If you run Product Management, especially in a smaller company, you may find yourself running the beta program. This is a tactical activity, and you will be knee deep in beta user qualification, feedback, administration, possibly even support, but you can take positives from a good beta. Or you can fail miserably if you don’t understand that there are different flavors of beta, and different motivations and goals behind each.
One of the biggest issues I have run into with beta is that there are several types of beta. It took me (too) long to figure this out, so hopefully I can shortcut the learning process for you. Some flavors of beta:
- Post-Alpha Beta – This is what most people think about when they say “beta.” A final test to find bugs and make last second tweaks before you roll up for release. Depending on the size of company, sales model, and other factors, you may have “release candidates” that come out of beta, or several iterations of beta code.
- The Sales Beta – Sales is drooling over a feature in the next release and has to “get their customer into the beta” to make the sale.
- The Google Beta – A beta that never ends. Gmail is still beta after how many years…really?
- BINO (Beta in Name Only) – Your development cycle went long, and you don’t really have time for a good beta, and you can’t move the release date. Hope your QA is good!
- Not Ready for Beta – The opposite of BINO, your code isn’t ready but your beta testers are, so you put something in their hands that is better described as Alpha and they freak out.
You never want a BINO or Not Ready for Beta, and the good news is that Product Management controls those dates, or should. The Sales Beta is the worst, because they always promise up and down that their user will offer good feedback and will be a great beta participant – don’t believe them, because they lie! What really ends up happening is that Sales forgot to mention that this product was beta, the user gets the product and then they are both confused or angry that it is not ready for primetime. That is a sure fire recipe for failure.
The Google Beta is interesting because having a product in perpetual beta is convenient. Don’t like that bug? Sorry, it’s beta – see the image at the top left that says “beta” in 8pt light grey font? That might fly for free or ad supported products, but I doubt a paying customer will accept a product in forever beta.
What other kinds of beta have you seen?