Test Plan vs Test Strategy: The Key Differences You Need to Know for Effective Testing

Many years ago as a junior Software Tester, I remember being told to write test cases and was subsequently handed requirements.

That was all good and well as I really enjoyed it.

I’d happily put my headphones on not wanting to be disturbed and just crack on with the task of churning out test cases for my client.

However, you can only do this kind of thing for so long.

In fact I remember an entire week at work where I didn’t speak to ANYBODY just because of how isolated the work was.

Thankfully I’m quite thick skinned and took it all in my stride.

Fast forward a few years and career jumps later and I’m now the one who is leading the Testing Project.

In this article I’m going to discuss two very popular artefacts in Software Testing.

The Test Plan and the Test Strategy.

I’ll give you a comparison of both, where they’re used and what each document consists of.

Hopefully it will speed up your learning curve and give you an  insight into these two important documents.

What is a Test Plan

Imagine you’re hosting a big dinner party at your house and you want to make sure everything goes smoothly. 

Before the guests arrive, you’ll need to plan out the details. 

You’ll make a menu, a grocery list and a timeline for when to cook each dish. 

You’ll also clean the house (hopefully), set the table and make sure you have enough chairs for everyone (and maybe more).

Similarly, in software testing, a Test Plan is like a plan for a dinner party. 

It’s a detailed document that outlines how the testing will be carried out, what types of tests will be performed, who will perform them and how long it will take. 

The Test Plan helps the testing team prepare for any potential issues that may arise during testing and ensures that the testing process is comprehensive and effective.

The Test Plan document is usually created by a Test Manager/Lead and serves as a guide for the testing team to follow.

In a nutshell, a Test Plan is a detailed plan that helps the testing team effectively test a software application, just like how planning is important for hosting a successful dinner party.

What is Contained in a Test Plan Document

Your test plan document will typically contain the following information;

Test Plan Document ContentsDescription
Test ObjectivesDescription of what is to be tested and what testing goals will be achieved.
Test ScopeThe boundaries of the testing effort, including what parts of the software will be tested and what types of tests will be performed.
Testing ApproachThe testing techniques that will be used to achieve the testing goals, such as manual testing, automated tests, or a combination of both.
Test ScheduleThe timeline for testing, including when testing will begin and end, and how much time will be allocated to each testing phase.
Test ResourcesThe people, tools, and equipment that will be needed to carry out the testing effort, including the roles and responsibilities of each team member.
Test DeliverablesA list of the documents and reports that will be produced during the testing process, such as test cases, test scripts, and test results.
Test EnvironmentThe software and hardware environments needed to support testing, including any specialized testing tools or equipment.
Test Risks and ContingenciesThe potential risks associated with testing, such as software defects, schedule delays, or resource constraints, and the contingency plans to mitigate them.
Approval and Sign-OffThe process for obtaining approval and sign-off of the test plan by the relevant stakeholders, such as project managers, developers, and business users.

You may want to also customise this to suit your organisation which is also perfectly fine as long as you don’t deviate too much from the structure above.

How do you write a test plan?

Writing a test plan is quite a detailed process so I will cover that in a dedicated article.

I’d start by using the outline above to get a skeleton template of your document ready.

What is a Test Strategy

A test strategy is a document that outlines the overall approach to testing for a product or application. 

It describes the testing goals, methodologies, tools, and stakeholders involved in the testing process. 

Your test strategy will provide a high-level view of the testing process and its goals, such as ensuring software quality and meeting customer requirements. 

It also explains how testing will be done throughout the project lifecycle from the planning and design phases to the execution and reporting phases. 

Your test strategy serves as a guide for the testing team to ensure that testing is;

  • consistent 
  • efficient
  • effective 

The test strategy will also help to ensure that the software meets the business and user requirements.

What is contained in a Test Strategy Document

Below is an overview of the information that I would expect to see in a typical Test Strategy document.

IntroductionAn overview of the document and its purpose
Testing objectivesThe high-level goals and objectives of the testing effort
Scope of testingIn scope items. The parts of the software that will be tested.Out of scope items. The parts that will not be tested.
Testing approachThe testing methods and techniques that will be used will define the test approach.
Test levelsThe various levels of testing, such as unit, integration, system, and acceptance testing
Test typesThe different types of testing, such as functional, non-functional, performance, security, and usability testing
Test environmentThe hardware, software, and network configurations needed to support testing
Test dataThe data sets needed to perform testing
Test tools and automationThe testing tools and automation frameworks that will be used
Test organisation and rolesThe roles and responsibilities of the testing team
Test metrics and reportingThe metrics that will be used to measure testing progress and the reports that will be generated
Risks and contingenciesThe risks associated with testing and contingency plans to mitigate them
Approval and sign-offThe approval process and the stakeholders who need to sign off on the document

Note that this table is not exhaustive and the contents of a test strategy document may vary depending on the specific project and organisation.

How do you write a test strategy?

I’ve written quite a few Test Strategies over the years so Hopefully I can give you an insight .  

However, that will require its own article as there is quite a lot to go through.

What I would suggest is to use the guide above and start to create an outline for your test strategy document.

What are the key differences between the Test Plan and Test Strategy

Below is a high level overview of the key differences between a Test Plan and Test Strategy.

Test PlanTest Strategy
Detailed documentHigh-level document
Specifies testing objectives, approach, resources, and schedule for a specific projectDefines overall testing approach for a product or application
Outlines what types of tests will be performed and how they will be executedIncludes testing goals, methodologies, tools, and stakeholders involved
Focuses on specifics of how testing will be carried outProvides a broader view of the testing process and its goals
Includes information about specific tests to be performedIncludes information about overall testing approach
Created for a specific projectCreated for a product or application
Typically created by a test lead or managerTypically created by a senior QA manager or test architect

Who Prepares the Test Strategy

Having worked in a number of various organisations, I’ve found that the Test Manager or Test Lead are usually responsible for authoring the Test Strategy.

However there are no rules.

I know of Senior Test Analysts that have written the Test strategy, Test Plan, test scenarios and test cases.

It depends on your organisation’s setup.

What comes first? Test Plan or Test Strategy?

Let’s look at this logically.

You firstly need to understand WHAT needs to be tested from a high level.

Once the WHAT is understood, you’ll then understand HOW to test at a granular level.

In the software testing life cycle, the test strategy is developed before the test plan. 

Your test strategy defines the overall approach to testing and outlines the goals, methods, and tools you will use during your testing. 

Your Test Strategy will be covered as part of the initial test planning stage of your project.

On the flipside, your test plan provides a detailed description of HOW testing will be conducted, including the specific test cases to be executed and the timeline for testing. 

Your test plan will be developed based on the information provided in your test strategy.

This is because it provides a more granular level of detail about the testing process. 

Therefore, it’s important to develop the test strategy first to provide guidance and direction for the creation of the test plan.

Both documents fall within the test planning stage of the software testing lifecycle.

Lets Summarise…

I have worked in many scenarios where either the test strategy or test plan was only available and not both. Or, where both were available.  

That is totally ok depending on how your organisation’s test process and governance is set up. 

However, try not to deviate too much from the main crux of the purpose of each document and you’ll be fine.

As long as you have something documented that gives stakeholders confidence in what and how you’re testing you should be fine. 

Don’t forget to ensure you get approvals.

Hopefully that’s given you a relatively good insight into a Test Plan vs Test Strategy comparison.