How to write a great software test plan

  January 31, 2017

Testing has become a critical part of the software development lifecycle, especially as agile practices and functional builds become the norm across teams. The test plan is the schematic for covering the assessment of software functionality, detailing each step that leads to the test outcome, while also underscoring projected risks and the required resources for software applications.

Within the fast-paced software environment, it is often expected that everything will be fluid and flexible. That expectation, however, does not mean that organizations fly blind into their projects. Leveraging testing strategies remains an enterprise priority, requiring a confident approach to the process that dynamically covers agile testing methodologies. For this reason, building a great software test plan remains essential. Here are some tips on how to do just that.

QA testing evaluates and validates the quality and functionality of an application under various conditions, complexities, and system configurations. Testing is therefore integral to producing quality software and supporting the software lifecycle. Testing procedures best assure that user application requirements are met, enhanced, and maintained. Heightening the reputation of the organization with the release of quality products is a long-range benefit of effective test management.

Define scope and objectives

Software testing focuses on testing scope and objectives. The usability of all functionalities is assessed within testing metrics. Test builds are developed within testing procedures, which are formatted to mitigate risk. Test plan scope and objectives consequentially include:

  • Mitigating Risk: Primary to protecting enterprise investment and reputation, as well as to meeting system requirements and maintaining application functionality
  • Debugging: Primary to user acceptance by best ensuring that software design and performance meet customer needs and preferences
  • Proof of software functionality: Assurance that the software works under all anticipated conditions

As no two applications have exactly the same requirements, quality assurance teams must approach each project with a renewed testing perspective. Each project requires a unique suite of test cases and test procedures. During the planning process, QA must determine what's possible in the scope of testing and what isn't, as well as determine the objectives of each test.

MicroTools Inc noted that QA should determine the test build in alignment with the software architecture and components - module, integration, systems/acceptance - and identify the goals of these initiatives in respect to the expectations of value stakeholders, users, and the test plan.

While determining scope and overall objectives is a legacy practice, QA teams require support in respect to strategic goals, developmental purpose, and software design for the develop guidelines for testing initiatives that cover required software functions. Including all participants and elements involved in deployment dynamics best ensures test plan and procedural clarity that validates benchmarks against which progress is measured. Especially in an agile environment, support for testing throughout all production cycles and across all departments is critical to ensuring that deployment strategies are successful and meet each project's unique requirements.

Consider defect management

Software defects can cause considerable loss to the organization. In addition, discovering and correcting deficiencies can be expensive. As bugs are inevitable, the drive is to minimize their appearance within application functionality, and thereby limit their impact on the user experience.

A defect management process that is keenly integrated into QA testing procedures can go far towards preventing defects, discovering existing defects and thereby lessening the impact of defects on software performance. A detailed effort in detecting defects can yield significant results in mitigating risk. Defect detection is most efficiently and effectively implemented within test management efforts to:

  • Perform regression tests on all software updates
  • Develop test plans defined by risk mitigation
  • Automate testing for all-inclusive early detection
  • Share knowledge among participants
  • Critically collaborate defect analysis
  • Promote collaborative root cause analysis
  • Promote collaborative system risk analysis
  • Encourage collaborated recommendations
  • Define critical metrics
  • Coordinate change control
  • Implement required module redesign
  • Identify and address dependencies
  • Implement improvements
  • Continually communicate with stakeholders
  • Establish best practices through lessons learned

Quickly identifying and mitigating issues during a build not only helps maintain reliable delivery, but also assures that users are getting a quality product every time updates are delivered. Risk mitigation is also prominent in advancing a great software testing plan. According to TechTarget contributor John Overbaugh, QA teams must consider how bugs will be documented and determine the process of moving these issues through their lifecycle.

One strategy is to leverage an enterprise test management solution. Enterprise test management not only warns QA teams about impending project risks, but also gives recommendations on issue resolution by categorizing each issue according to its potential impact and severity. Issue classification and impact assessment is fast becoming a significant asset in the testing scheme, as it allows QA to quickly address vulnerabilities while ensuring that systems remain unaffected.

Establish criteria for the start and end of testing

Testing is an ongoing process which can never be considered 100% complete. The best of testing procedures can only guarantee that risk has been minimized. Assessing the extent of risk mitigation includes measuring the extent of test coverage, the number of test cycles, and the effectiveness of fixes to high priority bugs.

Established at the beginning of the testing project, two of procedures critical to test management are entry and exit criteria. Establishing entry and exit procedures is critical to defining a successful start and end to testing and clarifying testing goals. Testing entry and exit strategies define and characterize testing limits and boundaries, such as the extent of required, needed, or preferred product support or customer input.

Entry criteria can be established through a QA-initiated collaboration among development, QA teams, IT teams, owners of downline dependencies, and stakeholders. The primary purpose of an entry procedure is to establish a set of requirements and conditions that must be present to facilitate task performance. Common entry requirements include:

  • Requirement document from functional and business stakeholders
  • Clarified testing workflow
  • An approved test case format

Exit criteria are the definition of ‘Done’ for QA testing. Complexities and interdependencies in many software releases increase complexity in determining when testing is complete. Common exit criteria indicate that testing must:

  • Completely cover the requirement
  • Meet deadlines
  • Contain predetermined levels of required functionality
  • Have completed bug fixes
  • Have mitigated predetermined risk

Entry and exit criteria best ensure that standards for successful completion are set at project start, previous to the pressures of required timely implementation. With pre-established testing criteria, testing outcomes are visibly clarified for quicker and more dynamic integration of enterprise-level decision making into the testing process. Entry and exit criteria ensure that each participant and stakeholder in a project can easily view product testing progressions and make production assessments accordingly.

Teams are free to build tests and testing procedures as they wish. However, certain criteria must be in place to validate the preparedness of a project for deployment. BugHuntress notes that these benchmarks may include test platform readiness, availability of necessary documentation, and completeness of the required functionality. Similarly, there are a number of areas a project must evaluate to complete testing requirements, such as adhering to prescribed time increments without changing the source code or opening new bugs.

Creating a test plan that aligns with criteria best ensures that testing parallels procedural benchmarks, indicating a readiness for the next phase in the project lifecycle. Integrated testing throughout the product lifecycle best supports the agile development environment with outcomes that enhance user confidence and create a sense of trust development teams and QA testing.

The extent of the test plan is determined by the complexity of the software to be tested and the consequential extent of risk mitigation. Software complexity determines the extent of test coverage, focus, and methods. The testing goals, scope, and objectives of the plan must be determined in respect to the general terms, methods, dependencies, and the most critical testing criteria. Test schedules, details, testing increments, and required resources must also be defined within the test plan. 

While the concept of test planning may stem from relics of past procedures, continuous updates to testing procedures are extremely important to QA operations, especially as agile development expands. Following testing updates and tips allows QA teams to create a great software testing plan that not only fits their needs, but also supports users and business operations.

The overriding significance of a great test plan is that it defines and documents a great test strategy. Create a test plan that keenly aligns with enterprise strategic initiatives. Match each test module to the related software specification. Checkbox your documented test plan for subsequent use as a test report. Always include initial regression testing in any software update test plan. As well, a test plan must include unit, stress, and system testing.

The test plan is a dynamic documentation that delineates the test goal and objectives which define the test build and test procedures, while also guiding testing processes. In addition, business analysts, project managers, DevOps teams, and developers reference the test plan for an enhanced view into development and testing processes, as well as anticipated outcomes. The more detailed the test plan, the more effective the testing procedures in verifying and validating test results. Automated test management facilitates many aspects of writing a great test plan, including expediting the test design, build, and management phases.

The challenges of the test environment demand that an organization establish best practices for software testing that promotes quality and best mitigates risk. Due diligence and strict adherence to strategic initiatives allow the enterprise to scope testing criteria in respect to organizational priorities. Balanced management support prevents:

  • Loss of customers
  • Loss of competitive advantage
  • Loss of consumer trust
  • Reduced efficiency in deployment
  • Failures in regulatory compliance
  • Poorly integrated product development
  • Unrecouped business loss

Businesses operate within the two environments of external market pressures and internal organizational structure. Internal structure has a major bearing on enterprise standing within external markets. Stakeholder promotion of QA testing best ensures enterprise ROI and limits time/cost to market, as it encourages quick and dynamic deployment.

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