If you’re planning on running an Alpha or Beta program you’ll need to do some homework and planning. You’ll also want to have information ready to provide to your beta participants before you do any kind of kickoff. The process runs like most other projects - define your requirements, plan, kickoff, run the project, and then wrap up.
If you think you’d like to have a beta program, you’ll need to answer these questions:
- What are the goals of the beta program?
- What are you trying to find out
o What are you trying to publicize
o How will you analyze the results
o How will you use the results analysis
- How many people do you want in the program?
o How many people will your application handle?
o Are you trying to generate word of mouth? (And if so, is your application ready for prime time so the word is good?)
o By invitation only or ‘friends and family’ also?
o What are the parameters for the kind of person in the beta – are there prerequisites/screening?
o How will you acquire and/or select beta testers?
- Software: Where will you run the beta?
o Hosted system?
o At the beta customer site/on their systems?
o How will you get the product to the participants?
o Do you want the product returned?
§If so, how will that happen?
- How will you support the beta?
o Service level commitment?
o How many people will you devote to support (questions, maintenance, troubleshooting) and what is the relative priority of beta support to product development?
- Are you offering any reward/incentive to either the company or the individuals?
- How will you wrap up/wind down the beta?
- How will you process the beta feedback?
Once you have all these, the rest is easy. You’ll want to have this kind of information ready for your Beta testers:
- For Management (if a company is involved – otherwise you’ll need this information for the individuals):
- Software: Where the beta will be installed and run (and what you’ll need if it’s on a customer system)
- Software: How safe is the data/how (if) it will be protected
- Service level commitment (if any)
- Contact information for system-level problems (not for ‘how do I use it’ questions, that’s a different topic)
- General (for everyone):
- Start and end dates for the beta program
- How many people with what profile we would like to participate in the beta, including any limits
- What we’d like people to do with the beta
- 'Just try it out’ is fine, but you’ll need more than that
- Be specific – enter data, try specific functions, generate reports, etc.
- What the program/product does
- What to try to do with it
- Software: What kind of data to use
- Software: HOw safe is the data
- Software: What happens to the data at the end of the program
- How to get help
- Location of documentation/instructions (should provide a basic skeletal set of instructions at the kickoff)
- Product: Whether/how to return
- Good for on the spot feedback (great if you can have a button in the application)
- Will get mostly feedback on things people don’t like
- Helps focus the feedback, getting data where you need it
- You’ll need to put this together either before the kick-off or shortly after
- In person
- Encourages people to use the program before the in-person
- Good for immediate follow-up questions
- Probably won’t get as much negative feedback
What will happen at the end of the beta program
· Whether customers get to continue to use the product
· What happens to the data
· Whether or not testers should use ‘real’ data
If you’ve decided to make the leap, here are your major milestones and decision points:
- Product or software is ready to go
§System is up and running
§Users are added or the application is set up for users to add themselves
§ Support systems/people are in place and trained
§Sufficient product is available for anticipated number of testers
§Packaging as needed for beta is complete
o Documentation for the beta testers is ready, either online or hardcopy
- Beta testers are defined and confirmed
- Start the beta
o Media event/press release/website announcement goes out (for non-stealth projects)
o Testers are notified
o Product: sent out
- Run the beta
o Provide support as needed
o Remind the beta testers regularly to test and of the end date
- End the beta
o Let the testers know the beta is over
o If product is to be returned, remind testers how to do that
o If appropriate, close down the application with appropriate redirection
o Collect feedback in whatever way(s) was defined
o Thank the testers and provide any promised rewards
- Analyze the data
Go for It!
In general beta programs need to be run just like any other project, so get your project tracking software ready and your project manager hat on and get started!