We recently strengthened the concept of an Alpha phase at Buffer. Alpha is our internal testing phase, where we make new functionality available very early, exclusively to the Buffer team.
Here are some of the details and benefits:
We’re putting functionality in Alpha as soon as it’s working in some form. It will still be rough around the edges, in particular the UX will likely be going through further iterations, and there may be some bugs and edge cases that are being worked out.
We have an Alpha page within the product, only accessible by the Buffer team. On this page we have a link to more information on our Alpha phase. We also have a list of all features in Alpha, with a short description and a button that takes you straight to the Slack channel for the project team working on that functionality. This streamlines and enhances the feedback loop.
It’s very valuable to have the whole team playing with new functionality and finding any issues before we start to roll out to customers. This doesn’t replace our own QA process, but it can definitely enhance it.
Even more importantly, the team can help us to hone the UX and give feedback on anything that feels confusing about the decisions we’re making around user flows and interactions.
For customer-facing areas of the company, in particular Customer Advocacy and Marketing, it is extremely useful to get a head start on testing out new functionality, and starting to reflect on the materials that those teams put together for product changes.
On the Customer Advocacy side, they are the team who hear from customers directly the most, and have a strong intuition build through those experiences as to what will be clear or confusing for customers.
Having the Marketing team use new functionality early, where we still have the ability to shape it and make adjustments, allows them to start to think about the naming of new features, and what our launch strategy will be. This can feed directly into the product and design team in the form of renaming or reorienting functionality in ways that can give us the most impactful marketing outcomes.
Finally, one of our goals is for the whole company to be Buffer users themselves. There are countless benefits that come from this, and having the team receive new functionality early and consistently enhances our ability to all be active users of the product.