Every good piece of software that has ever been produced has gone through a process known as beta testing. In a typical beta process, the product (software, hardware, or, in our case, a website) is distributed to a select group of testers with the expectation that they sit down and use the product and report any bugs, usability problems or any other issues they may find. Testing software has long been a passion of mine. In the past 20 years, I have been a beta tester for Microsoft, Symantec and Adobe, and I would like to think that my input has helped these companies to improve the products that they release and these experiences have certainly helped me become a better programmer and troubleshooter.
Traditionally, software is planned and developed internally and then run through a few rounds of internal testing before sending it out for beta testing. But in the past few years, the development process has evolved. There is no longer a finish line that clearly distinguishes between development and release. Software is now continually being developed, evaluated and adjusted to meet changing consumer demands and industry trends. Gmail, for example, was in beta for almost 3 years with millions of users before they officially released the product, and there have been several development iterations since the release that have added new and enhanced features.
Today’s agile development model allows for faster time to market by breaking development tasks down into realistic use cases and developing in smaller increments called “sprints.” The result is increased product quality, greater flexibility, decreased financial risk and higher consumer satisfaction.
Technology changes fast, and software development is no longer a delivered experience that you can take live and ignore. It is a living organism that should be closely monitored and adapted to meet the needs of the user. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and experiment. With agile development, if it doesn’t work, you are only out a few weeks’ worth of work. Roll the changes back and move on. These adjustments are one of the things that will set your product apart from the rest.
I would argue that any good software is never out of beta. There is always something that could, and probably should, be upgraded, tweaked or, in some instances, removed altogether. How many times a week are you prompted to update an app on your phone or tablet device? These updates may be bug fixes, but if you look at the change log, in many instances, they are adding or improving existing functionality.