The Pros and Cons of Using Excel for Test Management

  March 08, 2016

One of the biggest challenges of implementing most test management tools into an agile environment is that they are rarely customizable.

Instead of meeting the needs of the users or ensuring that the tool can change to fit in with existing processes, most tools force teams to change their processes and adapt their behavior to make the tools work for them.

SmartBear’s QAComplete test management platform addresses these challenges by providing a number of critical features that allow teams to plan, organize, and schedule all of the tests associated with your release.

But if you haven’t made the switch to a test management tool, or aren’t ready to adopt a tool, you may still be using Excel to manage tests.

Is Excel the right solution for your team? Let’s start by looking at some of the benefits of using Excel for test management:

No training curve and limited auditing

Any tester can get started with using Excel for test management purposes. The learning curve is really low and as a result, it requires less time commitment from a resource perspective. On the flipside, it provides a good mechanism to hide mistakes. Not tracking changes means that people can easily hide missteps without concern of being audited. For some teams, the lack of accountability of Excel could be a major benefit.

Integrating with MySQL

Excel can work well with backend database systems such as MySQL. As a result it can come in handy for pulling in your test results and in turn, reporting on them. Add to that the fact Excel is operating system independent; hence these functionalities can be leveraged across multiple operating systems.

Use of macros

Team members that know how to code can take the steps to the next level by writing a VBA code and further limit any manual intervention that occurs while collecting different test results such as number of tests run, priority of test, who ran the test, and when those tests were run.

Basic reporting

It is quick and easy to create basic reporting templates in Excel. Bug count by severity and requirement, along with tests executed over the past few days are examples of reports that can be easily built in Excel using a PivotChart. Add to that, different excel reporting add-on is available to create reports and dashboards.

The limitations of Excel

While there are a number of reasons why people choose to manage tests within Excel in an agile environment, there are also a number of significant downsides that teams have come to accept while using Excel spreadsheets.

Integrating with test automation frameworks

Working in an agile environment typically means that you are automating a majority of your testing processes.  A test automation pyramid is often followed to create a solid test automation strategy in an agile environment. The pyramid focuses on creating more unit tests, followed by API tests, and then fewer UI tests.  The pyramid in turn looks something like this:

Test Automation Pyramid

The successful implementation of a test automation pyramid requires integrating your test management tool with automated tests created through free open source API and GUI testing tools such as SOAPUI and Selenium, or commercial tools such as TestComplete. While this can be done through Excel by writing VBA code, it traditionally comes with added maintenance costs. Add to that, the fact that most of these integrations are available at no extra cost with test management tools such as QAComplete.

Creating test sets

Creating test sets containing both manual and automated tests involves a lot of copy and paste in Excel. This can be a time consuming and tedious process. A test management tool, such as QAComplete, can make this process frictionless by helping you build different test libraries by a single drag and drop. As a result, testers can create different test sets, while utilizing the same test cases.

Tracking changes to the test cases

An inability to track changes to tests in Excel can limit accountability. As a result, for many organizations, not being able to keep track past tests can be extremely limiting as they scale their testing process.

One of the biggest benefits of using a test management tool such as QAComplete comes from the fact that it gives managers the ability to track the changes made to the test. In fact, the manager can see who made the changes, when those changes were made, and, if necessary, revert those changes back.

When a test goes haywire, having the ability to revert back to a previous version will be incredibly valuable.

Visualizing your test data

One of the crucial ways that a test management tool, like QAComplete, is different from Excel is the fact that it can tie into existing systems. Integrations with defect and requirement systems such as JIRA are available out of the box.

What this means is your test management tools acts as a single source of information which may be in disparate systems. This ensures that you have optimal coverage, which is essential when conducting ongoing tests.

Implementing a robust test management strategy

For some teams, Excel offers enough functionality to act as a short term test management solution. But as your tests get increasingly complicated and you look to expand on the work that you’re doing, you may need to go beyond the basic spreadsheets offered in Excel.

In our newest eBook, Test Management in an Agile World: Implementing a Robust Test Management Strategy in Excel and Beyond, we look at how teams can move beyond Excel to build a test management program that works in an Agile world.

Get your copy today!