Testing is an important part of the software development life cycle because it allows teams to identify and address errors before a product reaches the end user. A test plan can help guide a team through the testing process, clarify the purpose of the software and create criteria they can use to measure its effectiveness. Writing a detailed test plan can simplify the testing process, providing you with a general template for future projects. In this article, we define test plans, explain their importance and outline how to write a test plan for your organization.
What is a test plan?
A test plan is a comprehensive document that describes the strategy a team uses to assess a software product before the company releases it to the public. The plan often outlines the general process for evaluating the software, including the testing objectives, strategies, criteria and deliverables. It can also provide a team with instructions about the best way to evaluate a product or feature.
A test plan writer's primary goal is typically to help their team discover and address errors in the software. The test plan may also detail the resources and personnel necessary for the testing process. By creating a detailed test plan, your team can gain a better understanding of which parts of the software to test and how to test those features conclusively.
Why are test plans important?
Test plans are important because they:
- Describe the scope of the test, which can help teams focus on testing specific features
- Explain the tools and resources that teams need to gather before initiating testing
- Provide transparency with company leadership or clients, giving them deeper insight into the testing process
- Determine how long testing may take, which can help the team create a schedule to track their progress
- Define each team member's role and responsibilities
- Ensure the final software product meets necessary requirements and achieves the desired results
How to write a test plan
Here's a list of steps that you can follow to write an effective test plan for your company:
1. Research and analyze the software
Before you create a test plan, take some time to study the software and research the type of people most likely to use it. This can reveal how the end user plans to interact with the product, which may help you determine the functionalities the team needs to test. It's also helpful to consider the client's expectations and requirements for the end product so that you can include those specifications in the test plan.
2. Design a test strategy
A test strategy details the testing objectives, ways to achieve those goals and the overall cost associated with testing. In this step, it's helpful to identify which type of testing suits the product or feature your team plans to assess to ensure you're evaluating the correct components. There are many types of testing in software development, including unit, system and Agile testing methods. While each type of test assesses different components of the software, they all seek to identify and address programming issues before the software reaches the end user.
3. Explain the objectives
In this section of your test plan, you can define the overall goal, or testing scope, of the testing method your team plans to use. You can also identify which components of the software the team intends to test to meet that goal.
Test plan writers often refer to the features of the software designated for testing as "in scope." In contrast, they may refer to any component a plan writer decides not to test as "out of scope." By communicating the testing scope, your team can focus on evaluating key features, which can facilitate the testing process.
4. Outline test criteria
The test criteria serve as the standard by which to evaluate the testing results. There are two main methods you may use to determine the criteria for your test: suspension criteria or exit criteria. With suspension criteria, you can set a standard for when your team suspends testing. For example, if you're testing a video game and you set the value of your suspension criteria at 50%, then your team plans to suspend testing if 50% of the video game's components fail.
In comparison, your team can use exit criteria to identify the standard for the successful completion of test phases. For example, you may set a 95% accuracy standard, which means your team plans to stop testing when the software functions with 95% accuracy.
5. Plan a test environment
The test environment includes both the hardware and software that teams use to conduct tests. To plan your test environment, you can identify the test equipment that's currently available and the tools your team may need to acquire before the testing process begins.
In this phase, it's helpful to discuss the software with the development team to learn more about it and how to test it. Consider speaking with the software developers or engineers directly, rather than over the phone or via email. This can ensure you understand the physical requirements the software needs to meet in order for the end user to operate it successfully.
6. Create a schedule
In this part of your test plan, you can divide the testing into individual tasks and estimate how much time team members may take to complete each task. When creating a schedule, consider factors such as employee schedules, project deadlines and anticipated risks to make sure you're setting reasonable expectations. This step can help your company's leadership team monitor the testing progress, allocate necessary resources and keep costs within the projected budget.
7. Identify deliverables
Test deliverables refer to the documents that teams create before, during and after testing. For example, the test plan is a document that you can write before testing to help your team understand the scope and criteria of the test.
During testing, your team may draft a test script and gather test data to evaluate the components outlined in the test plan. After testing, teams typically create a document detailing the test results for managers, clients or stakeholders to review. In this step, you can determine the data you intend to collect and the way you plan to compile it.