What is a test plan? (With steps for creating one)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Software development companies use test plans as a blueprint for the testing process. This can help quality assurance professionals focus on specific testing objectives. If you work or plan on working in the software industry, it's helpful to understand what a test plan is. In this article, we answer the question 'what is a test plan?', explain why it's important, share the main components and discuss how to write a test plan.

What is a test plan?

The answer to the question 'what is a test plan?' is a blueprint for a project. A test plan is a document that outlines the plans for a project to test a certain software. This document typically includes information such as the project's schedule, strategy, goals, deadlines and estimates on the test results or possible challenges.

Test plans can also help prioritise the goals of the software itself, not just the testing process. This helps specify which practices and strategies professionals use during the testing phase. For example, if a priority of the software is a feature that automatically saves files, a main objective of the test plan may be to ensure that this feature works correctly by testing different file types.

Related: How to become a software architect: definition and steps

Why is a test plan important?

Test plans are important because they help testing teams focus on specific objectives and conduct thorough work. Having an effective test plan can offer the following advantages:

Acts as a guide for quality assurance teams

The quality assurance team can use the test plan to establish goals and create a timeline for the project. This can also allow larger quality assurance software testing teams to divide tasks to work more efficiently. Professionals often define roles and divide responsibilities in test plan documents, so it can help establish leaders within the project and promote accountability.

Related: What is prioritising?

Explains the testing process

Test plans explain the testing process for both quality assurance and software development professionals and non-software professionals. This allows test plans to serve as a communication tool to explain the process to other professionals in the company, such as managers or shareholders. It's helpful for project leaders and quality assurance professionals to be able to explain the testing process without using any jargon, as they may need support from other professionals for budgeting and marketing purposes.

Related: Why is communication important? (And how to improve it)

Organises resources and objectives

Test plans often include a list of resources and objectives for professionals. This can help track what supplies professionals may need for the project. Because test plans define each professional's role in the project, they also often include the contact information for key professionals. This can help with communication and ensures each team member has access to all the information they may need.

Makes schedule estimations

Test plans include detailed information about the process's schedule, including deadlines and estimations of how long each phase of the testing may take. Professionals can use the test plan as a resource to identify efficiency goals. Schedule estimations can also help other departments that have involvement with the project. For example, the marketing department can begin to create advertisements towards the end of a testing process, as they can have a better idea of how the software works at that phase.

Components of a test plan

Most test plans include similar components to help ensure the efficacy of the document. When writing your own test plan, consider including these components:

  • Project scope: The project scope is a summary of the objectives and primary details of the testing process.

  • Schedule: Test plan schedules include important deadlines and estimations of how long each task may take.

  • Resources: Including a resource list in the test plan allows professionals to consider which resources they have and which they may want to acquire.

  • Tools: This section of a test plan includes the tools professionals can use to test the software or application. This often requires project leaders to agree on which testing parameters are important for the particular testing process.

  • Obstacle management: Obstacle management involves acknowledging the risks that may occur during the project and can help professionals prepare for the situation.

  • Defect management: The defect management section of a test plan includes the protocol in the event that a quality assurance professional finds a defect in the software. This includes contact information and reporting practices.

  • Ending details: The ending details of a test plan explain the extent of testing the company is hoping to accomplish. This can help professionals understand when the software is ready for approval.

How to create a test plan

Here's a list of steps that you can follow to create an effective test plan for your company:

1. Research and analyse 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 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. The two main methods you may use to determine the criteria for your test are 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. This means your team plans to stop testing when the software functions with 95% accuracy.

Related: Project management skills and how to improve them

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 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. This can ensure you understand the physical requirements the software requires 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.

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