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How To Write A Test Plan

As a website is being built, the step of writing or putting together a test plan is often skipped entirely and testing just ‘begins’. If a test plan is done then it is often completed immediately prior to testing and completed too quickly.

This ad hoc approach to testing means that it is possible to miss large sections of functionality and not be able to fully consider all permutations or variations of events and actions that need to be tested.

For most websites, there is a fairly long list of items that need to be tested as part of any new website development and in order to know what to test, when you tested it and whether those tests passed or failed, it is best to make a proper plan.

We are going to show you how to write a simple and straightforward test plan, which will provide a more systematic method for testing your website but the process outlined below is still essentially a manual one. We are not yet moving into using software tools to help identify and run tests, nor are we covering automated testing here, although I hope to write a post on these aspects in due course.

Writing A Test Plan

A typical test plan should identify all the areas of the website that you need to test before it launches, which you then follow through to conduct your testing, making notes of when you completed the test and adding any bug or issue reports to your bug tracking software along the way.

Start off with getting all the main sections down in a spreadsheet, divided between front end and admin or CMS if the website has one.

Then, start to break each main section down into the constituent parts that you need to test, concentrate on the important parts of the website first such as the home page, which is likely to be one of the most visited pages and the main areas of functionality, which are most likely to be the most used.

For instance, in the case of an ecommerce site, this would include individual tests for items such as adding products to the shopping basket, removing products from the shopping basket, updating the shopping basket quantities, being able to enter the checkout process and completing the checkout process (depending on your website there may be several steps to test within the checkout process).

You should be asking yourself questions for when you start testing the checkout process from the point of view of the user such as:

  • Can I complete my order?
  • Can I go back and amend my order?
  • Do I understand where I am in the checkout process?
  • Can I clearly see what I am ordering and how much it will cost, including delivery and taxes?
  • Do I get a receipt or email confirmation?

As the owner of the website there will be different questions such as:

  • Does the payment processing work correctly?
  • What happens if the incorrect card details are entered?
  • Does the order confirmation process work correctly?

And so on, when putting a testing plan together you are testing the website from the point of view of the user and also from the point of view of the owner or operator of the website. You may also have specific usability testing lined up but the primary reason for the test plan as far as this blog post is concerned is to test the functional aspects of the website to ensure they work correctly. Does the website do what it says it does? For instance, if the checkout process displays the order details including taxes and delivery then does it show the correct details for both tax and delivery?

Another important area to test is the site search or product search, as this is likely to be used a lot on the website.

Make sure that you test all the forms within the website, such as enquiry forms and newsletter signup forms. Test that the form can only be submitted after the mandatory fields have been completed and that the form is emailed to the correct email address or saved to the database correctly.

Once you go through and think about each section of the website along the lines of the above then you should have compiled a decent list in your spreadsheet of areas and items to test. Add columns for each browser that you need to test each item on, which will be the web browsers that you have agreed to support as part of the project. This would normally cover the major web browsers such as IE6, IE7, IE8, Firefox 3, Chrome and Safari but may include others too depending on the usage of your target market (or existing audience if you have those statistics). There are a range of browser checking tools that can help you with this aspect.

For the admin system or CMS that powers the website, add a row to your test plan for each function. Going back to our ecommerce example, this means that there would be tests for add new product, edit existing product, remove product, view order, edit tax rate, etc. depending on what the system was capable of.

You could break these tests down further to test individual elements of adding a new product. For instance, is there validation present to check that mandatory fields are filled in when adding a product? Does the product image have to be a certain size or dimensions? Does the product title have to be shorter than a certain number of characters? All these items could occupy separate rows in your test plan.

Of course, if you were to break your test plan down to this extent for a large website or CMS then the result will be a long spreadsheet of items to test, which will take a great deal of time to test effectively. You will need to decide whether you have the time available to test in this level of detail or if some areas can be tested more quickly.

A few other items that you may wish to make sure you have as part of every test plan are the following, in no particular order:

  • Ensure your HTML and CSS code validates to W3C guidelines
  • Test accessibility of the website
  • Test the SEO items that you have planned for to make sure they are in place
  • Test against the specification for the project that was signed off to ensure that everything has been completed that was agreed
  • Test against designs and/or wireframes or prototype html mockups that were completed to make sure the finished website matches the signed off designs or wireframes
  • Take into account any changes requested (should be in the form of change control documents)
  • Complete any security tests that are required

You may wish to have a look at our list of 10 different forms of website testing to make sure you have covered everything. The list can go on indefinitely, there is always something that can be tested a bit more, but at some point it has to be halted at a relevant point otherwise the testing will never get done.

List or Flow Chart?

Some aspects of the website lend themselves to having a flow chart in place that describes all the permutations or possibilities that need to be tested. This is especially helpful if one action then presents another set of possibilities. When testing without a flow chart it can become extremely difficult to remember which permutations you have tested and which you have not.

Having a flow chart or mindmap worked out that shows you all the possibilities allows you to think more clearly about what you are testing, what you expect the outcome to be and understand what you have tested and what is remaining to test.

Conclusion

If there is too much testing to do for one person then divide it up amongst other people with instructions on what you want testing and what to do with bugs when they are found. Make sure they follow their bit of the test plan and feed back on what they find, handing bugs to you or inputting them into your bug tracking software themselves.

As you test then fill in the test plan to show what you tested and when. If you keep the document client friendly then it can be shown as proof of what testing was completed prior to launch.

Testing is a vital part of any website development and having a decent plan before you start testing saves a great deal of time and effort whilst making sure that all the required testing gets done.

Tom Batey
Tom Batey
Tom Batey, founder of Testing Web Sites & WebDepend, is a hands on website tester focusing on quality across web, mobile and email.