The BEST Laid Plans

The Best Laid PlansHere’s a fresh question from the ManageToTest Mailbag!

Hey Mr. ManageToTest,  do you happen to have any standards or guides around Quality Control Test Plans?  We have a few different QC groups doing things slightly different ways….no formal documentation on which way is the “best” way, or best practices around how to write a test plan.

First off, there’s no “best” way to write a test plan.  Depending on the context, there will be more effective methods.  Also, you probably need to define what you mean by a test plan, and what it is you want to accomplish with it as the definitions and needs vary between contexts.

That being said, I can provide some examples of test planning based on my experience:

The first is the IEEE model which is fairly common within command and control environments or where such documentation is required by regulation or policy.

I find this method to be wasteful and often redundant.  Such plans are written and then never referred to again, and as projects change, these documents are rarely updated so they present an inaccurate record of what was actually done.

A search on your company’s document repository will probably yield several examples of such a document or template, so if you really want to use this style you probably already have it in practice somewhere in your organization.

In many cases, a checklist of capabilities and areas to test are appropriate.  This is an excellent way to lay the groundwork for a testing session or the creation of a set of test cases.  It is complementary to discussions of user stories when eliciting acceptance tests and during delivery story discussion when eliciting tasks and estimation of work.  Here’s a great article from James Whitaker (Director of Testing at Google) where he describes a method of creating and organizing such a plan.

Another method is Session Based Test Management (SBTM) created by James Bach.   A Charter is written that describes the goal of the testing session.  A list of Charters defines the overall plan for the testing effort (and some predictive value based on the number of charters).  Note that this method is a hybrid of a test plan and test cases.  The act of engaging in the testing session produces the test cases on-the-fly resulting in a record of what was actually tested.  The Charters completed represents your test coverage.

Any one of these ways may be effective in a particular context, or perhaps a combination of things from each of them would suit better.  And there are certainly other ways of generating and presenting test plans.  Again, I would stress that no method is the “best” across all contexts.

  1. #1 by Lisa Crispin on November 10, 2011 - 12:33 pm

    Nice overview. I’d include mind maps as a good way to do test plans. Darren McMillan has a couple of great blog posts on that, including

  2. #2 by Alex Kell on November 10, 2011 - 12:38 pm

    Excellent, thanks! I’ve tried my hand at mind-mapping several times (for all manner of topics) and I always seem to drift away from it. Not sure why.

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