How Pilot, Alpha, and Beta Testing Provide Ways to Improve Your Software

March 30, 2022
Olivia Hann

At WynHouse, software goes through many different iterations during our agile development phase, in which the multiple parts of the software are worked on simultaneously. Testing is ongoing during development and involves two types of testing: pilot testing and user acceptance testing. Pilot testing focuses on testing every single piece of your app, while user acceptance testing focuses on finding bugs and usability problems in the front end, or user side, of the app. The two primary stages of user acceptance testing, called the alpha and the beta, allow you to receive user evaluations and make necessary corrections to your application. These test stages, especially betas, allow for adjustments early on in the project before more resources are used marketing your app. How do pilots, alphas, and betas differ, and how do they impact your project?

What Pilot Testing Entails

The pilot phase is done after an alpha but before any beta tests are conducted. Whereas the two other types focus on testing the user side of the app, pilot testing examines back-end details, as well as factors in your project, such as the cost of creating your software. Since your app is not deployed at this point, you will have to create an environment for your testing group that mirrors how your app will run when launched. A group of hand-selected testers can then easily assess the entire app through this constructed environment. These testers are trained to look at your software as an end user would, while still having the technical skill to look at every part of your application in order to account for the time, cost, feasibility, risk, and performance of your product. After testing is completed, the findings are evaluated and recorded. The main goal of pilot testing is to solidify the accuracy and functionality of your software’s foundation. 

User Acceptance Testing: Alpha version

Alphas are the first tests for user acceptance and are started about two-thirds through the development phase. An alpha focuses on the front end of your app from a user’s point of view and does not require a specially designed environment to be carried out in. In alpha testing, the app is not examined as a whole; finding problems in the code is the main objective. When major bugs are fixed, later tests can be performed smoothly. Similarly to pilot testing, alpha testing is handled by testers close to your project, such as designers, quality assurance team members or the development team. Since the front end is being interacted with, testers do not necessarily need technical expertise to participate. Therefore, your close friends and family members can take part in your app’s alpha. Bugs and other issues found during the test are logged to be corrected later by the development team. Removing these obstacles decreases the chance of failure for your app.

User Acceptance Testing: Beta version

Unlike the alpha and the pilot before it, beta testing is conducted after the app is deployed. Like the alpha, the beta focuses on the front end of your app and how the users will experience your software, while testers look for issues to correct. The amount of testers working on your beta is much bigger than the previous phases since your app is available to the public now. Similar to the alpha phase, the major drive during the beta is to lower the risk of your app crashing or failing by remedying bugs and other potential obstacles. Since beta testing happens after deployment and has a wider audience than alphas or pilots, you have the ability to split beta testing into two phases: closed and open. 

A closed beta is similar to an alpha because it is not completely open to the public. Instead of just members of the development team conducting the tests, anyone can sign up to take part in a closed beta; they just need to be vetted by the team to gain access to your app. 

Meanwhile, open beta testing is completely accessible by members of the public. Since this increases your amount of testers, more problems that need solved are found and general feedback is more expansive across the app. Depending on factors such as the size of your project or timeline, you may not need to start a closed beta and can run a traditional, open beta upon entering this phase.

How and When These Tests Can Help Your Development Process

Pilots, alphas, and betas strengthen your product by testing different parts of your app.

Pilot Testing

With a pilot, not only is your entire app’s functionality tested, but the vital parts of your project are documented and evaluated before you launch. Pilots have flexibility on when they can be performed during development. Depending on your product, you may feel comfortable completing a pilot test around 75% of the MVP development, or your project could require you to wait until your MVP is completely developed. Many businesses treat pilots as a feature-based test and only begin testing when implementing a large and innovative feature to the product.

Alpha Testing

Alphas are the first line of defense against bugs and offer the preliminary glimpse of your app’s appearance to your potential users. The clean-up that occurs during the alpha streamlines your project, not only making it easier to introduce into a testing environment for a pilot, but preparing it for beta testing as well. When your minimum viable product (MVP) is between 60% and 75% complete during development, WynHouse begins alpha testing.

Beta Testing

Beta testing is helpful after deploying your product. This phase gives insight into how the app works for users, except from the viewpoint of potential users and not your developers. Since this is the last main round of testing, catching bugs and glitches is the main goal of a beta, as well as cleaning up minor fixes in the app. At WynHouse, our beta testing takes place 75% to 90% through MVP development. A strong beta test allows your app to leave the development phase once corrections are made. At this point after testing, you should have a strong “v.1” of your software.

What Test Should You Perform?

Every project is different and not all will need each testing phase. When your product approaches the testing period, take into account different factors, like your budget and timeline, that affect what testing phases you can perform. The percent of completion for the MVP of your product is a recommendation, not a rule, for running these tests. Testing that requires in-depth work (like server-side tasks) or a larger amount of people (like those needed during betas), requires more funding and time to complete. Pilots and closed betas need extra time to invite and vet testers to participate. Determining which of these steps you need after considering these factors is important for a successful launch of your software.

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