different steps based for iOS, Android, websites, cloud, or hardware. In any case it's recommended that you:
#1. Give them access to the product or build
#2. Remind them to install or setup the beta version
#3. Verify they are using the latest version
Let your testers know what you expect from them and what the goals of the beta test are. Set up channels for communication, feedback, and support so everyone stays connected, and informed throughout the process.
Maximize Beta Tester Engagement with Strong Communication
Keep tabs on the process and actively engage with your testers. These volunteers feed off of your energy, and without support you'll quickly see the volume of feedback and satisfaction decrease. Having a list of metrics, dashboards, or signals to stay up to date on the health of your project is crucial.
There are a handful of things you should monitor during your project:
Recommended Reading: Guide to Beta Testing Metrics
During your project testers will provide feedback through forms, surveys, and conversations. This data is likely the purpose for running the project. Taking steps to analyze the responses to find patterns, trends, and insights you can act on will be how you improve the product being released.
Identifying priority Issues, Ideas, and Praise will ensure you put your attention on the most popular and impactful submissions. With a short list of things to address, you get the most out of your beta test.
Recommended Reading: What is Feedback Impact Score?
Use the feedback you've received to improve your product. If necessary, run another round of beta testing to make sure the changes have had the desired effect. It's common to uncover major issues during testing, and it's not uncommon to want to run another round of testing without encountering major issues.
This allows teams to validate satisfaction without technical difficulties. Typically a team will run a "pre-beta" or alpha test before going out to a large group of beta testers.
Recommended Reading: Closing The Tester Feedback Loop
Once the beta test is over, thank your testers for participating. Show them your appreciation with a thank-you note or reward. Many programs will share what's been improved in the product based on tester feedback. Improvements made in beta resources provide testers with proof that their efforts were not in vain and provided value to the organization. Another approach is to provide a leaderboard that acknowledges specific testers' accomplishments.
Recommended Reading: How to Provide Incentives to Beta Testers
Take what you've learned from the beta test and use it to prepare for your product's official release. Don't forget to incorporate these lessons into future development cycles, too! Most companies will mention their beta testing in their product launch blogs to inform buyers that their product has been tested by real people.
Recommended Reading: How to Write a New Product Launch Blog
Serving as a bridge between the internal testing stages and the final release, beta testing is a crucial component in the development process of any product providing valuable insights for quality improvement and user experience enhancement.
Engaging real users in real-world environments, beta testing unlocks invaluable feedback that helps identify issues, refine the product, and maximize ROI.
By leveraging beta testing insights, businesses can make informed decisions, optimize their launch strategy, and mitigate financial risks, resulting in a more successful product release. The benefits of beta testing go beyond just product development, the results from testing can help inform the product launch strategy for nearly every team involved.
Beta testing doesn’t just drive informed decision-making and risk mitigation, but it also unlocks a range of other advantages that extend across various facets of your product's life cycle:
Beta testing is the key to unlocking a product's full potential. By exposing real products to real people in real-world usage scenarios, companies can gather invaluable information about the product's performance, usability, and overall user satisfaction.
This user-driven feedback loop ultimately results in a higher quality product that meets or exceeds user expectations. Additionally, beta testing helps to refine the product's user experience.
By incorporating user feedback into the development process, developers can fine-tune various aspects of the product, ensuring that it aligns with users' preferences and requirements. As a result, a well-executed beta test can lead to an enhanced user experience that drives customer loyalty, positive reviews, and, ultimately, the product's success.
Because of the importance of beta testing in product development, it’s imperative to avoid any and all pitfalls you can to reduce your risk of unproductive testing, missed opportunities for improvement, and ultimately, a less-than-ideal user experience for your product.
In order to help you avoid these problems, we’ve compiled two decades worth of tips and best practices from our experiences with thousands of beta tests. Below we’ve listed some of the most common pitfalls you may encounter in your beta testing efforts, along with those best practices and strategies for how to help ensure you steer clear of them.
Unclear objectives often lead to unproductive testing and ambiguous results. To avoid this, craft a detailed test plan outlining objectives, target audience, timeline, and expected outcomes. Make sure all stakeholders are on board with the plan and the set goals.
Recruiting testers outside your target market can skew results and decrease engagement. To counteract this, clearly define your target market and select a diverse group of testers representative of that audience. Regular communication throughout the testing process encourages feedback and keeps testers engaged.
A product that hasn't been adequately tested internally can frustrate testers and result in unhelpful feedback. Make sure the product has undergone thorough internal QA testing and offers a smooth user experience to maintain tester engagement and participation.
Overwhelming data influx due to inadequate feedback management can complicate the identification of priority issues. Implement systems like Centercode to organize, categorize, and prioritize feedback, aiding in the identification of critical issues and impactful improvements
Limiting the testing scope may result in unidentified issues. Address this by designing engaging activities that promote product exploration and stimulate feedback. Testing activities should mirror real-world situations to encourage thorough product examination.
Poor communication and inadequate documentation can lead to misunderstandings and delays. To mitigate this, establish clear communication channels and thoroughly document all aspects of the beta test. Keep all stakeholders informed and engaged throughout the process.
Relying solely on quantitative data can limit the understanding of user experiences. To get a comprehensive view, complement quantitative data with qualitative feedback like issues, ideas, praises, and survey responses. Encourage testers to provide detailed feedback to gain insights into their experiences and preferences.
Unrealistic timelines or expectations can cause stress, rushed testing, and incomplete results. Establish realistic timelines that allow for comprehensive testing, analysis, and improvement implementation. Ensure all stakeholders understand the beta test's purpose—to identify key issues and improve the product, not achieve perfection.
Ignoring lessons learned from the beta test can lead to repeated mistakes. To avert this, conduct regular reviews of the testing process, identify areas for improvement, and implement changes for future tests. Continuously adapt your beta testing strategy based on feedback and results for better outcomes each time.
When looking at beta testing software, ensuring that you align the way you want testing done and how it will be most effective in your company is key to being successful. Here are five critical questions you should ask yourself when researching tools for beta testing:
What does your beta testing program look like today?
What are the types of beta testing tools?
What beta testing features to look for?
How will you integrate your beta testing tool with business systems?
How can you build a basic budget for beta testing tools?
Recommended Reading: Buyer's Guide to Beta Testing Software Tools
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Beta testing continues to be a critical component of the software development life cycle, offering invaluable insights that can shape and refine products before they reach the hands of users. As we've seen throughout this guide, beta testing encompasses a diverse range of approaches, each tailored to meet specific objectives—from identifying bugs and assessing performance to understanding user behavior and preferences.
By strategically planning and executing beta tests, organizations can achieve greater confidence in their product's quality and functionality, uncover hidden issues, and ensure a seamless user experience. Moreover, the feedback gathered from real users during the beta testing phase provides the opportunity to make data-driven decisions and further align the product with user expectations.
As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of technology and innovation in 2023, beta testing will continue to play a pivotal role in the success of software products. So, whether you're launching a new mobile app or enhancing an existing platform, embracing the principles and best practices of beta testing is a surefire way to propel your product toward success.
We hope you took something valuable away on your journey through "The Ultimate Guide to Beta Testing in 2023." As you embark on your own beta testing endeavors, we encourage you to utilize the key takeaways and insights from this guide to maximize the impact of your testing efforts and elevate your product to new heights.