Taking care of goal setting, coordination, and collecting and acting on user feedback, a beta test manager is what stands between a successful beta test and a waste of time and resources.
Beta tests are full-blown projects in their own right and they deserve to be treated as such. A common mistake companies make is to push their app to testers without having a clear idea of the test’s goals and the responsibilities of its stakeholders. This happens when the tests are managed by multiple people from different teams, usually a mix of product people, QA testers, and mobile developers. Naturally, this yields less than optimal results but might be manageable on a small scale.
For apps that prioritize iterative product development and prize user validation, having a dedicated owner of your beta tests is essential. The beta program manager is the point person responsible for designing, executing, and reporting your app’s beta tests, working cross-functionally with relevant teams to ensure that the process is optimized for success.
In today’s iterative development, beta tests have transformed from intermittent projects into ongoing programs. This explains why, although the role debuted fairly recently, it is rapidly gaining in importance and popularity, with 700+ results on LinkedIn when you search “beta program manager” and 300+ job listings on Glassdoor for the same search. A complex program like beta testing mandates a skilled, dedicated project manager who can take the helm and maneuver it to success.
The Responsibilities of the Beta Program Manager
The first responsibility of a beta program manager is to determine the test’s goals and the kind of feedback required. They work with the product team to identify gaps in your understanding of the user and set the test’s goals accordingly. After goal setting, they are responsible for laying out a test plan that is able to achieve the desired goals. Depending on whether it will be a technical and/or marketing focused beta, the beta manager plans the test and lays out its stages and steps. This will likely involve coordinating with members in the QA, engineering, marketing, and support teams.
The beta program manager determines if an open or a closed beta is in order, whether it should be staged and how many stages. They decide the number of testers for each stage, and the tools that are needed for the job. Moreover, beta managers do this while optimizing the time allocated for a beta test to maximize feedback, minimize costs, and ensure a timely release.
Different apps need different “configurations” of these factors that can make or break a beta test. This tricky balancing act is core to the beta program manager’s job and requires a great deal of product development knowledge, project management experience, and dedication to your app’s end users.
One of the most critical responsibilities of a beta program manager is recruiting the right number and type of testers. Depending on the kind of feedback that is required, different recruitment strategies might be in order; for instance, if bug reports are the main goal of the beta test, users with strong technical knowledge are preferred in order to improve the quality of the incoming reports.
This usually involves creating and maintaining several communication channels with the users/testers and segmenting and vetting them for the test. This ensures that you acquire testers who are genuinely interested in the app and are able to provide you with actionable feedback that is relevant to your target users. In many cases, the beta manager is the missing link in solving the all too familiar issue of finding beta testers.
In practice, beta tests are better carried out in progressive phases, each targetting different feedback areas. With this in regard, the test manager will decide on the number of testers needed for each stage and the appropriate recruitment channel, be that from the existing user base, new testers, or through a third-party service.
Communication and community management
Excellent communication is a fundamental character of a good beta program manager. They onboard and guide the users through the beta program’s goals, issues, and reporting mechanisms. They also lead inter-team communication as well as teams’ communication with the testers to avoid confusion and ensure that high-quality, actionable feedback is relayed to internal teams. Moreover, they decide upon the suitable communication tools needed to minimize the friction for testers to provide feedback.
Beta program managers are also charged with building and maintaining a community of testers through several channels. This is done throughout and beyond the testing phase, ensuring testers are engaged, and actively soliciting their feedback. They manage these channels, keeping them alive to provide a ready pool of testers for future beta tests.
Beta managers’ communication efforts should not be limited to email, forums, and other online channels. They also include more personal and interactive channels like phone calls and physical meetings and events. Inviting small batches of testers to dinner with your team or hosting a big meetup for all your testers to get together personalizes your relationship and makes them more likely to actively engage in your beta program.
Since its main objective is getting users’ feedback through to the development team, communication is arguably the most crucial aspect of a beta test. A lack of proactive engagement with your testers will almost certainly ensure a beta’s failure. Consequently, excellent communication is essential and is considered the hallmark of a good beta program manager.
Coordination and advocacy
With so many stakeholders, beta tests can get messy without proper coordination. Beta program managers coordinate between partners in relevant teams, including product, QA, marketing, engineering, and data science to make sure the right feedback gets shared with the right people in a timely manner. They ensure that incoming feedback is validated and categorized accordingly. This includes doing or overseeing activities like triaging incoming bug reports and assigning and forwarding them. Additionally, they make sure that testers are updated on the known issues and the general progress of the beta test.
Although he or she is responsible for coordination between all parties, the beta program manager should always prioritize the user. They are the user’s advocate internally and should always keep the user’s voice in mind, making sure that their feedback is acted upon according to what matters to them most. This advocacy for them ensures the user’s voice is not only heard and understood but is the team’s north star.
Analytics and insights
Beta tests provide a wealth of data about how users interact with your app if you think to look. Beta program managers are responsible for using analytic tools to collect this data and glean insights that can be used by your product, marketing, and development teams.
After consulting with the rest of the team, they decide on the data and metrics to be tracked and the tools needed to track them. They understand the difference between qualitative and quantitative data and when to use them. Of course, they are also responsible for making sense of this data to analyze it and extract actionable insights. This will help you discover areas where your users might be getting confused or features that are not as discoverable as you would like.
Progress tracking and reporting
Finally, beta program managers keep an eye on the progress of the beta test and update all stakeholders consistently. They analyze the data and metrics of the beta test, gleaning insights and reporting them internally. A good beta manager knows which metrics to track and who to report them to, preparing detailed reports that can be translated into action.
Staying on top of your beta tests’ progress allows them to see which direction the program is headed and right the course early on to ensure all goals are met. They can then adjust the number of testers or the duration of the test, for instance. Through their solid overview of the test’s progress, beta program managers can ensure that your beta program achieves its goals.
The Qualifications of the Beta Program Manager
A bachelor’s degree is required for the vast majority of beta program manager roles in companies large and small. Advanced degrees in information management or MBAs, while not a pre-requisite, are often preferred at larger corporations. The bachelor’s degree is usually in software engineering or computer science, but can also be in business, marketing, or a related field. The primary focus of your beta test, the domain of your app, and your organizational needs will determine the preference of the degree between technical and business.
3-5 years of relevant work experience is a typical minimum requirement for a beta manager role, with some companies seeking senior candidates with 7-10+ years of experience. Ideally, your candidate will have experience in project management, preferably for beta software or mobile products. Some companies prefer candidates with technical experience in software development and software testing. Tech support experience would also be beneficial to the role.
Experience using the tools in your company’s tech stack can be very important, especially if they have a steep learning curve like JIRA and you want the candidate to hit the ground running.
Experience in community management (online or offline) is a great asset since beta program managers are in constant contact with their beta testers and are responsible for building and maintaining an active beta tester community. However, it is not essential as long as the candidate has the required communication skills.
It may be redundant to mention communication again, but it is central to the role of the beta manager and must be listed in its qualifications. A good beta manager will exhibit excellent oral and written communication skills and the ability to navigate ambiguity with ease. Serving as the primary point of contact between teams, they facilitate communication and relay relevant information to internal and external stakeholders in a timely manner. They are capable of understanding the complexities of the product and the associated technical terms and communicate it to users in simplified, jargon-free language.
On the other hand, they actively solicit feedback from testers to acquire an intimate understanding of their views and pain points. Acting as the user’s advocate, a beta program manager makes sure their voice is heard by development and is the north star of the product.
Intrapreneurs are internal entrepreneurs who are capable of taking complete ownership of a project within the company and managing it with a high degree of flexibility and autonomy. They are creative and dynamic problem solvers with an eye on the industry’s latest trends and the ability to pivot the program in new directions based on emerging information and opportunities.
An intrapreneurial beta manager has the autonomy and initiative to handle all aspects of the beta test program while always on the lookout for ways to improve its processes and workflows. They are not the type to let any opportunities for growth or improvement of the program slip away.
Bonus: Data Analysis
Beta program managers are responsible for gathering and analyzing a lot of user data in order to come up with actionable insights for the development of your app, therefore experience in data analysis and familiarity with relevant technical languages and tools is highly useful. First off, it enables them to better decide on which data and metrics to track, whether in regards to the product or the health of the beta test. Additionally, the ability of this person to mine, analyze, and visualize vast amounts of data will reduce dependencies on other teams in your organization. Most importantly, your beta program manager should have a data-driven mindset.