Beta Testing

A beta test is the last limited release that may be implemented for a major new piece of software, before entering General Availability for the broader market.   It is the second or final testing that is carried out to provide useful information about the quality of a product. It takes place in a “real” environment similar to that in which the product would be used.

The testers involved – called beta testers – are real people that represent those a product is targeted at. Their feedback and behavior are used by the product team to determine what form the final release takes.

Types of Beta Testing

Beta tests can be open or closed.  Open testing is available to anyone, in which case information is provided that a product is in Beta and feedback is requested from participants. Closed beta tests are strictly for a defined group of people, such as paid testers or existing customers.

Other beta test types in the software industry include:

Focused testing – This aims at getting feedback on specific features. Companies ship releases to assess what users think about particular features.

Technical testing – In this case, a product is released within an organization only to get feedback from the employees.

Beta testing may also be done after a product has been released. Companies collect data and use it to work on future releases.

Benefits of Beta Testing

Bug detection – A beta test gives an opportunity to identify possible issues that customers may experience. By letting real users use the product in an environment similar to that of a final release, you get to learn about bugs that must be fixed. Internal, lab testing can’t always get this part well covered.

Prevent Public Failure – You also get an opportunity to validate your hypothesis by running a beta test. It lets you know whether or not your product meets the expectations of users. You will also learn more about how users view the features you’re bringing.

Useful Feedback – This is one of the most obvious benefits of a beta test. It offers an avenue to get direct feedback and suggestions from users influenced by actual usage. These can influence what to work on, including in future releases. They can give a hint of what could be a potential deal-breaker for users and so needs fixing.

Observe User Behavior – Beyond the feedback users provide, beta testing gives you a chance to monitor user behavior. Product managers can get to confirm whether users are interacting with the product as intended or there are new usage patterns. They can also carry out A/B tests and other experiments to see what promotes the preferred behavior.

Among other benefits, beta testing lets you validate the correlation between performance indicators or OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and targeted behavior. You can also learn the best approach to adopt for rollout.

Beta Testing vs. Alpha Testing

You might wonder what the difference is between a beta test and an alpha test. The distinction between the two is a factor of when they’re done, who is involved, and where they are taking place.

Alpha testing comes first, towards the end of development, to detect all possible issues. The testers involved here are employees of an organization and the test is done in a lab or testing environment. This test is dubbed “alpha” simply because it is done early on, prior to beta testing.

As we have pointed out already, a beta test, on the other hand, involves actual users in a “real,” non-stage environment. Representatives of the target market use your product and provide feedback that can guide what to do or fix. The testing is deemed a form of external user acceptance testing.

An alpha test aims to spot as many potential issues and bugs as possible before you present your product to the public. A beta test, on the other hand, offers a means of assessing the performance, usability, and reliability of a solution under “real” conditions.

What Follows a Beta Test?

After completing the testing, you will need to prepare a summary report of the feedback and findings you have made. This will serve a useful purpose in knowing where you need to do more work.  Often, the next step is to go directly to General Availability (full release) at this point.  Some companies create a release candidate (RC) using the feedback collected during the beta test. This is also released to real users to confirm that identified issues and bugs have been fixed. 

Not all software needs to follows these formalized stage-gated steps of release.  It is mostly intended for major new software or B2B products that are mission critical for their customers.  By contrast, many web B2C products are released continuously with small and iterative deployments.  Like any tool or process, it is important to use the right one for the job.

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