Article | Test Plan Originality

Putting Value & Originality into Test Planning within Large Organisations

As a Leading Test consultancy, our first insight into a company’s testing approach is often via a Test Assessment. This process usually starts with a review of various test artefacts such as Test Plans and Closure Reports.

After many years of doing these reviews AheadMG has increasingly seen the absence of much value or originality in companies’ testing plans, especially in large organisations.

For AheadMG, the value is achieved when a Test Plan can demonstrate to the reader, that the author has really understood the test requirements and, in turn, come up with a test approach which ensures the solution is tested in the most optimal way possible. Every project is unique, therefore the test approach should also be unique.

As the Test Plan is the blueprint for how testing will be conducted, without improvements in this key artefact, projects are more likely to experience the usual predictable outcomes (late delivery, poor user outcomes, high project costs).

Large organisations seem especially prone to poor Test Plans. This is due to a number of factors including:

  • An enforced boiler-plate Test Plan template, which is full of copied down text which prompts little imagination, while still conforming to an internal standard
  • Constant change in test resources, usually third party resource (flexing up/down with the client demands)
  • Lack of experience or understanding of the domain/application under test (influenced by bullet above)
  • Large volume of projects, placing pressure to ‘churn out’ Test Plans
  • Concern around costs resulting in projects scaling back on available Test planning time
  • Test being seen as a task rather than a key part of the delivery

The following examples illustrate the factors above:

Organisation 1 utilised a common template for Test Planning, but on comparing and contrasting three separate Test Plans from different projects, over 60% of the text was the same (i.e. taken from the template). Potentially there were a couple of pieces of good original thought in the remaining 40%, but it’s hard to extract these when your mind is on autopilot having read what seems like the same Test Plan content on another project 2 weeks ago.

Organisation 2 took the contrasting approach of providing AheadMG with a 120 page Test Plan to review. The size and complexity of the document resulted in an inflated number of hours required to understand the intention and requirements of the Test Plan.

Test professionals should spare a thought for the business community who may have to review 10s of Test plans every quarter.

Maybe Industry standards also play a part here? While AheadMG aligns and believes passionately about recognised standards, adding verbatim, all the required sections of the standards into a bland template may distract from the original aim of the standard – i.e. promoting better tested software.

Sections filled with definitions of test terms (which are the same for every project) distract from real creativity and insight for optimal test approaches.

Achieving Test Planning Value

Reversing this trend will take time and effort, but if successful, organisations will be rewarded with enhanced project outcomes while the Tests Practices will be rewarded with an increase in their perceived stock value.

To improves Test planning, AheadMG recommend a focus on these areas;

The Template

Any standard content within a Test Plan Template should, where appropriate, be lifted out and documented in a central location, which the Test Plan then references. Placing this generic information in the same repository as artefacts such as the Corporate Test Strategy, Standards, Defect Management Approach will provide a one stop shop for individuals keen to find out more.

Ultimately removing repetitive content from the Test Plan frees up space and pushes the author to fill the template with meaningful and fresh content.

Add images and diagrams to explain key parts of the approach. Often a supplementary ppt. is required to brief Stakeholders on the Test approach. Why not design this pack, so key slides can be lifted directly into the test plan?

Add a QA lens up front into the Test Plan. This needs to be handled delicately, but being able to demonstrate understanding of the wider context of the project, such as business drivers which influence risk or quality of project artefacts such as requirement structure will drive out discussions and add credibility to the overall test planning.

Ultimately, when completing any Template, the author should have a keen eye on outcomes, rather than blindly following a process.

The People

Introducing originality to a Test Plan may not come naturally to all Testers, but the bar should be set high. Leaders should coach and support individuals to deliver richer content, ensuring additional help is sought by skills available in the wider project such as Business or Technical Architects or application SMEs.

If the outcome doesn’t change, maybe a more holistic change is required in the composition of the Test team. For example, AheadMG advocates small, higher performing individuals, over a team comprising largely of mediocre test talent.

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is another supplementary method that can be applied in this domain to provide clarity on what is holding testing plans back from achieving better outcomes.

In summary, Test Planning is one of the most important roles of a test professional. Delivered with the right focus and originality these artefacts will increase engagement not to mention Test efficiency and effectiveness, laying solid foundations for the test delivery phases. In contrast, relying on stock text and copying down previous content and approaches diminish the value of the process.

How can we assist?

AheadMG has considerable experience testing in complex and large scale programme. Using this expertise, AheadMG Lens, a Test Assessment model has been developed to support organisations with their Test journey.

AheadMG.Lens has been designed to objectively measure the current efficiency and effectiveness of your test capability, providing a factual and comprehensive approach to analyse the ‘as is’, before developing a series of recommendations and road maps for incremental improvements. Read More…