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Alpha Release: Definition and 5 Steps To Get There

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Alpha Release: Definition and 5 Steps To Get There

An alpha release is a huge milestone in the software release life cycle. This is the first serious test that new software undergoes, which determines how ready the product is for the market. Companies should take this stage seriously, using their alpha release as an opportunity to improve and iterate. 

Updated 02/28/2023

Any piece of software has to go through various stages of design, development, testing, and fine-tuning before it's truly ready to be released to the public. This whole process is known as the software release life cycle, and you can break it down into various stages, such as pre-alpha, alpha, and beta. 

The alpha release stage is one of the most significant stages of all, and launching an alpha release is an important milestone in the life cycle of any app or program. But what is an alpha release, what is it important, and how do you build up to it? This guide will cover all you need to know about alpha releases.

What Is an Alpha Release?

An alpha release is essentially the first functioning version of a program. This is the stage when you can actually launch and test your software in-house to see how it works and start to identify issues and bugs within the code that need to be fixed as you move towards the next stage – a beta launch.

Alpha releases are unfinished. They may have many bugs, glitches, and various errors that will be discovered during the testing phase. However, the foundations of the software code should be in place by the time of an alpha release, and the team should cover the app’s main functions at that point.

The alpha stage aims to find as many bugs as possible and get rid of them. It's all about making the app work as well as possible, functioning with different inputs and in different situations. 

Once the functionality of the app is taken care of, other aspects like design and UI can be worked on further into the beta stage. Therefore, the alpha release is a vital part of the overall life cycle, as this is where you make your program work.

The Steps Leading Up to an Alpha Release

Now that we've seen what an alpha build actually is, let's take a look at the steps and stages you need to follow in the early or pre-alpha part of the software release life cycle in order to actually reach the point where you can launch an alpha release. There are five main steps for this process, as outlined below.

  1. Requirements analysis
  2. Research and planning
  3. Software Design
  4. Software Development
  5. Testing

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1. Requirements Analysis 

In the world of software development, requirements analysis, also known as requirements engineering, is all about identifying user needs and expectations for a new program or application. 

It's about identifying what people want and expect from your program.

Essentially, it's a way of setting the targets and objectives that your designers, developers, and software engineers will need to focus on as the project goes on and the software is made. 

This part of the process requires extensive research, planning, and communication with users or prospective users to discover their expectations for features and functionality. 

The ultimate aim is to ensure that the final piece of software will meet the user’s needs, which is critical for the program’s success upon launch.

2. Research and Planning 

Research and planning are another significant stage of the pre-alpha phase as you build up towards an alpha release. These two tasks go hand-in-hand with requirements analysis in many ways and will be required throughout the development life cycle.

You may have to carry out a lot of different market research and gather data that teams can use to influence the design and development of your app. This especially depends on the nature of the app you're trying to develop, the size of your business, the type of audience you're targeting, and the nature of your industry.

You'll also need to lay out a clear plan of action for the software's development, with tentative dates and an estimated schedule to follow to completion. Having a plan is a crucial part of organized project management and will help to streamline the path to an alpha release.

3. Software Design 

Next, the piece of software will need to be designed. A design team will need to be established to carry out this part of the process. They'll use the feedback and information you've gathered during research and planning to put together the design for the app.

This is essentially the equivalent of drawing up the blueprints for a new product. Your designers will start to sketch out and put together designs for how the program will look, what the user interface will be like, and so on. This will all then play into the next step: development.

4. Software Development 

Of course, to get to an alpha release, you need to have some coded software ready to release in the first place. So, it's vital to start developing the app during the pre-alpha phase based on the approved plans and designs from the previous stages.

Your development team will start writing the code of your software, taking inspiration from the blueprint designs, and focusing on getting the main functions and structure of the program set up before later concerning themselves with more details and fine-tuning for UX optimization.

5. Testing

Next, the piece of software will need to be tested. The alpha release itself is a big part of the testing phase, and lots of tests will be carried out on your alpha release to check that it's working correctly and removing as many bugs as possible.

However, before the alpha is even launched, some unit testing and automated testing will need to occur. This is done to ensure that the app functions on at least a foundational level. If it doesn't work at all, an alpha release will not be possible.

What Comes After Your Alpha Version?

Congrats! Your alpha release is one of your first versions of the product you’re aiming to create. After a group of users tests software products, they can move forward in the development process. 

After testers identify any existing performance issues or point out possible product enhancements, it’s your team’s job to iterate. This means making bug fixes, perfecting new features, and solidifying your product’s capacity for a user of any kind. 

Only after these product development changes are made can the following release versions be produced:

  • Beta Release: Often referred to as the beta version, the beta release allows for broader testing with a group of end users. The beta phase is meant to work out the final kinks in the product, which should now be feature complete. Beta testing is the final major pre-release step. 
  • Production Release: Otherwise known as the first major release of the final version of your product. You’ve learned from and iterated on test cases and have launched your product to the public. This isn’t to say that there won’t be more major and minor releases the correct problems as they arise in the future. 

Take Your Time When Building Up to an Alpha Release

It's clear that a lot of hard work and effort must go into the pre-alpha stage as you prepare for an alpha release. These early stages should not be rushed, as it's easy for mistakes to be made, bugs to appear in the code, and delays to occur if the process is pushed along too hastily.

Overall, it's best to take enough time to carry out the appropriate levels of research, design, development, and testing before an alpha release.

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