Beta is not a release type

Beta is not a release type. Thinking of beta as a release type, essentially a quality level, leads teams to take something not ready for prime time, ship it to everyone, and call it “beta” to excuse its deficiencies. If you are making excuses for the deficiencies of your product you are probably doing it wrong, and it certainly doesn’t feel good to do so.

Beta is a testing period. The purpose of beta testing is to take a product that you suspect might be ready for release and expose it to real users that will break it in ways you didn’t think to test for. That implies a few things:

  • These users are testing the product, so you have things you would like them to do to make sure they are exercising the product fully. Therefore you have a testing plan.
  • You want these users to be active in testing the product, so you have selected them and are actively managing their activity and feedback. Therefore this is not a passive exercise.
  • Since you are actively testing the product, you are able to score and count the issues your testers find. The product can prove whether or not it is ready for general release. Therefore you have release criteria. and if you are doing it right you have one or more dates on which you will examine these criteria to determine if the product is ready for release.

In short, since beta is testing, you have a plan, participants, success criteria, and a decision point. If not, you’re just trying to hide the fact that you don’t care about quality as much as your users will.