Alpha and Beta Testing: Why You Need Both for a Successful Product Launch

You’re probably beta testing, but are you alpha testing, too?

Testing your concepts and flows with different types of users is critical to ensuring a successful adoption rate of your new product or feature. While everyone knows about beta testing, not many know of the step that comes before it: alpha testing. Alpha and beta tests go hand-in-hand for the successful launch of a new product or feature; both require sample groups of users to test new releases and provide feedback so the product team can make changes before a full launch.  

A buzzword used in software teams, beta testing is a trial of your product and its features in near-final stages carried out by users to gather feedback before launching. However, a good beta test always starts with an alpha test. Product teams should, by definition, be both alpha and beta testing their products. 

Let’s unpack the definitions and goals of both, and why your product desperately needs a sophisticated testing strategy. 

What is alpha testing and when does it happen?

After a feature has been approved by development and QA, alpha testing is the next step in the path to a successful product. Alpha testing presents your new feature to your internal team, power users, and the various SMEs of your product, and gathers necessary feedback. 

During an alpha test, the team conducting the research will provide your testing team with a set of goals or tasks to complete using the new feature. The feedback they provide will help you see feature gaps, functionality bugs, and workflow issues that you may not have caught before. 

At Ironclad, beta and alpha tests have taught us that the most valuable users of our product are right in our office. As a result, their participation in alpha testing is key to user adoption. It also helps training our team members and keeping them up to date with changes in our app. 

Using internal teammates to vet new features helps improve internal product enablement, quality of feature functionality, and UX concepts. Further, it sets your team up for a successful beta period. Alpha tests should be a staple event in the product development lifecycle. 

Alpha testing vs beta testing

The goal of a beta test is to release your new feature to a sample of your user base. Unlike in an alpha test, there are not (or shouldn’t be) specific tasks or items for the user to test during beta. Instead, beta testing means letting the user adopt the new feature into their everyday workflow in order to determine customer-specific improvements needed for launch. 

The key to success during beta testing is choosing a sample of users that covers a broad range of use cases in your product. This ensures all user behaviors are compatible with the new feature.

Beta testing can fuel valuable feedback from your users that can be used to improve and iterate your product to perfection. Having a good communication cycle with your user base will help ensure that your users are providing feedback, and avoid feedback ghosting.

Quality of feedback from alpha and beta testing

The value of conducting these tests with internal and external users is evidenced in the quality and quantity of feedback you receive from your users, which can be used to fuel feature iterations. Releasing a new feature without testing is a risky practice, there is a chance that your adoption rate for the new feature will be less than stellar. Like fingerprints, no two products are exactly the same. As a result, the outcome of the same change is radically different between products. 

For example, a feature in Slack that allows users to see the last time another user in their workspace was active could be very useful in many different professional environments. However, Snapchat implemented a similar feature years ago, and instantly, their user base started abusing and complaining about it. In 2 days, the change was reverted and users can no longer see the last time another user was active on the platform. 

Because of the radical difference between users, functions, and product type, Snapchat experienced a different reaction to the use case on their platform than Slack would expect.

To avoid implementing features that are not ideal to your users, you should perform both alpha and beta tests before launching to your user base. Keep your mind and ears open to feedback in the beta period, as users can provide the most valuable insight to new changes and show gaps that are harder to catch. Collect feedback and make changes to your beta product until your users are happy. Once you reach that point, your product will be ready for launch to your full user base.

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