What's your product as a tester?
It's an important question. Your product should determine your means of production—the essential activities and tasks, how you apportion effort, and the priorities you assign to various activities.
Your product is the principal thing that your stakeholders are paying for you to produce. For a tester, that product is information. It's what you produce that actually furthers achievement of your stakeholders' goals for the project or business. Yet, judging by effort, it seems many testers believe their product is a large set of documents that describe what they think they're going to do when they finally get to engage with a software system.
You could argue that you have more than one product—that information is primary, but you must still produce both evidence that your primary product is sound and guidance for your team or for people who might have to tackle this job at another time.
And indeed, that's true for many testers and test organizations. So I'll ask another question: Do you really believe that all the documents you currently produce represent the best use of your time in developing your primary and secondary products?
If you are in the testing mainstream doing what is sometimes called "structured testing" (by people who don't understand that most exploratory testing is structured) and if you are not working on a genuinely agile project, you are probably producing some or all of the following:
- A test project schedule
- A master test plan
- A test strategy
- Test plans (one for each major type of test)
- Test cases
- A test execution plan
As a consultant, I work with many organizations where all these documents are required deliverables of the standard test process before actual testing begins. With few exceptions, I find that testers and test managers expend excessive amounts of time on heavyweight documents that do little or nothing to move their testing forward, and that frequently even impede testing by diverting effort that would be better spent thinking about and working with the software.
Project schedules are important, but how much time have you spent messing about with a tool like Microsoft Project, vainly trying to produce a credible schedule that reflects your real intentions yet satisfies a project manager who demands an unmaintainable level of detail? Compare that to the time you've spent actually planning—thinking about what to do and how and when to do it. On some projects, the test manager no sooner produces a schedule than she has to turn around and rejig it because someone else has slipped his schedule or the project manager wants to "compress" some of the testing. I'm with US general (and subsequently president) Dwight D. Eisenhower, who said, "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."
Testing is research. It's far more like battle than it is like manufacturing. We go into it with a strategy and plan in mind, but we don't know exactly what we're going to encounter that could completely derail our plans and force us to rethink. It's the thinking that's significant, not the probably-obsolete-tomorrow artifact that encapsulates it. Let's not spend more time churning out that artifact than it's worth.
Some form of schedule is likely essential, but can you say the same of a master test plan (MTP), particularly if you're also going to write a test strategy and one or more test plans? Often, an MTP is demanded far too early. How can you develop any plan before you understand the testing problem and your strategy for addressing it? The "solution" in most organizations that produce one is a boilerplate MTP copied and pasted from previous projects. Is copying and pasting useless text a cost-effective use of your time?