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How to Launch a Friendly User Trial (FUT): Why should you do it, when and how?

Few weeks ago I've launched a new FUT for one of the products I'm managing at Vodafone. This guide is my retrospective on what was done good, and what mistakes should you avoid.
Dasha Getmanchuk

Product Manager, Vodafone

The Place of Friendly User Trials (FUT) in the Product Launch Roadmap

Friendly User Trials (FUT) occupy a critical juncture in the product launch roadmap. They serve as a bridge between internal testing phases and a public launch, offering a controlled yet real-world environment to validate the product's market fit, usability, and overall performance. Here's a breakdown of where FUT fits into the typical product launch roadmap:

Pre-Development Phase

  1. Market Research: Understand the market needs, competition, and target audience.
  2. Concept Validation: Validate the product idea through surveys, focus groups, or MVPs.
  3. Planning: Develop a product roadmap, outlining features, timelines, and milestones.

Development Phase

  1. Prototyping: Create wireframes or prototypes for initial testing.
  2. Development: Actual coding and development of the product.
  3. Internal Testing: Quality assurance and internal testing to identify bugs and issues.

Pre-Launch Phase

  1. Alpha Testing: Limited testing with a small group of internal users.
  2. Beta Testing: Expanded testing with a larger, but still limited, group of users.
  3. Friendly User Trials (FUT): This is where FUT comes in. It's a more refined form of beta testing, often with a more diverse set of users who are closer to your target audience. The focus is not just on identifying bugs but also on understanding user behavior, gathering feedback on user experience, and validating market fit.

Launch Phase

  1. Soft Launch: A limited public release to further test and refine the product
  2. Full-Scale Launch: The official public release of the product

Post-Launch Phase

  1. Monitoring: Ongoing analysis of user behavior, feedback, and performance metrics.
  2. Updates and Iterations: Based on the data collected, the product undergoes updates and new feature rollouts.

Key Takeaways

  1. FUT serves as a "reality check," offering insights that are crucial for the final tweaks before a soft or full-scale launch.
  2. It helps in risk mitigation by identifying potential roadblocks or issues that could affect the product's success.
  3. FUT can also be a powerful tool for generating early buzz and engagement, setting the stage for a successful launch.
  4. By understanding the place of Friendly User Trials in the product launch roadmap, you can better plan, execute, and analyze your product's journey from concept to market

Let’s talk more about phases of FUT itself 

Pre-Launch: The Groundwork

1. Define Objectives

Before anything else, know what you want to achieve with this FUT. Is it to identify bugs? To gather user feedback on a new feature? To validate market fit? Having clear objectives will guide every decision you make.

2. Select Your Users Wisely

Not all users are created equal. Choose a mix of power users, average users, and newbies. This will give you a well-rounded view of how different people interact with your product.

3. Prepare Your Team

Ensure that your customer support, development, and product teams are all aligned. Everyone should know the FUT's objectives, the timeline, and their individual responsibilities.

Launch Phase: Execution

4. Roll Out in Phases

Don't invite all your selected users at once. Start with a small group, gather feedback, make adjustments, and then invite more users. This phased approach allows you to fix issues without affecting a large user base.

5. Monitor Real-Time Analytics

Use tools like Google Analytics, Mixpanel, or your custom dashboard to monitor user behavior in real-time. Look for patterns, bottlenecks, and user drop-off points.

6. Open Channels for Feedback

Make it easy for users to report bugs and give feedback. Whether it's through in-app prompts, email surveys, or a dedicated Slack channel, the easier you make it, the more feedback you'll get.

Post-Launch: Analysis and Iteration

7. Debrief with Your Team

Once the FUT is over, gather your team for a debriefing. Discuss what went well, what didn't, and what could be improved for the next iteration.

8. Thank Your Users

Send a thank-you note to your FUT participants. Consider offering them some perks like early access to new features, discount codes, or branded swag as a token of appreciation.

9. Analyze and Implement

Compile all the data and feedback. Identify the common threads and prioritize them. Then, start implementing the changes.

10. Plan the Next Steps

Based on the FUT results, plan your next steps. Whether it's another FUT, a public beta, or a full-scale launch, make sure it aligns with your initial objectives.

And there you have it—a no-nonsense, action-packed guide to launching a Friendly User Trial for your product. Follow these steps, and you're well on your way to a successful FUT that brings invaluable insights and sets the stage for your product's success.


Common Mistakes to Avoid in Friendly User Trials (FUT)

While Friendly User Trials (FUT) can be an invaluable phase in your product's development, they can also be riddled with pitfalls if not executed carefully. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

1. Unclear Objectives: One of the most significant blunders is launching a FUT without a clear understanding of what you aim to achieve. Is it user feedback, bug identification, or market validation? Without a defined objective, your FUT can become a chaotic, unguided process.

2. Biased User Selection: Selecting users who are too close to your product can lead to biased feedback. Avoid exclusively picking employees, friends, or overly enthusiastic supporters. A diverse group of users better reflects real-world scenarios.

3. Poor Team Alignment: Neglecting to ensure that your customer support, development, and product teams are on the same page can lead to chaos during the FUT. Miscommunication can result in missed opportunities for gathering valuable insights or addressing issues promptly.

4. Overwhelming User Onboarding: Inviting all selected users at once can be overwhelming for your team and counterproductive. Start small, gradually increasing the user base, allowing for adjustments and smoother issue resolutions.

5. Ignoring Real-time Analytics: Neglecting to monitor user behavior in real-time can be a grave error. Real-time analytics can reveal critical information, such as user drop-offs, bottlenecks, and usage patterns, which can help you make timely improvements.

6. Inadequate Feedback Channels: Making it difficult for users to provide feedback is another misstep. If users encounter hurdles in reporting bugs or sharing their thoughts, you'll miss out on valuable insights. Ensure multiple accessible channels for feedback.

7. Skipping the Debrief: After concluding the FUT, some teams rush to the next phase without debriefing. This can result in lost opportunities for learning from the trial. A debrief session is crucial to discuss successes, failures, and areas for improvement.

8. Neglecting Participant Appreciation: Failing to show gratitude to FUT participants can dampen their enthusiasm for future involvement. Consider offering incentives, like early access or discounts, as a token of appreciation.

9. Ignoring Data Analysis: Collecting data and feedback is one thing; analyzing and acting on it is another. Skipping the analysis step can lead to missing critical insights that could drive improvements.

10. Lacking Future Planning: Once the FUT is over, it's essential to plan the next steps based on the results. Whether it's another FUT, a public beta, or a full-scale launch, a well-thought-out strategy should follow.

In conclusion, while Friendly User Trials are an essential part of product development, avoiding these common mistakes is crucial for their success. Clear objectives, diverse user selection, effective team communication, and meticulous data analysis are keys to a productive FUT that paves the way for a successful product launch.

Drop me a message if you got any questions, I would be happy to help. 
Good luck!

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