What is a Test Plan? Test Plan vs. Test Strategy (Ultimate Guide)
In software testing, a test plan is a must-have. A well-defined and comprehensive test plan provides all stakeholders involved with necessary information of the testing roadmap. Through it all members gain a shared vision for the testing approaches, strategies, objectives, resources, and timelines.
In this article, we will deep-dive into what a test plan is, why it is so important, and how to create a good test plan that truly improves the overall efficiency of your testing activities.
What is A Test Plan?
A test plan is a formal document that serves as a comprehensive and structured description of the testing activities and strategies that will be employed to check the quality of the software system under test. This document provides detailed information on the approach, methodology, scope, objectives, resources, timelines, and risks associated with the project.
The test planning process can be different depending on the methodology the team chose. For example, in Agile development, the test plan can be developed in smaller chunks during each separate iteration instead of at the very beginning of the entire project for other testing methodologies. This allows for better revision and adjustment of the test plan in case problems arise.
Importance of Having A Test Plan
Everyone benefits in one way or another from a good test plan.
Without a good test plan, QA managers risk having uncoordinated testing effort, leading to inefficient allocation of resources. Test plan is not a fixed, one-off document. The initial metrics and timelines written on it can totally be adjusted along the way by QA managers to optimize resource use.
Team members would still need a test plan to have clear goals and objectives to follow during the sprint. From a technical perspective, a test plan typically includes detailed information on the testing methodologies, techniques, and tools that will be used to conduct the testing. It also includes information on the test environment, including hardware, software, and network configurations, as well as any external dependencies or services required for testing.
For other stakeholders and the development team, the test plan is a crucial reference point, ensuring that everyone is aligned on the same vision. Information from the test plan can be used to keep track of the testing progress and make timely intervention in case a problem arises.
Another aspect of the test plan that many tend to gloss over: it identifies potential risks and issues that could impact the testing effort and outlines strategies and plans for mitigating these risks. Risk management boosts testing confidence, allowing teams to better prepare for unexpected scenarios.
Creating a test plan is a collaborative effort. The QA manager is usually the owner of the test plan, and it usually takes about 2 - 3 days to build and review a simple test plan, while complex test plans may take about
Key Components Of A Test Plan
A test plan is essentially a project management plan, which should always include the major components of a normal plan for project management purposes, including an overview, scope, methodology, resources, schedule, risks, and communication plan.
Of course, a test plan should go beyond that and also include information that would be beneficial to the testing process. Here are 8 crucial items that should be included in a good test plan:
- Objectives: define what the testing team aims to achieve. These objectives should follow the SMART rules: Specific - Measurable - Attainable - Relevant - Time Bound. The objectives should also cover various aspects of the software: functionality, performance, usability, security, and compatibility. Usually functionality is the most important factor, but it does not mean that we should ignore other aspects.
- Approach: test approach is a high-level overview of how the testing will be conducted, including the types of tests that will be executed and the testing methodology that will be followed. This section also covers the testing techniques, tools, and success metrics.
- Scope: scope is the extent and boundaries of the testing activities that will be performed. Scope is developed from the objectives, and in several cases teams can even exclude the areas that will not be covered to optimize resource allocation
- Test Deliverables: in this section, the documentation and artifacts that will be created during the testing process will be outlined. Knowing the deliverables is also knowing what to prepare. If the QA team has a test artifact management system in place, they can leverage the existing infrastructure to speed up the testing process instead of creating everything from scratch. We should also specify the format, frequency, and distribution of the test deliverables.
- Dependencies: with the Shift Left Testing movement, testing happens in parallel with development. If certain modules are not fully developed to be used in testing, QA teams need to prepare the mock modules for substitution. Dependency mapping leads to better project outcomes, so we recommend adopting this in your test planning.
- Test Environment: based on the test deliverables, QA teams plan out how they should set up the hardware-software-network configuration to conduct their testing. They also discuss if they should test in a local or remote environment, and prepare the resources accordingly.
- Risk Management: what contingency plan should be in place to substitute for a missing deliverable or a sudden change in resource? This is when the dependency mapping comes in handy. Knowing what influences what allows QA managers to know exactly what to adjust, and if the team is comfortable with such a change
- Schedule: the project timeline may depend on whether the team chose manual or automation testing. Manual testing may work for small-scale, simple testing projects, but for large-scale projects with highly repetitive test cases, teams must adopt automation testing to speed up testing, increase test coverage, reduce human errors, and ensure test reliability.
- Roles and Responsibilities: This section is where we assign tasks to the right person with the right expertise. We can always go one step further and describe the communication channels and protocols that will be used to facilitate collaboration and communication among the testing members.
Having these items in a test plan makes it a "good" test plan and not just a normal test plan. It ensures that the testing effort is comprehensive, organized, focused on achieving the desired outcomes while minimizing the risks and challenges associated with testing. It also facilitates collaboration and communication among the testing team members, and it enables stakeholders to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the testing process.
How To Create a Test Plan?
Before creating a test plan, make sure that you have involved all the necessary stakeholders. The QAs should not be the only one doing this. Developers should provide technical input on the system architecture, software design, and coding standards to inform the testing approach. Similarly, the business analyst and domain-specific experts might also need to be involved to provide insights from the business side. Cross-team effort in the test planning should be encouraged.
After that, we can start test planning, which consists of 9 steps:
1. Product Analysis
This is the preliminary stage when everyone gathers to develop a deep understanding of the product under test, most importantly its underlying architecture. Along the development roadmap, when testers have gained a firm understanding of the product, this stage gradually turns from product analysis to a review session of previous testing efforts.
Testers typically begin by reviewing the product specifications, documentation, and any other relevant information that is available to identify the features and functions of the product that need to be tested. Also, make sure to identify any dependencies or external systems that the product interacts with, since bugs may arise due to miscommunication between these modules.
Ask your stakeholders:
- What are the primary objectives of the product?
- Who is the target audience for the product?
- What are the key features of the product that are most important to the customer?
- What are the potential risks or challenges associated with the product?
- What are the critical quality attributes or performance metrics that the product must meet?
2. Determine Testing Objective
Based on the information gathered from the Product Analysis session, the QA manager starts to develop a Test Strategy document, which is a higher-level plan that outlines the project objectives. Usually it details the types of testing to be conducted so teams can prepare resources as well as technology to better meet these objectives.
These objectives are not set in stone. Keep in mind that you can always shift your test objectives. However, at the earlier stages, a priority value should be assigned to each objective, so that teams know which objectives should be accomplished first. Usually those would be objectives with many dependencies. Over time, in face of requirement changes and evolving needs, teams may need to deprioritize certain objectives, and the test plan will be where we keep track of those changes.
Another important aspect of defining test objectives is the entry and exit criteria. Essentially they are sets of conditions that must be met to begin and end a particular phase of software development and testing.
Several entry criteria to consider:
- The completion of development and unit testing
- Availability of necessary test data and test environment
- Signed-off requirements and test plans
- Test scripts and test cases prepared and reviewed
- Test automation infrastructure ready
- Configuration management completed
Several exit criteria to consider:
- All critical defects have been resolved and retested
- All test cases have been executed and passed
- All performance targets have been met
- Acceptance criteria have been met and signed off
- System is ready for production deployment
- Test summary report has been prepared and reviewed
At its core, defining entry and exit criteria is defining the scope of your test plan. These criteria are usually defined and agreed upon from the get-go so teams have a clear idea of where they are supposed to be heading.
Sometimes teams may even need to define a suspension criteria i.e. when should teams stop testing entirely and send the code back to the dev team to troubleshoot. This happens when there are too many bugs that it becomes counterproductive to test. To avoid this, teams usually conduct sanity checks beforehand (which are basically small-scale testing to gauge the overall quality of the code) so that they don’t waste resources doing unnecessary tests on a broken build.
3. Identify Test Scenarios Based On The Outlined Testing Objectives
This is when we get into the granularity and the specifics. Based on all of the information outlined before, the QA team members can now start brainstorming test scenarios. Think about how users interact with your system.
Let's say that the testing team is working on testing a new e-commerce website that allows users to purchase products online. The team has the following business logic, requirements, and test objectives:
- Users can search for products by category, name, or brand.
- Users can add products to their shopping cart and checkout.
- Users can make payments using different payment methods.
- The search feature must be accurate and fast.
- The shopping cart and checkout must display accurate pricing information.
- The payment process must be reliable and secured
- Verify the accuracy and speed of the search feature.
- Verify the accuracy of the pricing information in the shopping cart and in checkout
- Verify the security and ease of use of the payment process.
The testing team can brainstorm test scenarios based on the business logic, requirements, and test objectives. Here are some examples:
Scenario 1: Search by category
Objective: Verify the accuracy and speed of the search features
Test Steps: Search for products by category, such as electronics, apparel, or home goods. Verify that the search results are accurate and displayed quickly.
Scenario 2: Add products to shopping cart
Objective: Verify the accuracy of the pricing information in the shopping cart
Test Steps: Add one or more products to the shopping cart. Verify that the pricing information is accurate and reflects any discounts or promotions.
Scenario 3: Checkout process
Objective: Verify the security and ease of use of the checkout process.
Test Steps: Navigate through the checkout process, including entering shipping and billing information, selecting a shipping method, and reviewing the order summary. Verify that the process is secure, easy to use, and free of errors.
Scenario 4: Payment process
Objective: Verify the reliability and error-free operation of the payment process.
Test Steps: Choose a payment method, such as credit card, PayPal, or Apple Pay. Enter payment information and complete the payment process. Verify that the payment is processed correctly and that no errors occur.
Note that the examples above are must-haves, and QA teams must brainstorm even more scenarios depending on the specific design and context of the application under test. For example, a product that allows recording and voice search may require testing for the integration and interaction with external devices.
Another interesting question to be raised is “What defines a feature work or not work?”. To have a clear-cut plan, you need to include assertions, which are conditions that a detected bug is truly a bug. Here is a quick list of 10 assertions that you can use:
- Equality assertion: verifies that two values are equal or not equal.
- Null assertion: verifies that a value is null or not null.
- True/false assertion: verifies that a value is true or false.
- Greater than/less than assertion: verifies that a value is greater than or less than another value.
- Range assertion: verifies that a value falls within a specified range.
- Length assertion: verifies the length of a string or array.
- Type assertion: verifies the data type of a value.
- Exception assertion: verifies that a specific exception is thrown.
- Performance assertion: verifies the performance of a system under specific conditions.
- State assertion: verifies the state of an object or system at a particular point in time.
You should always categorize which tests should be performed manually or automatically.
4. Resource Planning
With all of the important items listed out, both teams have a clear idea of what will be tested. The QA manager can now work on resource planning. Usually the following resources should be available.
- Testing tools
- Training materials
- Testing environment
- Communication and collaboration tools
The important element in resource planning is the testing tool. Not just a normal automation testing tool that allows you to create and execute tests. For the most value, you would want an automation testing platform that encompasses test planning, creation, execution, management, environment setup, and test reporting - for all of your testing types, in 1 place.
The content of a test case will be organized into different folders. This simplifies test planning when all of the test artifacts are displayed in 1 place, allowing your team to have a comprehensive, intuitive, and hierarchical view, no matter what testing stage you are in.
Object Repository is Katalon's centralized location for storing and managing your UI elements and properties such as buttons or text fields. They can be captured with Object Spy or while recording a test.
Deciding how to execute your tests is also easier. Instead of planning for investments into physical machines to run different types of tests, or considering local/remote execution, with Katalon, you’re just a command-line away from running Katalon tests in parallel with other automated test suites on:
- Web and mobile browsers: the latest version of Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Microsoft Edge/IE mode
- Mobile devices: the latest version of Android & iOS
- CI pipelines: Jenkins, CircleCI, Bitbucket, AWS CodePipeline, etc.
- Docker containers
For test planning specifically, Katalon and Jira integration helps you report, track, and manage defects. Testers can filter tickets, find root causes with linked requirements, and view defect trends to streamline the tracking process and improve day-to-day jobs.
Not just test planning, with the Katalon Platform, teams can script and debug automation tests, build their own keywords library or record test steps from UI interactions. With record-and-playback, Katalon allows testers to auto-capture test objects, properties, and locators for faster test authoring.
For those who have coding expertise and are looking for customization, Katalon has a full-code scripting interface in Java/Groovy. Code-support features, including syntax highlighting, code suggestion, and debugging are also available.
5. Define Test Deliverables
Test deliverables are the artifacts that are produced during the testing process and that provide evidence of the testing activities that were performed. These deliverables may vary depending on the type of testing being conducted and the specific requirements of the project. Examples of test deliverables include:
- Test Cases
- Test Scripts
- Test Results
- Test Summary Report
- Defect Reports
- Traceability Matrix
- Test Environment
- User Acceptance Report
6. Define Test Schedule
After that, based on the list of deliverables, you can start thinking about the test schedule. Estimate the approximate time it takes for each stage of the testing activities based on their complexity, their dependencies, resources required, and many other factors.
Set milestones along the way. They are the signals and temporary checkpoints to tell you and your team where your team is heading. Have clear delivery dates.
If you notice, we are essentially following the SMART rules. Sticking to the 5 letters of the SMART rules and you should have a well-defined test plan.
7. Review And Finalize
This is the final QA step for your QA plan. Review the items you laid out. Ask yourself several questions to check your previous decisions:
- Have we included all the key requirements and features that need to be tested?
- What are the potential risks that could affect the testing process, and have we included strategies to mitigate them in the test plan?
- Is the test environment fully prepared and available for testing? Have we checked that it meets the requirements outlined in the test plan?
- Have we allocated the necessary resources for the testing activities, such as personnel and tools?
- Is the testing schedule feasible and does it align with the overall project timeline?
Once it’s all good, you have a clear test plan ready to be used.
How To Make Adjustments In A Test Plan?
- Identify the reason for the adjustment: What has changed that requires an adjustment to the test plan? How will the adjustment affect the overall project goals and objectives?
- Evaluate the impact of the adjustment: What are the potential risks and challenges associated with the adjustment? How will the adjustment affect the schedule, budget, or other project resources?
- Update the affected sections of the test plan: Be aware of the dependencies in the test plan: 1 change can always influence another part.
- Review and approve the changes with relevant stakeholders: encourage transparency in your team. A team-wide email should be good enough, but for more drastic changes, you may want a meeting to communicate more thoroughly
Test Plan vs Test Strategy: Key Differences
Simply put, both the Test Plan and Test Strategy are essential documents in the testing process, but they serve different purposes and address different levels of detail. The Test Plan focuses on the specifics of testing for a particular project, while the Test Strategy sets the overarching approach and principles for testing across projects or the entire organization.
You can have a look at the table below to better understand the differences between the two
A Test Plan outlines the approach, scope, objectives, resources, and schedule for testing a specific project or product.
A Test Strategy defines the high-level approach to testing for an organization or a project, guiding the overall testing process.
Focuses on the details of how testing will be carried out for a specific project.
Encompasses a broader perspective, outlining principles, objectives, and methods to achieve consistent testing across projects.
Provides a detailed roadmap for the testing activities, including what, when, and how to test.
Sets the direction for testing efforts, aligning them with the organization's goals and helping in making important testing decisions.
Primarily for the project team, including testers, developers, managers, and stakeholders.
Aimed at management, project leads, and high-level stakeholders involved in decision-making for testing strategies.
Includes test scope, objectives, resources, schedule, test environment, test cases, entry/exit criteria, risks, and deliverables.
Covers testing approach, testing types (functional, performance, security, etc.), tools, defect management, risk assessment, and overall process.
Level of Detail
Provides a detailed breakdown of test activities, including specific test cases, procedures, and schedules.
Offers a broader overview of the testing approach, principles, and guidelines, rather than focusing on specific details.
Typically created for a specific project phase or release.
Generally applies to multiple projects or the entire organization and is less time-bound.
More rigid and specific to the project, allowing less flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances.
Offers more flexibility in adapting to various project needs, as it doesn't delve into specifics.
Based on the broader guidelines outlined in the Test Strategy.
Driven by the organization's policies, best practices, and project-specific requirements.
Essential for aligning the project team and stakeholders on the testing approach and execution.
Ensures that testing efforts are aligned with the overall organizational goals and standards.
Revision and Updates
Needs to be updated more frequently, especially with changes in project scope or requirements.
Changes less frequently and provides a stable framework for testing efforts across multiple projects.
Example Use Case
Creating a detailed plan for testing a specific software release or product update.
Establishing guidelines for how various types of testing (functional, performance, etc.) will be conducted within the organization.
Read More: How To Write Test Strategy?