Test Strategy vs Test Plan: Managing QA in the Enterprise

The software testing world sometimes includes too much confusing jargon. Many expressions sound similar but refer to different concepts. The…

By Testim,

The software testing world sometimes includes too much confusing jargon. Many expressions sound similar but refer to different concepts. The “test strategy vs. test plan” dilemma is a good example. What is the meaning of each one of those terms? Why do you need them? How do they differ? And what are their similarities? These are the kinds of questions this post will answer.

We’ll begin by covering the difference between a test strategy and a test plan at a high level. Then, we’ll cover each term in turn, detailing what the concept means and why it’s useful. After that, we’ll present a  comparison between the two concepts, followed by a discussion of the interplay between the two terms and test automation. Before parting ways with some final considerations, we’ll give you a summarized comparison between a test strategy and a test plan in the form of a table.

Test Strategy vs. Test Plan: a High-Level View

Understanding the difference between a test strategy and a test plan lies in understanding the difference between strategy and tactics.

A strategy is, by definition, very high level. It defines a vision—usually a long-term one—to achieve one or more goals. A lot of effort goes into the creation of a strategy, which can include extensive research. On the other hand, Tactics are the actual things you’ll do to achieve the desired objectives. They originate from your strategy.

This article shows a nice example of strategy and tactics, featuring a bicycle manufacturer:

Strategy: Differentiation

We will succeed by creating bikes with innovative features which our competitors cannot match, and which allow us to charge a price premium to customers.

Objective: Be recognized by the industry as the leading innovator in the space of on-bike health tracking technology.

Tactic 1: Launch a new Bluetooth-enabled module that attaches to the spokes of the bike and sends performance data to a linked smartphone app.

Tactic 2: Send out free bikes to popular tech journalists inviting them to write a review of the bike.

As you can see, a single strategy gave origin to two distinct tactics that can be put into practice to achieve the desired goal. Going back to the software testing domain, it becomes clear that while a test strategy is obviously a strategy, test plans are tactics. What does that look like in practice, though?

Test Strategy: Definition and Application

A test strategy is a strategy for software testing adopted in an organization. Think of it as a document outlining the overall approach the organization will adopt and defining high-level guidelines that will direct all decision-making related to testing and QA.

Why does your organization need a test strategy? A strategy helps you address key risks while minimizing effort or costs. With a well-thought-out test strategy, an organization can answer questions like the following:

  • How do we provide fast feedback on quality to developers?
  • What is the balance between the different types of tests we want to utilize, including manual vs. automated?
  • How often should we execute our tests?
  • How do we know if we are succeeding in our quality objectives?

What Is a Test Plan? Why Do You Need One?

Your test strategy is your “north star,” giving you high-level guidance regarding your test-related decision-making. Eventually, though, software tests will actually need to be performed. A test strategy doesn’t tell you the specifics of how you’ll be testing your applications. And that wouldn’t even be possible anyway. Remember, a test strategy is high-level and general. Each application, however, might have different testing needs (think of a brand new application vs. an existing application, for instance.)

That’s where test plans come in handy. A test plan is a detailed itinerary of how software testing will be carried out to a given application. It defines, in more detail, how the test activities will be performed. That might include the tools that will be used, specific instructions on reproducing an error, or details on obtaining adequate test data.

The test plan might contain one or more test suites, which, in turn, will contain several test cases.

Time for a Comparison

So how do a test strategy and a test plan differ?

The first main difference is that a test strategy is usually defined once for the whole organization. As such, the test strategy serves as the foundation upon which specific test plans are created. So a test strategy doesn’t usually change very frequently. On the other hand, test plans can change from release to release for a variety of reasons. For instance, if the new release only made some cosmetic changes, you might be more concerned with UI, visual, or exploratory testing. However, if the application was refactored on a new database or used a new algorithm, you likely want to provide full regression testing at multiple layers.

Since it resides at the organizational level, a test strategy affects all projects carried out by the organization. On the other hand, test plans are usually tied to a single project due to the different testing needs of each application.

Plans and Strategies in the Era of Test Automation

Test automation is essential for organizations that want to deliver high-quality software at a fast pace. So it’s no surprise to see organizations automating more and more activities in software testing.

Does this trend affect how test strategies and plans work? It certainly does. For starters, the portion of manual testing in most software strategies is bound to decline. Though testing types such as exploratory testing still play an important role in certain scenarios, as test automation tools advance, the territory of what can’t be automated continues to diminish.

Also, some naming confusion is inevitable. There are automated testing tools—unit test frameworks, for instance—that employ terms like test plans and test suites with slightly different meanings than the ones you’ve learned about today.

Test Strategy vs. Test Plan: a Summarized Comparison

Here’s the summary of the comparison we made:

Test Strategy Test Plan
Defines the high-level objectives and guidelines of software testing. Defines the specifics of how testing will happen.
Usually resides at the organizational level. Usually, a test plan per project.
Doesn’t change often. It can change more often due to various reasons.
It affects many projects since it’s valid for the whole organization. Affects only a single project.

Scale up Your Test Strategy With TestOps!

A test strategy is simply essential for any organization that cares about quality. With a strategy in place, you’ll be able to create test plans that simultaneously reflect the company’s general vision while meeting the specific needs of each application.

Despite understanding the importance of having a test strategy, many organizations still struggle to do it. Some of them perform testing with no reason nor rhyme. They don’t know the return on investment of their testing approaches, which are aimless and don’t have defined goals.

Other organizations do have a test strategy in place but struggle when trying to scale it. Growth is usually a good problem, but that doesn’t make it less painful. Lucky for those companies, the growing capabilities of TestOps might offer the answers they need about how to scale quality efficiently.

What to read next

DevOps Testing Strategy: A Best Practices Guide

Regression Test Plan: A Checklist for Quality Assurance

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