How to test your product before launch
Launch day is full of anticipation. Everyone is excited to see something new come to life and be enjoyed by end users. You eagerly await the response from your customers and teammates. And while the thrill is real, there is almost always some trepidation as well. Will the product function as intended?
Product development is a multi-stage process. It starts with brainstorming an initial concept then strategically planning, building, and releasing a new product or enhancement to an existing product — then measuring the success of what was delivered. Whether you are building a hardware or software product, testing is an essential component of your product development team's workflow. It is crucial work that happens throughout the build phase and can insulate against some of those launch-day jitters.
Depending on what it is that you are building, your organization might have stringent testing protocols in place or loose guidelines to follow. This guide provides definitions, basic overviews, and general best practices for software product testing.
What is software product testing?
Product testing is the process of methodically measuring the performance of specific functionality. The goal is to validate the readiness of the product for end use. The product can be evaluated from a variety of angles, including the efficacy of product requirements (“Does the button do what it was intended to do?”) and fidelity to any policies or safety measures. Since most software is built iteratively, testing may occur as the product is being developed — with improvements from each round of testing incorporated into the next sprint or release. In this case, there is usually a final comprehensive test of all functionality before launch.
Do companies pay for product testing? The short answer: It depends. Many organizations have dedicated in-house quality assurance testing groups. These folks are responsible for evaluating a software product to reduce the risk of failure once it is released. Some companies instead choose to outsource product testing and hire a firm to perform QA services. This could be a business, regulatory, or industry requirement — or simply a result of lacking internal resources.
Why is product testing important in software?
There are real benefits of product testing. Thorough testing helps product development teams identify and resolve bugs before launch — it is a necessary step in your process. After all, you want to provide your customers with usable, reliable, and lovable software. Failure to test the worthiness of what you build can wreck even the best product concepts.
Some industries even require specific types of testing pre-launch. Cosmetics, medical, financial, and transportation products all typically must adhere to regulatory compliance that includes passing specific tests before a product can be broadly released. You only have to look at scandals like what happened with the ill-fated biotech startup Theranos (which exploited regulatory enforcement discretion) to see the importance of rigorous and credible testing.
Software products may not be legally beholden to ensure products are tested before launch. However, product development teams have a responsibility to the users who purchase and rely on your products. And besides, delivering working software is the ultimate goal — no one wants to ship a dud.
Are there different approaches to product testing?
There are a few basic categories of testing within software products. The different types of product testing map to the product that you are building and for whom.
Functional vs. nonfunctional testing
Functional product testing refers to actions that the product should perform according to the requirements set in the use case. This is often referred to as black-box testing because the product is evaluated without looking at the codebase or data structure, just the external functionality. Nonfunctional product testing covers all other aspects of a product, such as performance, reliability, and usability. This is referred to as white-box testing.
Manual vs. automated testing
Manual product testing is done by an individual who goes through the product to check if it performs as it should. In an e-commerce product, this could include a series of actions such as logging in, creating an account, adding an item to a cart, and completing a transaction. Manual testing requires a testing environment that is usable and can be easily accessed. Because there are real human beings behind the process, manual testing is most successful if there are clear instructions. It can be time-consuming, expensive, and unpredictable.
Automated testing is done by a software tool running a script that is written in advance. (Software testing software!) This type of testing is a component of continuous integration and continuous delivery practices. It is more scalable than manual testing because you can run many tests at the same time. However, the reliability of automated testing depends on how well-written the test scripts are — so people are still the lynchpin.
Alpha vs. beta testing
Alpha product testing refers to testing done by folks within (or professionals hired by) a company, such as QA analysts. The goal is to identify any bugs before the product gets into the hands of end users. Beta product testing is done by those end users. Some companies will invite select customers to participate in a beta test, while others may open it up to the public. The latter is more common with new products that have not yet been released to market. Beta testing can be a marketing opportunity for early-stage startups looking to garner attention.
Definitions of different types of software testing
Beyond the basics of software testing categories, there are specific types of tests that you may have seen or heard about. Below is a list of definitions for the most common types of software testing:
Acceptance testing: Testing to see if the product or functionality meets defined requirements, user stories, or business needs
Database testing: Testing the schema, tables, and triggers of a database, including queries for performing the load or stress test on the database and checking its responsiveness
End-to-end testing: Testing that simulates a real-world scenario from the perspective of an end user, from start to finish of an action
Exploratory testing: Testing completed without predetermined instructions or actions, where users follow their own curiosity to unearth unknown bugs
Integration testing: Testing designed to examine the interactions and flow between sets of related functionality within the same system
Performance testing: Testing that measures the speed, stability, and responsiveness of a software product
Regression testing: Testing that validates whether functionality performs as expected after code changes or updates to the product
Risk-based testing: Organizational principle for how to organize and prioritize what functionality should be tested and in what order
Smoke testing: Testing designed to reveal basic failures in advance of more critical testing
Unit testing: Testing individual units of source code to ensure working software as a whole
What are some product testing best practices?
Value-based product development emphasizes quality at every step of the product development process. Testing should be included in your product launch checklist. Your testing approach will reflect the maturity of your product and the scope of what you are launching. A net-new product will have a very different testing plan than a minor enhancement to existing functionality. New products require more robust testing — launch day is your opportunity to make a first impression on the market and with users.
For existing products, the level of testing simply depends on what part of the product changed and by how much. However, even if the update is minor, you can create a major disruption for users if you do not validate that functionality works as designed (and does not cause problems with other areas of the application.)
Product development teams who practice continuous deployment will test often to ensure that newly-deployed code works as intended. A SaaS product offers some buffer since you can quickly fix issues. (Assuming those issues are readily remedied.) In fast-paced organizations it is not uncommon for teams to ship a release that contains a few bugs to make a deadline — technical debt that is planned for and can be completed quickly after a launch is not a big deal. That does not mean you should not still QA before launch.
Companies that only release once or twice a year will usually create vigorous test plans before a launch. If your software still offers an on-premise version, then testing will be especially critical. Customers may not download future updates and thus be stuck with bugs. You do not want to deliver subpar functionality that frustrates users.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to product testing. But there are best practices that any product development team can apply to establish an organizational mindset that values product testing. Product managers and engineering managers can partner with QA teams (or external partners) to:
Create a software testing strategy with specific objectives
Develop a detailed test plan with defined use cases
Create separate teams for functional and nonfunctional testing
Simulate the right environment for testers (end users and developers)
Build in time for customer feedback and fixes
Focus on significant changes and save minor issues for post-launch
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