Test plan vs Test design: What's the difference?

Many aspects of software development and release have become significantly more complex recently. As a result, there are a number of terms that organizations may not fully understand, especially in their relation to agile practices. Agile testing methodologies involve critical processes that may sound similar but serve different essential functions. In particular, there is some confusion about what test plans and test design are as well as how they are demarcated in software development. Today we'll define test plans and test design and identify the differences between the two.

Test plan

A test plan often describes a document that identifies the quality assurance team's projects schedule as well as various tasks that they will be taking on. According to Software Testing Help, this deliverable often includes all activities in the project as well as defines the scope, roles, risks, entry and exit criteria, test objectives and more. A test plan can also include a test strategy, which outlines the testing approach, and gives generic details for teams to follow. While a test plan gives specific responsibilities to team members, the test strategy ensures that anyone is able to execute the tests, aligning with agile practices.

It's important to note that setting up the test environment is also part of test planning. According to InformIT contributor Elfriede Dustin, installing hardware, software and network resources, integrating testing assets, refining test databases and creating test bed scripts will all be a part of this phase. In this way, organizations will be sure that they have the tools on hand to support the test environment and create quality projects.

Test design

The test design revolves around tests themselves, including how many will need to be performed, the test conditions and ways that testing will be approached. According to the ISTQB blog, test design also involves creating and writing test suites for testing a software, but will require specificity and detailed input. After choosing the input value, QA teams can then determine what the expected result would be and document it as part of the test case. Doing so will help give qualifications for passing and failing tests, allowing QA to quickly mitigate errors and refine their projects to achieve overarching goals.

"Much like a software development effort, the test program must be mapped out and consciously designed to ensure that test activities performed represent the most efficient and effective tests for the system under test," Dustin wrote. "Test program resources are limited, yet ways of testing the system are endless. A test design is developed to portray the test effort, in order to give project and test personnel a mental framework on the boundary and scope of the test program."

Although there are a number of terms to understand in software development, test planning and test design are two critical assets that must be fully utilized. By leveraging an enterprise test management tool, organizations can enact their test design, prioritize their test cases and collaborate effectively.

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