Test Plan vs Test Strategy: Structure & Key Differences

Software testers and quality assurance teams rely on a wealth of extensive knowledge and experience to deliver successful outcomes for their projects, but how do they organize that expertise ahead of testing? How do they ensure that every team member works from the same starting point? How have they prepared for their test work before their time comes?

The solutions are the test strategy, followed soon after in the project by the test plan. This pair of critical testing operation elements are ground zero for insights and guidelines testing teams during custom software development will rely on to ensure successful project delivery.

However, analyzing test plans vs. test strategies can reveal a few interesting correlations. The two elements go hand in hand. They share many commonalities and essential distinctions; that’s why QA professionals and testers consider them equally indispensable.

Below, qa specialists from SumatoSoft with 10 years of experience are contemplating test plans vs. test strategies—how each is unique and how they work together. Learn what makes both elements necessary, how testers rely on them, and when they factor into the complete project overview. We will also explore how experienced testers structure their test plan and strategy and how professionals in agile environments or practicing exploratory testing apply those principles. Continue reading to discover the secrets of test plans vs. test strategies!

Test Strategy – An Introduction to the Basics

Beginning a development project without a test strategy is a bit like treasure hunting without a map. Sure, you know the treasure is out there. You know you’ll need to use your sailing skills and break out your shovel (you’ll definitely need your compass!), but which direction will you sail and how far? How will you know where to start digging?

Think of your test strategy as the treasure map of your development project. It won’t tell you how to sail your ship, use your compass, or wield your shovel, but it will tell you where you’re going and what to expect along the way. Test strategies offer a similar level of top-down guidance.

Numerous variations exist for test strategies. The software testing scope, environment, silos, procedures, methods, metrics, roles, and tools that testing teams will consult as they plan for testing to begin—all culminate in the test strategy. It will demarcate meaningful characteristics and principles applicable to every testing protocol facet. It will also include:

  • Entry and exit conditions
  • Silos at all testing levels
  • Integration procedures
  • Automation planning
  • Reporting Metrics
  • Managing Defects

Deployed across the organization and administered by the testing PM, strategies place testing in context. Because their parameters provide the benchmarks for crucial project outcomes, test strategies can be adjusted at no point in the project.

What Makes Test Strategies so Important

Without a test strategy, test teams may know what they’re doing but not what goals they are working toward. 

Test strategies determine how testers approach their tasks, who shall be responsible for each test, a timetable for those tests, and by what metrics testers will measure success. The test strategy is a series of formal objectives, actions, and requirements empowering a complete, systematic infrastructure, assuring a reliable test environment, accountability, transparency, and successful delivery.

When is the Right Time to Create Test Strategies

Test strategies precede their corresponding test plans, coming before testing work begins and laying a foundation to achieve desired outcomes. They serve as the basis upon which testers build a sound test infrastructure.

The responsibility falls to the product’s PM to create the strategy while the remaining testers haven’t yet begun their work, typically during the earliest project stages. They must first define the product’s core objectives, which they will complete well ahead of the progress advancing through to quality assurance.

Test Plan – An Introduction to the Basics

Every project is different. With each new project that developers begin, they must take the time to understand what will be unique about it, which will greatly affect their approach. This disparity is one of the things that makes software development so interesting; while testers and developers will use many of the same tools and skillsets across all their projects, they are constantly using them in different ways, for different reasons, and in different sequences. 

Once you understand what those unique needs are (strategy), you may then determine how you will deploy your skills and resources. That’s when the test plan comes in.

The simplest way to comprehend test plans is to think of them as documents formalizing the test strategy. They are ground zero for all tiers of the test team, who will consult this record consistently as they proceed for critical details about the scale, goals, schedule, functions, and designated components of the project’s quality assurance.

Effective test plans benefit from their adaptability to respond to evolving circumstances at any point in the product. They’re primarily an aid for the testers, but PMs, developers, and key shareholders will also rely on them to fully comprehend how QA and testing have progressed.

Why are Test Plans so Important?

Without a test plan, test teams will know what goals they are striving for but not how they must meet them.

They offer clear guidance to testers regarding their work and transparency into tasks to inform key figures outside the sometimes insular test apparatus.

They codify information put forward earlier by the PM and serve as a crucial reference point for testers concerning the project’s goals and scope.

When is the Right Time to Create A Test Plan

Test plans formalize their preceding test strategies, so leads may not begin work on the test plan until the PM completes their test strategy. This workflow leads to test plans emerging later in the cycle, but it must still conclude before any testers’ work can commence. The product’s test lead must finish the test plan early enough to disseminate it to relevant parties beyond the testers.

In some respects, you can consider the development of the test strategy the prologue of the test plan.

The Key Differences: Test Plan vs Test Strategy: Key Differences

Numerous key distinctions define test plans vs. test strategies. Check out our helpful table below to learn how these two critical QA and testing elements stand apart.

Criteria Test Strategy Test Plan

What they do

A strategy that comprehensively accounts for the boundaries and regulations that will govern testing.

An aid that profiles the test strategy’s most essential information.

Purpose

To clearly define which principles will govern the testers’ work.

To deliver guidance for testing, including each test’s who, what, when, and how.

Stated goals

That all unit stages understand the principles dictating the test infrastructure.

Testing professionals have a thorough resource detailing how to administer testing.

Scope

Restricted to the overarching plans and principles for testing.

An exhaustive directory of the full suite of the product’s assigned testing activities.

Based on

Built from pre-defined benchmarks and standardized guidelines.

Stands on the shoulders of the test strategy.

Informed by

Informed by descriptions, prerequisites, and specs of products and software, as well as use cases.

Informed by BRDs (Business requirement documents).

Manager

The product’s PM conceives and oversees the test strategy.

The test manager or lead develops, oversees, and then adjusts the test plan as necessary.

Critical elements

Documentation, objectives, procedures, and scope.

Primary objectives, methodologies, metrics, contingencies, risk levels, responsibilities and roles, schedules, tasks, and testable features.

Scope of influence

Potentially impacts multiple projects simultaneously.

Typically affects no more than one project.

Level of flexibility

Inflexible: Must remain consistent across the project. They remain immutable as testing advances.

Flexible: Must adapt as testing advances.

Dictation

Dictates a broad approach.

Dictates test specifications.

Frequency of use

Teams may repeat across numerous projects.

Teams seldom replicate, commonly confining it to only a single project.

Test Plan vs Test Strategy: Key Structural Differences

We’ve covered what elements to include in test strategies and plans, though what about how they’re put together? Below, we have provided a simple breakdown of how these two similar items are structured. While the order of these components may vary, most test plans and test strategies will include some iteration of these sections:

A Sample of Test Strategy’s Structure

  • Section 1: Defining test scope. Define what needs testing and why. The scope also includes a synopsis of Application Under Test (AUT).
  • Section 2: Determining the approach to testing. Abstract the necessary levels and types for upcoming tests.
  • Section 3: Defining responsibilities and roles. Offer a top-down summation of the functions of all test team members, from the team lead and PM down to testers.
  • Section 4: Outlining the test environment. Fully account for the resources needed to accomplish the desired testing environment.
  • Section 5: Designating the test resources and tools. Provide an index of resources and tools that test automation and management will require to enact the plan.
  • Section 6: Defining release control. Release control works alongside version control. This section must ensure that testers test all version modifications set for release.
  • Section 7: Outlining the assessment of risk. Provide plans to mitigate potential risks forecasted during testing.
  • Section 8: Defining the assessment/approval process. Finally, clearly define how the team will track testing and product changes, who will record them, and who has the authority to authorize the final version.

A Sample of Test Plan’s Structure

  • Section 1: Coordinating test phases. Explain each test phase process, from external interfaces to sub-systems.
  • Section 2: Defining testing conditions. Lay out testing requirements that future users will need from the software after releasing it to market. The team lead will use these requirements to build the aspects of the plan.
  • Section 3: Outlining test deliverables. List the deliverables—outcomes, versions, and reporting—expected to emerge from the testing phase once the plan is completed. 
  • Section 4: Setting test agendas. Provide a detailed testing schedule for test administrators and test resources. It will account for the testing process’s integration into the development life cycle.
  • Section 5: Establishing test recording policies & procedures. How testers handle outcomes is among the most easily overlooked aspects of quality assurance. The plan must determine who handles outcome records and how and where to store them.
  • Section 6: Determining requirements for testing software & hardware. Outline parameters for using applicable testing software and hardware, along with estimated usage rates.
  • Section 7: Forecasting test risks & constraints. Provide backup procedures for potential risks and limitations. These could include everything from hardware/software failures to staff shortages.
  • Section 8: Defining defect management. Outline a straightforward route when testing reveals product bugs, including a reporting hierarchy and repair workflow.
  • Section 9: Establishing testing exit criteria. Finally, Define the conditions under which testing is complete.

Agile Development – The Evolving Roles of Test Plans and Test Strategies

Agile development cycles are less likely to use test plans, which makes a sound, thorough test strategy even more critical to ensure optimum adaptability. Whereas testing typically begins only after the development team has produced a finished version, a test team in an agile environment would occur alongside development.

Agile takes a very efficient approach. These environments squander fewer resources on repairs that testers could have addressed earlier in the project in a more targeted way. However, this does mean that agile test strategies must be more involved.

Agile test strategies—and to a lesser extent, agile test plans—must factor testing into sprint objectives, defining how testing scope, environment, resources, and roles will change as sprints advance. Even as early as sprint zero, test strategies can outline initial configuration activities to ensure the testers have prepared to begin their work ASAP.

The conventional considerations of test plans vs. test strategies center on waterfall projects; agile forces us to think about them differently. With more planning is done simultaneously alongside development in agile projects, the flexibility of test plans becomes more practical, while the immutability of test strategies becomes even more stabilizing. Together, they help to accentuate the strengths of agile while shoring up its weaknesses.

Exploratory Testing as the Most Modern Testing Strategy

For years, software development professionals have depended on meticulous and thorough planning to ensure successful test infrastructure with reliable results. We now call this method scripted testing—developing a test strategy, building a plan that clearly defines your testing goals and processes, and then proceeding with test activities deliberately and methodically.

Over the past decade, however, many innovative figures in the software testing landscape have embraced a more improvisational approach to testing. The name for this new method is exploratory testing, which is rapidly gaining a reputation as an integral element in the testing stage, affording experienced professionals the freedom to find and fix bugs scripted testing would otherwise miss.

Test teams perform exploratory testing on the spot, with little advanced planning. Importantly, this testing is not a replacement for scripted testing; it occurs alongside scripted testing to intuit what it may have missed. That’s because the hyper-controlled environment of scripted testing sometimes doesn’t allow for the unpredictability of a random user.

With exploratory testing, testers try to “feel out” defects by drawing on their deep well of experience with and knowledge of software performance. According to ResearchGate, testing professionals who practice exploratory testing discover 11% more overall defects than those who don’t. This is because testers have the leeway to tinker and follow their intuition in ways scripted testing doesn’t leave room for.

Additional reading:

If you’d care to read up in greater detail about test strategies vs. test plans, check out some of these interesting articles, including a few by the experts here at SumatoSoft!

Conclusion

Comparing the test plan vs. test strategy reveals considerable overlap. Their roles in the development life cycle are intricately bound with one another. However, they also have numerous vital distinctions that make both equally important.

Understanding these distinctions empowers testing professionals like the professionals at SumatoSoft to benefit from both. That’s because, when effectively used together, the combination of strategizing and planning offers all the guidance, insight, and principles necessary for test pros to do the best job possible.

At SumatoSoft, we work hard to deliver the most comprehensive, holistic, and effective QA and testing services on the market. With proven success and a 98% client satisfaction rate, we know what goes into great test plans and test strategies as we leave behind zero bugs before your project is released to the market.
Get in touch with the SumatoSoft testing team to discuss your project in greater detail. We look forward to hearing from you!

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