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How to Know When You’re Ready for Beta

by Emily Hossellman

Beta testing is a key part of product development, but it can be difficult to get the timing right. Product teams are often pressured to get new products through beta and out the door as quickly as possible, but if a product goes into beta too early it can defeat the purpose of running a beta test altogether.

As you get closer to running your beta, there are three distinct components that need to be ready: your product, your team, and your testers. If any of these areas are out of sync or under-prepared, your beta will most likely suffer. When they come together, however, they can enable higher participation, easier management, and better results.

Product Readiness

The general standard for beta product readiness is a stable, feature-rich (although not necessarily feature-complete) product. If you give beta testers a very buggy product, you’re likely to see a flurry of initial activity — comprised primarily of redundant bug reports — followed by a major drop off in participation. Beta testers expect that the test product will have some issues, but there’s always a tipping point after which they’re too frustrated to keep trying.

Product Readiness Checklist

☐ The engineering team has verified that all of the components of the product are ready to begin beta testing.

☐ Auxiliary components (documentation, etc.) have been assembled into a single package which represents exactly what will be given to testers.

☐ The out of the box experience has been completely reviewed, including setup, installation, and supporting documentation.

☐ Basic product functionality has been thoroughly reviewed (all key features are working) by product management.

☐ Known bugs that could not be addressed prior to beta have been clearly documented and communicated to testers.

☐ The uninstall process has been successfully verified.

Team Readiness

The second piece of the puzzle is making sure that your own team is ready. When it comes to beta team readiness, you’ll want to be very systematic and detail-oriented. It can be challenging at times, because you’ll often be managing your own immediate team and interfacing with stakeholders in other departments (and sometimes other companies). It’s worth the effort, though, since a beta test can easily veer off course if one of those stakeholders isn’t up to speed on responsibilities or schedules.

Team Readiness Checklist

☐ Core parameters and processes (e.g. testing goals, strategies and mechanisms for collecting feedback, categories for bugs, incentives, etc.) have been defined and communicated to all stakeholders and contributors.

☐ Milestones and deadlines have been communicated and understood and all necessary resources are readily available.

☐ Stakeholders have delivered all pre-test deliverables (e.g. tools, documentation, surveys, packaging, product keys, NDAs, beta units, etc.).

☐ Contingency plans have been defined for any stakeholders with limited availability (e.g. planned vacation, potential birth of a child, etc.).

☐ Any infrastructure that will be relied upon during the beta (beta test management tools, customer support, bug tracking, content delivery, servers, etc.) is accessible and has been tested.

Tester Readiness

Once you’ve handled product and team readiness, beta tester readiness should be fairly straightforward. The key here is to make sure that your tester sites aren’t just willing, but are also ready and able to test. From there, your responsibility is to make sure nothing is inhibiting their participation for the duration of the test.

Tester Readiness Checklist

☐ A sufficient number of sites and testers meeting each required target market segment have been selected and notified.

☐ Accurate contact information and addresses have been verified for all sites and all testers at each site.

☐ Non-disclosure and beta participation agreements have been explained in plain English, signed, and submitted by all testers.

☐ Responsibilities and the project schedule have been clearly communicated to testers.

☐ Testers understand how to use the systems provided for feedback. If they aren’t dead simple, training or documentation has been provided.

☐ All resources needed by testers to carry out their responsibilities are accessible and easy to understand.

While the ideal beta readiness guidelines for your product may vary from what we’ve discussed

here, hopefully this will get you thinking and planning, which is really the best defense against the uncertainty that precedes a beta test. Accept that certain things may be beyond your control, but meticulously plan and prepare for everything else.

In my next article, I’ll tackle what to do if your beta period is coming up and you’re not ready for beta.

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About the Author

Emily Hossellman lives in sunny Southern California and works for Centercode, a beta test software and services company. @Centercode