It's no secret: we like to build new features. It always starts with a tiny idea that becomes bigger and more concrete. The development team puts countless hours into crafting and testing the product. Eventually, weeks of preparation lead to one moment: releasing the new feature. But when is the right time? Is it when the feature is completely done, without bugs, precisely as we pictured it? Or just a bit earlier, in the so-called beta phase? We opt for the latter if we make significant product changes!
What is the beta phase?
Go big or go home
If you use a software product, it won't hurt if you’re familiar with the Greek alphabet 😅. Releasing a software product happens in different cycles, named after a Greek letter. If a product is in the alpha phase, it means it's still under development. It doesn't function; you can't use it. The next stage is the beta phase. The product is still under development, and it isn't completely stable. You can use it, but it may not contain all functionality yet, or may even contain bugs. After the beta phase comes the gamma phase (the official preview version of the product). Then the omega phase (the official version of the product). We usually continue to the omega phase. Go big or go home 😁!
Why do we release features in the beta phase?
Our clients are the center of our attention. Do they like our features, are they happy with them? If you launch a beta feature, you get a complete overview of the end users’ real experience while using the product. It gives you immediate feedback, and that is very valuable. "You can use our newest additions to Easy LMS sooner. While we are still developing them, you can already start using them. You don't have to wait until we have finished or perfected everything. On the other hand, we gain valuable insight by testing new features in a real environment. We can adjust these new features accordingly. By working in shorter cycles, we can shift quickly and improve more often," explained Anouk, Front-End Developer & UX Designer.
The perception of the end users matters most
Releasing in beta also helps us to diminish the effect of the designer's curse. "By releasing early to the public, we can't go into our designer's tunnel too far, too early. We are very aware that we have such a different perspective to our end users. However, we can't prevent that completely, because we are on the ‘other side’. By testing earlier in real-life situations, we get to catch things at an early stage, so we can adapt to them. This way, we prevent getting lost in our own tunnel, without hearing any sounds from the outside," Anouk added.
Jeroen, Founder / CEO / CSO, said: "Our development and quality assurance team gives a lot of attention and dedication to delivering the right product quality. But it is the perception of the end users that matters most. Because they pay for it! So, why not let them experience new cool functionality faster?"
Beyond all practical reasons to run a beta test to ensure high product quality, it is also used as a growth tactic to create a sense of exclusivity, too.
Open vs. closed beta
There's a difference between the open and closed beta phases. Open means that the feature is available for everyone. Closed means that the feature is restricted to a particular group of users. "Our features are in open beta. We truly believe that anyone should be able to give feedback. You will get the most honest feedback. The more feedback we receive, the more insightful information we have about possible bottlenecks and improvements!" Jeroen stated.
Case study - our course builder in beta
Is what we’ve built better than what we already have, and does it add value immediately? Then we should release it.
At the moment of writing, we have multiple features in beta. One of them is our course builder. Our course builder needed to be replaced due to usability issues; clients struggled with building a Course, which is the primary purpose of this feature. Also, clients requested new additions like a preview function, print function, and export to PDF. Building and completing the course builder from scratch - with the current functionality but better - would take us at least three months.
“That’s too long, in our opinion. We like to compare things down instead of up. Is what we’ve built better than what we already have, and does it add value immediately? Then we should release it. For the course builder, that was the case. So we decided to release it in beta and keep the current one,” Jeroen said.
We gather feedback by looking at how many clients use the feature and how they respond to it
During this beta phase, we gather feedback by looking at how many clients use the feature and how they respond to it. “Our Support Owls are our main source. They have direct contact with our clients. If they receive a question about the new functionality, they investigate if there is a problem, what is going wrong or what clients would expect. Our Support Owls share this information with the development team and me. And then we act on it, even if it is just one client who has a remark, we know we’re on the right track. For the future, we want to have focus groups too,” said Jeroen.
We’ve already done a lot of iterations on our course builder based on the client feedback received. “One example is that we show more content elements, like images, on the preview slides than only the title. It was requested a lot,” explained Jeroen. The course builder will be fired from the beta phase as soon as clients can do the same with it as the current version, or even more. “But that is going to take a few more development cycles!” said Jeroen.
How can I give feedback on the beta features?
Your feedback on the beta features is more than welcome! Get in touch with our Support Owls (through chat or email), and they will pass on your feedback to the development team. Hopefully, you will see your feedback reflected in a future release, so you can test and experience it! Fingers crossed 💪.