Test Planning: A Comprehensive Guide for Success

A comprehensive test plan is the cornerstone of successful software testing, serving as a strategic document guiding the testing team throughout the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC).

A comprehensive test plan is the cornerstone of successful software testing, serving as a strategic document guiding the testing team throughout the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC).

A test plan document is a record of the test planning process that describes the scope, approach, resources, and schedule of intended test activities.

Key components of a test plan

Components of a test plan include: 

  1. Scope
    • Defines the boundaries of the testing endeavor
    • Specifies the subject of the test
    • Specifies any features or functionalities to be tested
  1. Out of Scope
    • Describes the features/functionalities that are purposefully left out of the testing effort
    • Defines what is not being tested
  1. Timeline
    • Sets expectations for testing completion
    • Outlines the timetable for each testing phase, including milestones and deliverables
  1. Resource Allocation/Roles and Responsibilities
    • Describes the roles and responsibilities of team members involved in the testing effort
    • Defines resource allocation for each testing phase
  1. Tools
    • Describe the testing tools to be used (test management tools, automation tools, CI/CD tools…etc.)
  1. Environment
    • Defines the criteria for the test environment
    • Describes the hardware, software, and network configurations that make up the test environment
  1. Deliverables
    • Describes what you expect to come out of each testing phase (such as test reports, test results, and other relevant documents)
  1. Exit Criteria
    • Defines the criteria for finishing each testing phase
    • Defines the criteria for accepting or rejecting the system under test
  1. Defect Management
    • Describes how to report, track, and manage bugs found during testing
    • Defines the severity levels of the bugs and how to fix them

Six steps to creating a test plan

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1. Define the release scope

Clearly outline the boundaries of the testing effort by defining the scope of the release. This involves identifying the features and functionalities that will be included in the testing process.

Tasks to address include: 

  • Specify the modules or components to be tested
  • Identify any excluded features (out of scope) and reasons for exclusion
  • Collaborate with stakeholders to ensure a shared understanding of the release scope

2. Schedule timelines

Establish a timeline for the testing process to ensure that testing activities align with the overall project schedule.

Tasks to address include: 

  • Set milestones and deadlines for each testing phase
  • Consider dependencies on development activities and adjust timelines accordingly
  • Communicate the testing schedule to all relevant team members

3. Define test objectives

Clearly articulate the test objectives or goals and objectives of the testing effort to align it with the overall project goals.

Tasks to address include: 

  • Specify functional and non-functional testing objectives
  • Align test objectives with business requirements and user expectations
  • Ensure that test objectives contribute to the overall quality of the software

4. Determine test deliverables

Identify the documentation and reports that will be produced as part of the testing process.

Tasks to address include: 

  • List expected deliverables for each testing phase (e.g., test plans, test cases, test reports)
  • Define the format and structure of each deliverable
  • Clarify the audience for each deliverable and the purpose it serves

5. Design the test strategy

Develop a high-level strategy that outlines how testing will be conducted, considering the testing approach and methodologies.

Tasks to address include: 

  • Define the testing levels (unit, integration, system, acceptance)
  • Specify testing types (functional/ non-functional testing, regression testing, performance testing)
  • Determine the use of manual and automated testing (if applicable)
  • Consider risk analysis and mitigation strategies
  • Consider approaches to test design

Test design approaches to consider

A test design approach is a systematic and strategic method used to create test cases and define testing conditions based on specific criteria. It outlines the way testing activities will be conducted to ensure comprehensive coverage of the software under test.

Test Design ApproachDescriptionConsiderations
Feature ListIdentifies and tests specific features of the softwareBuild a feature list and make the features into test cases. Sometimes called a traceability matrix, this can show holes in coverage and, sometimes, features that don’t need further work.
User Journey MapTests scenarios based on user interactions and experiencesInstead of listing features, consider the user behavior flow, from check-in to check-out. Some features that do not show up in any user journey might warrant less testing and less future development, especially if they are not popular in the logs.
Log MiningAnalyzes system logs to uncover potential issuesOrganize log entries by feature and sort to find the features with the heaviest use; focus test design time on those core features.
Exception ConditionsTests error handling and exceptional situations in the codeThese are tests for when things go wrong: The database is down, the website is declined, the API does not return for so long that the browser times out. Quick attacks can overlap with this category.
SFDIPOT (structure, function, data, interfaces, platform, operations, and time)Considers different aspects of test designOne possible exercise for test planning is to list these as nodes and then create sub-notes for the risks related to these elements of the software. 
Once complete, review that list of risks with the test plan to ensure they are covered. A large program may have one SFDIPOT diagram per major feature.
Heuristic Test StrategiesApplies various heuristic approaches for exploratory testingThis approach is a treasure trove of considerations for understanding testing mission, product goal, and quality objectives. Use it to develop new test approaches, and then review the plan to see if they are included.
Domain-Based TestingFocuses on testing within specific application domains. A domain approach recognizes the different potential conditions and tries to find relevant and powerful tests for as many conditions that make sense 
Domain testing requires a careful analysis of the requirements; decision tables are an example of domain-based testing. 
Simply put, when the requirements create a “wall of text” that implies more than a dozen test ideas, consider visualization as an intermediate step before finalizing the test plan.A decision tree creates a structured, visual foundation from which detailed test cases can derive.
RCRCRCEvaluates code quality and readability for testingThis mnemonic is: Readability, complexity, relevance, consistency, robustness, and comprehensibility. 
Considering those elements can allow the team to find the highest priority areas for retesting, especially for regression.

6. Plan the test environment and test data

Ensure the testing environment is set up with the required hardware, software, and configurations. Plan for the necessary test data to simulate real-world scenarios.

Tasks to address include: 

  • Define the criteria for the test environment, including hardware specifications and software configurations
  • Ensure that the test environment mirrors the production environment
  • Plan for the creation and management of test data
  • Consider any tools or resources needed for test data generation and management
Each project in TestRail includes a dashboard dedicated to viewing and managing test data available for that project.

Image: Each project in TestRail includes a dashboard dedicated to viewing and managing test data available for that project.

These six steps to create a test plan establish a solid foundation for organized and effective testing, addressing key aspects of scope, timelines, objectives, deliverables, strategy, and the testing environment.

Agile test planning best practices

Agile test planning best practices

Iterative planning

  • Plan in short iterations or sprints
  • Adapt to changes and refine the plan iteratively

Prioritize user stories

  • Prioritize testing based on user stories
  • Align testing efforts with delivering value incrementally

Shift-left testing

  • Move testing activities earlier in the development phase
  • Emphasize collaboration for early defect detection

Automate regression testing

  • Implement automated regression testing
  • Ensure quick and reliable validation after code changes

Encourage collaboration

  • Foster collaboration among cross-functional team members
  • Promote a shared understanding of testing requirements

Continuous improvement

  • Regularly reflect on the testing process
  • Identify areas for improvement and refine practices

Tailoring to project requirements

  • Tailor testing to project requirements to recognize the diversity of projects and promote a flexible and adaptive testing approach. This results in more relevant and impactful testing efforts.

Key considerations when tailoring to project requirements :

Understand project dynamicsGain deep insights into the project’s size, complexity, and industry context. Understand how these factors impact testing strategies and overall project success.
Adapt test levels and typesAlign the selection of test levels and types with the criticality of different aspects within the project and adhere to industry-specific testing requirements.
Customize test design techniquesThoughtfully select test design techniques that are suitable for the project’s complexity and adaptable to changes, ensuring a robust and future-proof testing approach.
Optimize test environment setupTailor the test environment to replicate production conditions accurately. Consider hardware, software, and network configurations to ensure realistic and reliable testing scenarios.
Balance test coverage and efficiencyStrive for a balanced testing approach that combines comprehensive test coverage with efficiency. Prioritize critical areas while optimizing testing processes to ensure resource efficiency.
Customize documentation standardsAdjust documentation standards to meet the unique regulatory needs and project culture. Strike a balance between providing comprehensive documentation and maintaining agility in an evolving environment.

Utilizing advanced test strategies (with examples)

Advanced test strategies incorporate techniques to address specific challenges, improve efficiency, and enhance the overall quality of the testing process.

Advanced test strategies incorporate techniques to address specific challenges, improve efficiency, and enhance the overall quality of the testing process.

Shift-left testing

Shift-left testing is an approach that involves moving testing activities earlier in the software development lifecycle, typically to the development phase. It emphasizes collaboration between developers and testers, enabling early defect detection and faster feedback loops.

Shift-left strategies influence the way test plans are formulated. Test planning considers how testing activities can be integrated into early development stages, defining the types of tests to be conducted during coding and unit testing phases.

Collaboration between development and testing teams is emphasized in the test planning process ensuring that testing efforts align with the continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline.

Shift-right testing

Shift-right testing involves extending testing activities into the post-production phase, focusing on monitoring and feedback from real users. It aims to uncover issues that might only manifest in a live environment and gather insights for continuous improvement.

Test planning considers the implementation of shift-right testing strategies by outlining post-production testing activities. This includes planning for monitoring tools, feedback mechanisms, and strategies for capturing and analyzing real user data.

The test plan incorporates how the testing process will adapt to the continuous feedback received from the live environment, enabling quick responses to issues and continuous enhancement of the software.

 The shift-left and shift-right testing strategies complement each other by covering different phases of the software testing lifecycle. 

Examples of Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Deployment (CD) pipeline

Shift-Left:

  • Scenario: Developers write code and perform unit tests locally during the development phase.
  • Example: Unit tests are automated and run as part of the developer’s local build process, ensuring early detection of issues within the code.

Shift-Right:

  • Scenario: Real user data and feedback are collected after deployment to a staging environment.
  • Example: Real user interactions, performance metrics, and feedback from the staging environment are continuously monitored, providing insights into the application’s behavior in a realistic setting.

Incorporating DevOps principles into test planning

DevOps principles influence the integration of testing into the continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline. The test plan outlines how testing activities seamlessly fit into the DevOps workflow, ensuring that testing is integral to the development process.

Automation is a key component of DevOps, and the test plan details how test automation will be implemented to support continuous testing, allowing for quick feedback and rapid release cycles.

Examples of DevOps principles in test planning

Automation Integration:

  • Shift-left approach: To ensure early defect identification, include automated unit tests and integration tests as part of the development process.
  • Test planning example: Outline how automated testing will be seamlessly integrated into the CI/CD pipeline to enable continuous testing from development through deployment.

Continuous Integration (CI):

  • Shift-left approach example: Developers commit code changes to a shared repository, triggering automated builds and basic testing.

Test planning example: Define testing activities within the CI pipeline, including unit tests, integration tests, and code quality checks, to ensure early and rapid feedback.

Continuous Deployment (CD):

  • Shift-left approach example: Automated deployments to staging environments for further testing and validation.
  • Test planning example: Specify how testing activities extend into CD, ensuring comprehensive validation in production-like environments before actual deployment.
One-page test plan template and example

A test plan’s content and structure will differ depending on the context in which it is used. For instance, in agile development, the test plan might need to be changed often to keep up with changing goals. 

If you are using DevOps processes, the test plan may need to explain how testing will integrate with your development pipeline, what parts of your testing will be covered by existing automated tests, and what new tests you will try to automate during this test cycle.

The bottom line is that if your test plan doesn’t fit onto one page, don’t worry. The intention is to minimize extraneous information and capture the necessary information your stakeholders and testers need to execute the plan.

Test planning with a test case management tool like TestRail 

Test planning with a test case management tool like TestRail 

A test case management tool like TestRail supports QA teams in effective test planning:

Customizable test cases

In TestRail, you can reuse your test case templates across different projects and test suites and customize them to align with specific testing methodologies and project requirements. These capabilities make it a robust and adaptable testing tool for maintaining consistency, efficiency, and organization in the testing process.

When writing test cases in TestRail, there are four default templates you can customize:

  1. Test Case (Text): 
This flexible template allows users to describe the steps testers should take to test a given case more fluidly. 

Image: This Test Case (Text) template (one of four customizable templates) allows users to describe the steps testers should take to test a given case more fluidly.

Defect integrations

TestRail simplifies the process of linking defects tracked in your team’s chosen project management tool (Jira, GitHub, Azure DevOps, or another defect management system) to objects in TestRail like tests, test runs, plans, and milestones for full traceability and visibility into coverage.

If you’re using an issue-tracking tool integrated with TestRail, you can seamlessly populate and push new defects from TestRail to that tool without manual copying and pasting. This speeds up the reporting process and saves you time and enhances visibility for development and product teams, highlighting potential areas of risk in your application.

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Image: TestRail comes with ready-to-use defect plugins for popular tools and you can build your own plugins for custom tools or not yet supported third-party systems. 

Reporting

TestRail generates reports that aggregate different types of data to provide deep insights about your testing process. Automatically generating test summary reports saves your team hours and skips the manual work of gathering required information and entering it into tables. 

TestRail allows you to generate reports with the click of a button, regardless of the framework or programming language, and customize status reports based on the information you want to highlight.

Make data-driven decisions faster with test analytics and reports that give you the full picture of your quality operations.

Image: Make data-driven decisions faster with test analytics and reports that give you the full picture of your quality operations.

The level of visibility into your testing process that TestRail offers, makes it an easy fit into any organization’s test planning efforts — Try TestRail for free to see how it can help with your test planning!

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