Ever wonder how new features come into being within Benetech’s suite of products? Each product line and team has slightly different processes, but before most end-users see new functionality appear on any product or website, our process as a whole involves understanding user problems, designing solutions, writing code and testing. Every step is important and iterative, requiring feedback from internal users or selected end-users. I’d like to focus here on some of the critical final steps in our product development process. These include passing tests that our professional Quality Assurance (QA) team performs as well as passing our “alpha testing sessions,” which we sometimes refer to as “Bugfests”!
Let’s take a short, virtual trip into the world of software product development at Benetech. I’m Ginny Grant, one of the Product Managers in Benetech’s Global Literacy Program. I work primarily on improving Bookshare, Route 66 Literacy, and some of the reading tools we offer, such as Read2Go (for iOS), Go Read (for Android) and Bookshare Web Reader.
Here’s how things work in our product release cycle. Once our development team has completed its work, we set up a session where members of Bookshare’s support, operations and marketing teams come together and put a new feature through its paces. During these sessions we look at usability as well as functionality, and make sure that we have addressed solutions for the key problems that were identified before development started.
In past sessions, I have had a “bug basket” filled with plastic or rubber insects of various colors, shapes and sizes. When a team member doing alpha testing finds a bug in our software, they win a small prize from the basket—perhaps a plastic ant… Unearthing a more problematic software bug entitles a tester to a bigger prize, possibly with more legs or eyes! Of course, there are always a few truly wiggly, oversized creatures that are saved for those tremendous, showstopper-level software bugs. Fortunately, these creatures rarely see the light of day, because our developers and QA team have already identified and solved such problems.
Once new product features have made it through these testing steps, it’s time for the next important phase in our release cycle: beta testing. During beta testing, we open up the new product features to a limited group of volunteers who have agreed to participate in our new feature testing. Product enhancements we have beta tested over the past year include DAISY Audio, Bookshare Web Reader and Reading Lists and, most recently, Braille conversions.
Oftentimes we give our beta testers instructions on getting started with the relevant product and ask for their feedback on functionality, specific bugs and any usability challenges they might find. It may be time to figure out a way to award “virtual insects” to our remote testers so they can print out their “bug awards” on 3D-printers!