My wife and I love the TV show “The Big Bang Theory.” And given the name of the show, this clip is particularly funny to me because software betas are discussed in the context of a relationship. Leonard and Penny are flirting with the idea of dating again, and in his usual slightly awkward way, Leonard suggests a beta period for their new relationship.

Penny, to her own delight, understands what he means and there is a funny exchange about finding bugs in their relationship and fixing them.

The bad ol’ days of betas

This is often how software is released, in fact, it’s still the most common way perhaps. You work on the beta product for a long time, months probably or maybe even years, and then you have a “big bang” launch of the beta to customers. You might do an alpha phase with customers prior to that for some earlier testing, but the very choice of alpha and beta as terms implies that there is nothing done prior to that.

Does Scrum encourage beta-abuse?

As much as I love agile methodologies like Scrum, we may even be encouraging this pattern through our use of release plans, time boxed sprints, and backlogs. Those aren’t bad things, and they certainly beat the old waterfall projects of yesteryear, but they still may encourage you to build a big backlog and determine that you just can’t show the product to the customer without most of that backlog deployed.

No more betas!

This is not how lean startups should work though. The whole idea of beta periods are starting to disturb me. When does a “beta” start? When does it end?

If by beta you mean testing your product with customer and getting feedback, then everything should be a beta. In lean startups, the beta starts before you write any code, as you develop the ideas and test them with customers before even starting the actual product. And the beta never ends, because you should be constantly testing assumptions and gathering customer feedback from here to eternity.

You should still build a backlog, and using Scrum techniques is still certainly fine (we do all the time).  Just don’t let any methodology convince you to delay testing your assumptions with customers.

Just deploy it!

So stop worrying about your beta. Just deploy it!

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