November 11, 2016

The Pros & Cons of Using a Test Plan

As a test manager, you might have to come across a situation where you need to decide whether to create a test plan for your next project or not. Before you decide, you will think about the pros and cons of using a test plan.

A test plan is a comprehensive guide to your testing process. A test plan is a document that defines the strategy that will be used to verify that the product or system is developed according to its specifications and requirements.

In this article, we will have detailed look at the pros and cons of using a test plan and make the decision easier for you.

What is a Test Plan?

Wikipedia defines test plan as:

A test plan is a document detailing the objectives, target market, internal beta team, and processes for a specific beta test for a software or hardware product. The plan typically contains a detailed understanding of the eventual workflow.

You can create a test plan by analyzing the product, its features, and functionalities to gain a deeper understanding. The next step is to identify the scope of testing, items, features and functionalities to be tested. Then, develop a test strategy which can be composed of several testing techniques. Now, you can identify the testing tasks and break them down into activities, assigned to the team members. The last step is to anticipate risks and suggest risk responses.

Your test plan document must have the attributes of introduction, features to be tested, features not to be tested, item pass/fail criteria, approach, test deliverables, test environment, roles and responsibilities, schedule, risks, and contingencies.

Pros of Using a Test Plan:

Road Map to Testing Process

The test plan document is the guide to testing process throughout the development. It directs your testing approach and describes the testing practices to be followed. It forces us to confront the challenges that await us and focus our thinking on important areas. It has the answers to all our questions that we might ask while executing the testing process.

A test plan essentially contains details of what is the scope of testing, what are the test items, what will be the items test/pass criteria and what is needed to set up the test environment.

Furthermore, a test plan helps outlines the schedule for testing process along with the roles and responsibilities of team members. In this way, as you can see, test plan serves as the complete guide book for the testing process.

Means of Communication

The test plan serves as a means of communication with other members of the project team, testers, and the stakeholders. It allows the team to influence the plan, review it and make necessary changes as required. You might also track the comments and responses of different members in the test plan to keep a history of the relevant conversation.

Test plan contains information which needs to be circulated among managers and stakeholders such as human resource calendar, estimated budget, schedule, software and hardware requirements, risk and contingencies.

Requirements for Test Environment

Before executing the test process, you need to have the tools, hardware, and software required to set up the test environment.

These details can be found at the ‘Hardware and Software Requirements’ section in the test plan. You don’t need to worry about the setup if you already have all the required tools and equipment; otherwise, you need to procure the required resources.

This will also become a consideration as you might need to subscribe to or purchase any software or hardware. Make sure that you have all the prerequisites to set up your test environment so that your testing process can start on the planned time.

Better Functional Coverage

A well-written test plan ensures that all aspects of a product are covered and tested. This is a major benefit of planned testing process over exploratory testing. A test plan contains details of the testing scope, items to be tested and features to be tested. This list is broken down into testing activities and assigned to a tester.

The test plan also mentions the testing techniques used to verify the functionality of the feature. Moreover, you will see the details of test pass and fail criteria for the test items in the test plan. This makes sure that each functionality is covered in the test plan and will be tested during the execution process.

Prevents from Unnecessary Testing

Some testers have the tendency to test complete release every time, even when it is not needed. There can be several reasons where we want the testing team to limit its scope.

For example, if certain features are not implemented, it would be a waste of time and effort to execute test cases for such functionalities. Since a test plan is created for specific modules or builds with the list of features to be tested; so a test plan is useful to keep the testing process on track.

Test plan helps us to keep the Test plan contains details of the testing scope, features, and functionalities to be tested for a build. Test plan also contains details of testing techniques and tools to be used. This prevents the testing team from putting any efforts in testing ‘Out of scope’ functionalities.

Keeps Record of what was tested

Test plans are an instrument to keep a record of what was tested for each release. Test plans contain the ‘Test Plan Identifier’ which tells the project name, test plan level and the module, release or version number.

Test plans play an important role to document what is new in the release and what needs to be tested; it prevents the testing team to miss testing of any functionality or feature in the given release.

Accurate Effort Estimation

Another benefit of using a test plan is the capability to accurately estimate the testing effort and cost.

Test plan breaks down the testing tasks into activities. Further, it lists the number of required human resource to carry out the activity and the time it will take to complete the activity. This enables the managers to make an estimate of the required testing effort, human resource and the estimated cost to be invested in the project.

This estimate can be used as a basis for further decisions i.e. whether to execute a complete testing plan or postpone some testing activities.

Control and Track your Progress

Test plan helps the test manager to control and track the testing process. Test plan provides a schedule for testing activities. A test plan includes the details of people and their assignment to testing activities.

As a test manager, you can use the test plan to see whether you are in agreement with the planned timeline or not, what should be the progress and what is the actual progress of the testing process.

Risk Management

Risk management is a challenging task that can be overlooked in a testing process executed without the guidance of test plan. However, ‘Risk Management’ is an essential element of a test plan. It measures the overall testing risks and their probability of occurrence.

If any anticipated risk is materialized during the testing process, you can refer to the test plan and see the corresponding risk response. Moreover, it guides you to use risk mitigation techniques so that you might avoid the occurrence of risk altogether.

If there are too many risks in your test plan, you might need to think of a different approach for planning the test process.

In such scenario, you will also need to take stakeholders into confidence to avoid any unpleasant happening at a later stage.

Cons of Using Test Plan:

Needs Time to Create Test Plan

Planning takes time and so does the test plan does. A test plan is a detailed documentation to guide the testing process with carefully laid out details. This process takes a lot of time and planning effort to create a test plan.

Creating a test plan may seem to be an extra effort if the project is really small or unworthy of investing all this effort. Sometimes, you need to quickly start the testing process and do not get enough time for planning. In such scenario, creating a test plan could seem a burden.

Change Management in Test Plan

If you are working in an agile environment where requirements change frequently, it can difficult to update the test plan every time a new requirement or change requirement comes in. The test plan is useful when we begin the testing process but as we proceed with it, we make fewer references to test plans.

Practically, we are more focused on delivering the results than keeping the documentation updated. This might make a test plan inconsistent and outdated for further reference. Change management in test plan can be challenging for dynamic projects.

Redundant Information

The test plan is a detailed document contained a lot of information useful to conduct the testing process smoothly. However, you might find this information redundant in many ways. For example, the human resource and schedule is a part of test plan but it will also be included in the overall project plan.

Similarly, test plan contains the section of  ‘Item Pass/Fail Criteria’. This information can be determined at the time of creating test cases, instead of at the time of creating the test plan. In short, too much or redundant information can confuse the manager or it can make him lose his interest quickly from the

Way Forward – Use a Test Management Tool

The idea of having a word document containing a heap of details is an outdated concept. In today’s fast environment, we need to automate our processes and increase our productivity. Creating a test plan, referring to it and extracting the information from test plan can be a cumbersome process. To avoid this con of test plan, we can use test management tools.

I would not say that ‘Test Management Tools’ replaces the test plan, rather they have changed the way we used to plan the testing process. Several test management tools like ReQtest allows you to manage the testing process efficiently. You can create a project, enter the project requirements and define the implementation status against requested features or functionalities. You can assign version, release or sprint release with each item; to serve the purpose of test plan identifier.

Furthermore, you can create test cases and define ‘Items pass/fail criteria’ for the functionalities included in the targeted release. After executing the test case, you can add the status such as pass, fail, pending. You can also create a bug associated with a test case or requirement.

If you notice, test management tools facilitate you to store the same information in a more structured and organized way. ReQtest is not a planning tool. You can do the basic planning in ‘Test Plan’ and put maximum information in the test management tool which can be further processed to generate useful insights. You can generate the progress reports, using test management tool, which can help you to track and control the progress of your team.


In this article, we discussed the pros and cons of using a test plan. The pros of using a test plan outweigh the cons.

A test plan serves as a roadmap to the testing process that has all the necessary details related to the process. It serves a means of communication between the team members and stakeholders and keeps a record of what was tested in a particular release, along with any comments or conversation notes.

A test plan is also a systematic approach so it provides a better functional coverage. It also enables the managers to accurately estimate the required effort and cost to execute the testing process. Above all, it enables the test manager to control and track the progress using the test plan.

Besides all the benefits, there are some negative points as well. A test plan consumes a lot of time and effort, which might be unnecessary for a smaller project. It might contain redundant information. Also, frequent change management in test plan can be frustrating.

Keeping all the pros and cons of using a test plan in mind, we have come up with the idea of using a test management tool to overcome the cons and retain the benefits of using test plan.

Are you using test plan documents to guide your testing process? Do let us know, if we have missed mentioning any pros and cons of using a test plan.

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