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Everyone understands the value of having another set of eyes on something before considering it final. For instance, before this blog was complete, it was reviewed by colleagues and peers multiple times. Similar to the importance we assign to reviewing and editing blogs prior to publishing, we should be reviewing and testing our software before we push it live. Software QA and testing is an essential component of the software development life cycle (SDLC). But no matter how skilled an organization's testers might be, it is nearly impossible for an in-house team to catch every potential issue or bug within an application.
It's important to have a different perspective and a fresh set of eyes on an application before it is officially released. This is where beta testing comes in. In this blog I'll explain what beta testing is, the value it brings to software, and more.
Defining Beta Testing
When it comes to testing software, testers tend to focus on technical and business requirements as presented by the product management team as well as any additional context or testing instructions provided by the software developers. The main thing in beta versus regular QA is the software is used as a product. QA tests pieces of software, major components, workflows of major components and regression tests everything. But often the overall use of the software using all components and incorporating the user experience, performance etc is left out. Beta testing covers those gaps.
The goals of beta testing include:
■ Gathering feedback that can be leveraged to improve functionality and design in future versions of the product
■ Validating end users will be able to use and enjoy the product
■ Testing how the product performs out in a real-world environment
■ Catching defects that were missed by internal QA and testing processes
Comprehensive beta testing involves many different devices, operating systems, platforms, and browsers. To accomplish this, some organizations follow the Pareto principle, which states that for many outcomes, 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes. In this case, organizations will work with the premise that 80% of people use and focus on only 20% of application features. However, widening the net and getting more users involved in beta testing, will likely result in a better end product.
Beta Testing vs. Other Testing Types
Alpha Testing: Alpha testing is done by internal testers. It comes before beta testing and is usually done in a testing environment. It involves multiple cycles and a mix of black-box and white-box testing, which are used to validate digital quality before beta testing. Beta testing then comes next, which is typically black-box and doesn't require a testing environment, but this varies by company and team. Testers provide feedback so the product can be updated and improved.
Pilot Testing: Pilot testingPilot testing involves collecting feedback from a small sample of end users who use the application within a development environment. The goal is to check on the performance of the application. Beta testing, conversely, uses a much wider range of users.
User Acceptance Testing: User Acceptance Testing is a superset of beta testing. It happens throughout the SDLC, ensuring end users' requests are met. It uses a target group of relevant users that deliver meaningful feedback that is immediately acted upon to improve the overall user experience and functionality of an application.
Examples of Beta Testing
Beta testing is a valuable practice for any business that brings software to market. It allows a nearly finished product to be put to the test, gleaning data and findings that otherwise couldn't be collected. This enables final fixes before the application goes live for everyone.
Beta testing has become a common practice across industries that leverage software. A few examples of companies that do it, where customers can sign up to beta test, include:
Benefits of Beta Testing
The goal of beta testing is to help deliver a better product to users. Better quality products contribute to a successful business. Beta testing benefits include:
Validation of Features: Beta testing happens in the real-world, delivering results that won't happen in a test environment. It is a true test to whether features work as they should. And if they don't, it highlights what needs to be fixed before the software can be used in the world.
Improved User Experience: Beta testing is focused on improving end user experience. Testers investigate the application experience and report back on ease of use or challenges. These findings, when listened to and addressed, go a long way to delivering better final results to customers.
Product Awareness: Beta testing programs often allow brand supporters to participate in something they care about. These testers can create buzz around a new product or feature.
Added Platform Coverage: Beta testing allows for testing to happen across a variety of devices, operating systems, and browsers, which help to prepare an application for how diversely it will be used in real situations.
Challenges of Beta Testing
Beta testing offers a variety of benefits, but it is an investment that requires effort, and has a few challenges, including:
Quality of Feedback: All beta testers are different. Not all will provide the same level of clear and actionable feedback and insight. Standardizing testing processes wherever possible can help.
Cost: Testing isn't free. Beta testing is an added cost. But the results should pay off when you have a successful launch without bugs or issues in your application.
Program Management: Managing beta testers is a time and resource intensive task. So is combing through data and feedback to leverage it. Again, it's an investment that, when done right, will lead to a better overall experience for your users.
Scale of Testers: Beta testing at scale can be a challenge to achieve. Getting the needed users to provide meaningful feedback, especially for localized markets, can be difficult.
Isolating the Beta: Beta testing is often done on new versions of existing software, and the tests are run in parallel to production. However, it is important to isolate the data collected on testing feedback so your stats aren't skewed.
Beta Testing Offers Essential Perspectives
Beta testing brings in the end user's perspective to help improve the digital experience and quality of an application. This is tremendously valuable, especially in today's digital first world. Achieving the end result of an excellent application for an organization's users is not an easy task. It requires an investment of time and resources toward quality assurance and testing. But when optimized, it can deliver true value. For any business, testing its products and applications for functionality, usability, accessibility, and more, is critical. Testing is an important part of the SDLC, and beta testing is a unique and valuable aspect of that testing process that ultimately results in a GA application that everyone can use and enjoy.