I’ll be honest. It was quite a trying journey.
So I want to impart the insight from my experiences so any of you who may be developing or marketing new software, don’t fall into the traps I did.
Our startup is working on a cloud-based platform featuring a sophisticated piece of software with more than 200,000 lines of code that can enhance productivity and streamline communications for the public relations industry.
When you’re building something like this, you need to test, test, and test some more.
And that’s just internally.
There comes a time when you need to let “real” people try it out.
For clarification, a beta test is a trial of software in the final stages of development.
Most importantly, it is carried out by users who are completely unconnected with the development process.
Why Beta Testing?
With beta testing, what you stand to gain includes measurement of the quality of the software, weeding out bugs and reasons for crashing, validation of the idea itself, evaluation of software performance, and quantification of the exact costs associated with the software’s operation.
It sounds like a no-brainer.
But at the same time, developers incur many costs running the beta test, and significant time to screen users and bring them onboard.
Not to mention, assessing which comments accurately reflect opinions of the mass majority.
Beta Testing First Steps
Before carrying out your beta testing, it’s important to go through the process with the potential beta user.
While there typically aren’t many steps involved in the testing, it is critical to manage expectations.
You must ensure the potential user understands what you expect of them regarding testing responsibilities, scheduled feedback, meetings, and non-disclosure.
If a potential beta user is not in agreement with one or more of these checklist items, then you need to reassess if this person is right for your test.
You should also openly share with the potential user the benefits associated with their participation.
I Was a Beta Tester!
As I was planning for the beta phase, I called upon my own beta testing experience.
About a year ago, I was in search of a new software solution to help me with my accounting practices.
I wanted something basic and easy to use.
Accounting is already very complicated on its own and having to figure out the complexities of accounting software only made me want to throw it all in the bin.
I wasn’t having much luck in my search, and that’s when I came across an accounting software beta test.
I was skeptical about joining at first, but I didn’t have any better options at the time, so I went ahead with it.
Beta Testing is Tough
In the beginning, it was tough.
As a beta user, there is a certain time commitment required.
The software wasn’t difficult to understand or use, but the beta process was time-consuming.
And I needed to slot in a few of hours weekly for meetings and testing.
I was fine with this.
If I could obtain a simple, long-term accounting solution in return for some of my time, that was totally cool with me.
But if you can’t handle the time commitment, and aren’t transparent about that requirement with your own beta testers, then expectations will be missed.
Ignorance is Bliss
Beta testing is extremely important in the development phase, and at times, users take this lightly.
That could be because most users are experiencing the “final” version, and did not have to deal with the bugs and crashes occurring in previous versions.
Thus, they are blissfully oblivious to the effort required to make software run smoothly.
Beta Testers = Real Users
Even though developers manually test the site day in and day out, it’s not the same as having real users using the website for its intended purpose.
We can run automated testing on certain areas, but having humans manually test the system is so much more effective in rendering feedback related to workflows and logic.
Ongoing Beta Testing
Another lesson I’ve learned is that beta testing is not, or at least should not be, a one-time thing.
It is very difficult to obtain all the results you require from one test.
As a result, we divide our beta into phases.
Phases allow users to focus more on one set of specific functions, thus giving more reliable feedback relating to function use and performance.
In my opinion, software beta testing is an ongoing process because you constantly launch new versions and add new functions.
We covet user feedback to assess whether product direction is going down the right path.
Our phase one beta enabled us to learn a lot about our users and their desired functionalities.
Using it, we can confirm if product features match the needs of intended users.
We can also assess if our feature set and UI design work effectively with the audience and their work processes.
From this, we can better understand the pain points of their daily processes and how to solve them using our platform and technology.
Beta Testing for Marketers
This helps on the marketing side.
Enlisting your beta testers to help determine which features are most important, easiest to use, hardest to figure out is an invaluable piece of marketing insight.
They could determine what types of content to create for mapping how to use this function or that.
Perhaps a video tutorial is necessary.
Or in some cases, beta testers may admit that having the help of a live support person is what got them through the process.
Two Types of Beta Testers
From my experience, there are two types of beta testers—the causal and the committed.
The casual beta tester wants the perfect solution to their problems without having to put in an ounce of effort.
They agree to be part of the beta testing but never have time for meetings and actual testing.
(Which baffles me as to why they signed up for it in the first place.)
Then there are the committed beta testers. These folks are a totally different type of animal.
They are vastly intelligent and forward-thinking.
They’re willing to invest their time and energy because they understand they’re helping build a product that will eventually be used by a mass majority.
So it’s important to be detailed and precise.
They’ll accept short-term inconveniences regarding work processes to obtain long-term efficiency.
These users are patient, understanding, direct, and honest.
They are rare, but when you stumble upon them, you must listen to them and cherish them.
Qualities of a Good Beta Tester
People often ask me how they can receive an invitation to become part of the elite group of beta testers.
While I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to that, satisfying one or more of these criteria will likely result in your selection for testing.
- You demonstrate immense passion and enthusiasm about the test subject.
- Peers highly value your professionalism in your sector.
- Your field perceives you as being able to offer a diverse opinion.
- You care enough to want to make a change.
For future beta testers, here are three things to remember throughout the adventure.
- Always be honest when providing feedback. Don’t worry about hurting someone’s feelings or feeling bad about telling the developer their product isn’t effective.
- Your input is critical to the development of an effective solution. Rather than complaining about what sucks, be the positive change. Be responsible for making a difference in the software solution you are testing.
- Finally, don’t let frustration or discouragement interfere with the process. Every opinion counts, but developers have a lot on their plate. They may not have the ability or resources to attend to all requests immediately.
Find Ways to Be a Beta Tester
If you receive an invitation or have the opportunity to be part of the prestigious beta process, congratulations!
This is a testimony to your expertise, knowledge, and attitude.
Your feedback will serve to inspire and guide others towards their goal of creating game-changing products for the advancement of different industries.
Have fun with it!