In the age of mobile app development and cloud connectivity it’s never been more important to be first to market. Agile development methodology has matured and evolved, but the driving force of trends like DevOps is still to cut down the time between having a great idea and pushing it out as a software product.
Traditional QA departments have been left behind. Many companies now eschew any formal testing in favor of engaging early adopters as beta testers who help to find bugs and polish the product. Handling this properly is like walking a tightrope, because early adopters are potentially your biggest fans, and the last thing you want to do is turn them off.
Early adopters have the potential to be your most important customers. They’re willing to try something new in order to get the functionality you’re offering. Just hearing the idea behind your product is enough to get them interested. They’re likely to be more technologically savvy than your average user, they‘ve tried your competitor’s products, and they influence family and friends.
If you can impress them, then they’ll act as evangelists, explaining, recommending, and even defending your product online. They can provide invaluable input about where your product is going wrong and what it does right. They aren’t going to sugarcoat it; they’ll tell you exactly what they think.
Ultimately the perceived pros are that you can generate some sales before development is complete, release the product earlier, and save cash on testing resources.
You only have one chance to impress and if you disappoint a trendsetter then their influence can lose you a great deal of custom, even if you subsequently improve the product. They’ll have higher expectations than an average customer about how you should respond to bug reports and feature suggestions.
It’s important to remember that beta testers are not professional testers. Bug reports will not be to the same standard, some feature requests may seem ridiculous, and you cannot expect them to be thorough or methodical. Trying to coerce them into working as a paid tester is futile and it’s liable to annoy them.
There are a few ways that you can stack the deck in your favor.
Always conduct some professional testing before you open up a beta test. Even a few days of crowdsourced testing can help you eliminate the worst of your bugs. If your product is too buggy and difficult to use, then you’ll alienate your early adopters right away.
Don’t lie to them about the state of the product. If you think you can charge them full price to work as unpaid testers then you’re in for a rude awakening.
Offer some kind of incentive or reward. It’s not unusual to offer a discount, but recognition will often be reward enough. That brings us neatly to our last and most important point; you must communicate effectively with them. If they don’t feel like you’re listening then they’ll grow jaded, and if you don’t act on their best suggestions you’re missing an opportunity to improve your product. Explain your reasoning, have personal email conversations, and make them feel valued.
If you prepare properly, have realistic expectations, and keep open lines of communication then engaging early adopters as beta testers can be beneficial to get feedback about your product.
Besides, you should be careful not to consider it as an alternative to formal quality assurance testing but rather as a complementary activity, part of a healthy testing and publication process.