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G(r)ood Testing 14: The Viking Warrior – our guide to effective test templates?

  • 01/05/2015
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  • Posted by Derk-Jan de Grood

How a trip to Trondheim contributes to finding the correct answer and in which Derk-Jan states that the form of our deliverables is less important than answering the relevant questions.


It’s a Tuesday morning, the team leaders have gathered for their regular meeting. Main topic on today’s agenda is a discussion about the generic test templates that are being used in the organization.  Generic templates development is a complex activity. It seems simple. You start with the template that you always use, you pick a standard template from the internet or ask your colleagues if they have some lying around.  But then it starts to become difficult. Enough examples, an abundance of choices, but what is best for the organization. I have seen many template discussions getting adrift. The templates that were created in the end were not at all satisfactory.

As the meeting continues, I listen to the discussion heating up. One of the team leaders made a proposal, but not everyone is equally enthusiastic. The other team follows a different process and the proposed template does not fit. A third team manager sighs that the document becomes too thick. Suddenly six pairs of eyes are looking my way. “Derk-Jan, you know a lot of testing, what is a good test plan? Do you think that the definition of the test types should be in the test plan? Can we safely omit the section 3.4?  What is your opinion?  Templates are to often developed from the methodology or as I mentioned earlier from examples already in stock. This causes difficult discussions about the content. Different teams have different approaches, products, suppliers and stakeholders. It is therefore logical that different teams different demands on their deliverables and thus their templates.

I might have found a solution when I was IN Norway last week. I was speaking at the Trondheim Test Conference, and in a free free moment, I went looking for the statue of Viking Warrior Olaf. While standing next to the statue I recalled those old-fashioned boys adventure books. You might know them; those adventure books that characteristically start each chapter with a brief introduction. For example,


“Chapter 6, in which the Viking Warrior loses his mighty axe but also makes an important discovery.”


Such an introduction triggers the reader to continue reading by providing him with a very effective summary of the following chapter.  I like it a lot. A similar approach might solve the generic template discussion. Why not define an introduction for each of the deliverables in the test process. Rather than arguing what chapters and sections should be in the template, the discussion could focus on the why, the purpose of the document. Why do we make a test plan? Do we want to force ourselves to think carefully about our test approach, do we want to show the stakeholders that we take their concerns and risks seriously? Do we write it only because we have to follow the procedure? Enough reasons to make a test plan, but what reason(s) drive us.
Personally I do not care much for the form of the documents. It should suit its purpose and answer the questions the reader find most relevant. This way the template migrates to a checklist that indicates what questions must have been answered after reading the document. In the example of the before mentioned test plan, these could be: “Is it clearly defined how stakeholder input has been incorporated into the test approach”, “Can the project manager determine which parts of the system are covered by tests and where risks are taken?” As long as these answers are being provided, each of the teams can create their own version of the test plan. But how do you get to this state?

Try to write a boys-adventure-book introduction. It forces you to discus what you want the template for, it enables you to communicate the purpose of your deliverable. It helps to persuade your stakeholder to actually pick up and read the document. I would like to challenge you: Why don’t you take the Viking Warrior as an example and write a brief introduction on the title page of your next deliverable.

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Derk-Jan de Grood

Derk-Jan de Grood works for Valori as senior test manager and Agile Transition Coach. His drive is to improve the visibility of testing in both agile and traditional organizations, by sharing his knowledge and experience by means of training, presentations, workshops and publications. He is a regular speaker at conferences like EuroSTAR, wrote several successful books on software testing and publishes articles for the major testing magazines. In 2014 he won the EuroSTAR Testing Excellence Award.

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