Your customers are your best testers for your next product. They will explore the features. Expose the product to use conditions in unconscious ways. And, they will let you what they consider failures without needing the specification document.
During the development process, you and team may work to understand what customer may want or expect for the new product. You may even conduct focus groups or review past product field failures and call center records.
The prototypes, as they take final form may not be ready for shipping, yet it’s a perfect time to hand a few over to your customers.
Do this when you still have time to engineer solutions, resolve problems, or improve implementation. Do this before the product is ready to ship.
This very first exposure of a new product to a customer is often done with preferred customs. You trusted friends. They will provide honest feedback as they are very likely going to buy the new product as soon as it is available. This early alpha testing is not marketing, it is testing. You want to learn about what is and what is not working.
To facilitate the testing, educate your select few customers with a little knowledge. Let them know what will and will not work with this early prototype. That the product they are evaluating is just a prototype and the final form will certainly be different. The performance will improve the most with thorough and honest feedback
Run the alpha test long enough to allow your customers to fully explore and examine the new product. Give them time to find the weaknesses and opportunities. This time frame is blanked with the overall schedule, as the team may need time to design and implement improvements.
Implement the improvements.
Microsoft and Apple have upwards of one million beta testers for their major operating system releases.
This is beyond just friends or best customers. With your product, getting the earliest version of the product prior to full-scale production may provide insights on the more difficult to find issues- the issues that you can remedy prior to launch.
A massive beta program is a project in itself and would require extensive coordination. The ability of so many people giving the product a try is critical though to ferret out the smallest of troubles in time to fix them before committing to production.
Most products do not have the production levels of Microsoft or Apple, yet the information gained at this stage is valuable. Even if you only have 10 beta testers. And, each provides just 10 comments of areas that either didn’t work or didn’t work as expected, you have about 100 suggestions from real customers.
Remember that your product doesn’t have to fail by missing an internal specification to fail.
It only has to not meet your customer’s expectation. Understanding how you customer views your new product provides an insight that is otherwise provided too late (after production.)
Another major benefit of beta testing is the exposure of early life failures. The beta units most likely will closely resemble production units. The supply chain and assembly process will be well exercised by creating the beta units, thus the issues discovered may reveal problems caused by supply chain or assembly errors.
The alpha and beta testing primarily look for the ability of the product to meet customer expectations. This is critical as not doing so leads to product returns and low customer satisfaction. It also exposes early life failures while you still have time to implement a fix.
Reliability Testing (article)
Life Testing Starting Point (article)
Discovery Testing (article)