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The Best Laid Test Plans


The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book, Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester, which aims to provide responses to common questions and statements about testing from a context-driven perspective.

It's being edited by Lee Hawkins who is posing questions on Twitter,  LinkedIn, Mastodon, Slack, and the AST mailing list and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory.

I've decided to contribute by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be.

Perhaps you'd like to join me?

 --00--

"What's the best format for a test plan?"

I'll side-step the conversation about what a test plan is and just say that the format you should use is one that works for you, your colleagues, and the context you're in right now. 

You might consider factors such as ...

If you work closely with a knowledgeable and self-motivated crew, it might be a simple bullet list of test ideas or a handful of sticky notes on a board.

If you're in a highly-regulated industry it might be some heavily-templated and standardised document that forces you to include all of the information necessary to comply with internal, regulatory, and statutory requirements.

If you know the system under test well your plan might be well-populated before you start, but if you don't then it might be sparse and higher-level with more open-ended and exploratory tasks.

If you want to revise the plan as you go (the best laid plans...) then a format which permits editing, perhaps with some kind of audit trail or history, might suit your need. 

If you need the plan to also show status over time, a mindmap can be an interesting approach.

If there is a pre-existing convention for plans in your workplace, and it's widely used with reasonable outcomes, you might decide to stick to it, at least to begin with.

If there is familiar tooling that you can exploit — and consider familiarity to yourself and anyone else who will be a user or consumer of the plan — then you might prefer to do that.

If you don't have much time, choose a lightweight format to begin with but be prepared to revise it if things get complicated.

If the plan is likely to persist over time, consider a format that will support it. This probably includes at least more context-setting, links to related materials, storage in a standard location and so on.

If it's politically advantageous to document your plan in a particular way, then be prepared to consider it. But also be wary of getting involved in politics.

Finally, if you are dogmatic about the indisputable best format for a test plan, then you should probably get over yourself.

--00--

The team I am on were approaching the first release to production of a new service. We got together to discuss the kinds of testing that we thought we might want to do using a Miro board containing a sketch of the architecture of our service and the infrastructure it was going to fit into.

The outcome was a board that listed the risks we could think of, priortised them, sketched some ways we could investigate them, and partitioned them into those we wanted to cover now and those that could wait for later.

This felt like planning so probably we can regard the Miro board as a plan.

However, we needed to document our testing in Jira for compliance reasons so I made a Jira ticket for each of the investigations we'd said we wanted and added them to our team board, grouped into a "release testing" epic. Perhaps we could also call that epic a plan?

The tickets were then picked up as usual by anyone on the team who had capactity. Our progress through these tasks was visible in all the usual tooling. This is a view of the plan, and so is also a format of the plan.

Our findings were recorded in the tickets too, with links to any detailed test notes. The test notes contained tactical details of the testing done which always included a mission and sometimes a list of test ideas, or questions to ask. Arguably this exposes low-granularity planning. Does that make the notes also test plans?

All of those "plans" were useful to us and others in different ways at different times but I would be very reluctant to say any of them was best.

--00--

If this was interesting for you, and you'd like some more, I wrote in much more detail about the ideal test plan a couple of years ago.
Image: Ricky Kharawala on Unsplash

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