The void between software development cycles and product launch can loom large for clients and developers alike. Users often forge their own paths in digital interfaces that can be at odds with the journeys that designers anticipated in their wireframes. Testing software to gain feedback that informs better software functionality is undoubtedly daunting. If it’s not carried out properly, this phase can be time- and resource-intensive.
But clients can look to alpha testing to optimize their resources during the development phase — and beyond — without disrupting overall progress.
Why Alpha Testing Contributes to a Leaner Development Cycle
Alpha testing takes place towards the end of the software development cycle. Since developers conduct alpha testing within the same setting — often during development itself — they can perform the role of end user as they check their work for defects.
The benefit of this practice is two-fold:
- Reduce testing costs by leveraging internal expertise
- Track and eliminate major bugs during as development cycles progress
When they build a solution from scratch, developers will anticipate where potential weaknesses in the solution might exist, logging these issues as their development efforts progress. They can return to these issues as time allows. Their inherent ability to switch roles allows bugs to be identified — and resolved — rapidly.
Once developers have checked their own work for bugs, internal QA teams can run their own tests to check for functionality.
How Alpha Testing Helps Teams Stay Lean and Ensure Better Outcomes
When businesses develop new software, alpha testing can help stakeholders determine what features to optimize. Developing a few robust features and validating them via alpha testing should form the basis of a successful solution.
When developers eliminate as many issues as possible through alpha testing, future refinement efforts can be leaner, requiring shorter cycles and fewer resources devoted to resolving hidden issues.
Alpha testing can save teams the cost of developing too many features that may detract from the user experience of the final product. Leaning on alpha testing is an effective way to reduce costs while honing in on the value that a product can and should deliver to both businesses and their end users.
Alpha vs Beta Testing
The features finalized through the processes of alpha testing phase are the only ones that will be tested in during beta testing. When combined together, alpha and beta testing provide teams with strong results and improved software functionality.
Whereas alpha testing takes place in the developer’s premises, beta testing is conducted outside of internal developers’ purview. The testers in the beta testing phase are actual end users who will make use of the final version of the product.
Since alpha testing takes place amongst internal developers or client product owners who are familiar with the concepts underlying product development, it is important to guide alpha testers with a few important guidelines in order to get the most out of this phase.
- Full transparency of software functionality and intended experience
- Several defined flows for testers to follow in order to validate specific features
Those conducting the alpha testing phase should make explicit which features are still under development, which features may be buggy, and the features that are fully developed.
There are two main reasons for this:
- Developers want new data about unknown problems, as opposed to multiple reports from alpha testers about the same bugs, over and over again.
- Defined flows guide alpha testers to explore different components of a software product, which helps developers test the product holistically.
Beta testing takes place once the issues in the alpha testing phase have been addressed.
Beta testing allows developers to investigate how users interact with the software when free from test prompts or specified user flows. Rather, technical teams weigh how well users interact with the product in an organic setting.
The point is to identify the features the perform well, are imperfect, or those that go unnoticed.
Beta testing typically takes longer than the alpha testing phase. Beyond functionality, traits like security and reliability are tested during this time.
The feedback gained during alpha testing is immediately factored into the solution, while feedback gained during beta testing will inform future versions of the software.
How Can Alpha Testing Reduce Pain Points in Software?
Recently I visited an online education platform to register for a course on UX Design. I filled out my payment details to proceed with my purchase. Next I encountered an empty field in which I needed to add a VAT Exemption code. Only after that would the Apply button next to the empty field become active and allow me to proceed with my purchase.
I didn’t understand what a VAT Exemption code is. Since I didn’t have one, I couldn’t proceed in the transaction without this information.
I was frustrated to the point where I was about to quit. Thankfully a fellow designer pointed out to me the Complete purchase option right next to the checkout form.
As it turns out, providing the VAT number and choosing the Apply button have resulted a discounted price for registratio. Otherwise, this step wasn’t crucial to the checkout process.
But I was so distracted by my lack of understanding of what VAT meant that all my focus went into trying to figure it out instead of proceeding with the purchase. In an alpha testing scenario, this pain point could be tested through different flows (with and without the VAT) and the testers would have been instructed to try all of them.
Tools for Alpha Testing
All testers should have access to a central tool for leaving feedback as they find, report, and track bugs during alpha testing. A private bug log will not only list all issues found and the progress made to resolve them, but will also prevent other users filling in the same bugs and overwhelming the development team with redundant data.
Alpha testers have a number of bug tracking tools at their disposal. Some of them, like Jira and Mantis are very complex and provide extended functionality for fully describing the issues and flow, tracking the fix versions, assigning priority, and linking to other issues or features in the product.
Alpha vs Beta Testing: How Both Helped Users Budget for their Futures
We worked with WeVest, a company that provides customers with financial planning tools that helps individuals understand their finances and achieve their long term economic goals.
A critical feature developed for the software was an automated service that advises users how to manage their finances. It suggests how assets should be divided amongst accounts in order to achieve goals defined earlier by the user.
The complex algorithm that controlled these recommendations required the user to upload extensive information about her financial state, college plans, debts and mortgages, investments, marital status, and whether she has any dependents.
Initially, the application gave the user the choice of when to provide all this information.
After a few iterations, the sourcing of this information was automated. Additionally, the teams chose to design the software experience so that the application requires the user’s data in advance of the user’s registration with this service.
Through discussions with the client and several weeks of alpha testing, stakeholders found that:
- Requesting the user’s financial details during the application’s registration process is too burdensome. Therefore, the timing of this step needed to be reconsidered.
- Relying on the user to fill in his or her details whenever they preferred would disrupt the functionality of the automated adviser.
- Walking the user through an onboarding questionnaire after their first login provides the best user experience. This way, the timing of the information request feels less intrusive. Furthermore, the user is required to enter the data only required once, right after the first login, and provides clean and well-defined workflow thereafter.
After we implemented the new designs and functionality, we conducted another round of alpha testing that included client stakeholders in addition to internal developers.
As the developers continued to improve the functionality of other features independently, alpha testers were instructed to focus on the onboarding/data entry component of the WeVest’s software. This allowed the overall development of the application to progress as testing efforts continued to refine other key aspects of the software.
After completing the alpha testing phase, the client released the product to beta testers. Feedback from the beta testers was incorporated in the next software version release, which generated more positive interactions amongst users.
Since that initial release, a continuous cycle of development, alpha and beta testing, and new releases actually save the client and our teams time and effort, as this approach means that issues are identified and resolved in rapid succession.
How Alpha Testing Optimizes Resources and Speeds Feedback Cycles
Quality software cannot result from development that takes place in a vacuum. Testing should always follow development. Businesses concerned with looming development deadlines or their bottom line can look to alpha testing as a means to optimize the bandwidth of their existing teams.
Alpha testing dissects the software’s overall functionality is into smaller chunks on which developers can focus their efforts. Delivering these components to testers allows them to point more easily what features are actually valuable to creating a cohesive experience in the final product.
Image Source: Unsplash, Rémi Müller