Lean Test Documentation


Forcing testers to slog with document creation is a foolish thing to do for any organization, especially those that believe that keeping customers happy is their foremost goal. In this article, Parimala Hariprasad writes that adopting lean test documentation saves lot of time and energy for the tester.

In traditional test design, testers are forced to create scores of documents. A lot of time is wasted documenting detailed tests that are neither needed nor useful with the exception of mission-critical applications or unless you are testing for compliances and regulations in which heavy documentation is necessary.

Lean Test Documentation
When I say lean test documentation, I am referring to any test documentation that is optimal and capable of conveying the same information using fewer details. It is less verbose, less bulky in terms of number of pages and “lean.”

Traditional test documents are heavy in size, shape, and magnitude. They are detailed, consume a lot of time to write, and yet testers don’t have enough patience to gobble it up during testing.

As James Bach wrote in one of his blog posts on Test Documentation, “A lot of people I teach seem to be under pressure to create more documents to describe their test process. But documenting is not testing. It is one of the chief distractions to testing.”

Heavy documentation can be reduced by using smart techniques like mindmapping, outlines, checklists, and matrices. I have compared and contrasted these techniques below.

A mindmap is a visual representation of ideas, concepts, or tasks encompassed within a central theme. It can be used for visual tracking of test coverage, testing sessions, feature priorities, and status reports.

Mindmaps prevent extensive and useless documentation by displaying content that is succinct and brief. For example, a tester can write many pages about product exploration and learning that can be transformed into a simple mindmap below.


Figure 1. Example Mindmap

Mindmaps can simplify test approaches by crunching scores of pages into a worksheet, as this mindmap on Claims Testing shows.

This other example of a mindmap posted on the Moolya blog summarizes a list of heuristics used for mobile application testing. This demonstrates how even lengthy documents can take the form of self-explanatory visuals.


  • Flexible and easy to use
  • Triggers creativity
  • Facilitates Quick Updates in the world of changing requirements
  • Reduces test documentation time saving time for real testing


  • Mindmaps cannot be converted to direct excel reports
  • Unsuitable on metrics-crazy projects
  • Unfit for detailed documentation

A checklist is a master list of items that needs to be checked against before, during, or after performing some action. For example, when a pilot refers to a pre-flight checklist to confirm if everything is in place.

Atul Gawande, author of  The Checklist Manifesto says, “Checklists provide a cognitive net. They catch mental flaws inherent in all of us—flaws of memory and attention and thoroughness.”

Using checklists and one-liner test ideas instead of writing fifty-step test scenarios reduces wasteful documentation. Checklists need to be good enough to understand and brief enough not to turn people's brains off.


  • Aids memory
  • Maintain consistency in tasks and activities


  • Cannot be used as a learning tool

Tabular Representations
Some data is easier to represent using tables arranged in rows and columns. The same data if described verbally make take several paragraphs to describe.

Platform coverage can be displayed in a table as indicated below:

Operating System

32 or 64 bit processor

Windows XP SP3


Windows 7 Professional SP1


Windows 7 Professional SP1


Windows 8


In a traditional test plan document, platform coverage details would eat up at least three to four  pages in the test environment section of the test plan. Here it’s reduced to a 2x5 table.


  • Pervasive method of communication
  • Visually appealing
  • Saves time and effort by avoiding verbose information


  • Not all data can be represented using tables

Outlines are traditional pictorial representations used for visual depiction. They includes drawings, sketches, graphics, and others.

Features in a product can be displayed as an outline. Outlines give quick introduction into all sub-features listed in each feature. Such an outline saves several pages of feature descriptions.


Figure 2. Feature Outline


  • Inspirational
  • Easy to understand
  • May be “linkable” to detailed requirements


  • Doesn’t actually tell the reader what to do
  • May be redundant with system documentation

If a document-centric culture, documentation may be the only element of testing that those outside the team actually see—creating that the documents become more important that the testing. Many non-testers and management folks mistake testing for documenting tests and demanding more money from customers. Pradeep Soundararajan speaks here about how customers are fooled by heavy test documentation.

What do customers care about?

Customers don’t care about how many documents are produced. They care about how the product works when it gets to them. Forcing testers to slog with document creation is a foolish thing to do for any organization, especially those that believe that keeping customers happy is their foremost goal. Adopting lean test documentation saves lot of time and energy for the tester, which can be used for Brainual testing.

Have you used any kind of lean documentation? I invite you to share your experience in the comments section.

User Comments

Kobi (Jacob) Halperin's picture

Thanks for an interesting article,

There is a lot more to that subject,

One can still use MS-Word or an ALM system - and write only Name & Purpose to keep it lean

November 28, 2013 - 9:36am
Justin Rohrman's picture

Hi Parimala, one light weight / lean approach to documenting tests I like use occasionally is session reports a la session based test management. I like using session reports reports because unlike some other methods where testing is documented before it happens, this records testing as it actually happened. Also, you have the option of giving a brief narrative of what was learned while testing.

Here is a good place to read about that: http://www.satisfice.com/articles/sbtm.pdf

November 18, 2013 - 8:51pm
Pradeep Lingan's picture
Pradeep Lingan

Hi Pari,

Nice to read your blog. I have few things to share with.

I see many people share about what James, Cam Caner, Pradeep

says,instead what they want to say. I think at particular point most of them fail to share what they what to say on the topic

they are discussing about.

Her are my questions

1. Are these people (James, Cam Caner, ) are the only expert,great testers in the world?

2.Will their opinion be right all times?

3.Are people whom ever follow them are blind believer?

I don't say (comment) that what ever they share should not be followed or wrong. I always respect those people for some reasons. I just want to say that it would be better if you share your own opinion in your articles.

I see one person has shared a link of James in the comment section. I think it would be good if he share the blog of his own if he has.

Sometimes it looks like he/she don't have trust on their jobs instead they blindly believe on some one else jobs.

It is not to hurt someone, I am just sharing my thoughts.I am sorry if my comment hurts some one.

November 19, 2013 - 1:17am
Fiona Charles's picture
Fiona Charles

Hi Pari,

Nice article! So many testers still seem to be stuck in the deep mud of excessive documentation, it's essential that we all keep writing about the alternatives.

I blogged about this topic on: http://quality-intelligence.blogspot.ca/ "Breaking the Tyranny of Form". Readers might find some of the visual techniques I refer in that post useful in addition to the ones you have described here.../Fiona

November 19, 2013 - 6:18pm
Parimala Hariprasad's picture
Parimala Hariprasad


Thanks for your time Fiona. I read your article. It has many other insights into Visual Thinking around Test Documentation.


I agree Session Notes are a great source of Test Documentation too. I have used it on a couple

November 19, 2013 - 11:11pm
Rafael Battesti's picture

Hi Parimala.

Thanks for the very nice article!

From where I stand, the mindmaps are specially insightful. ;-)

I'll keep following your good tips.

Best regards.

January 10, 2014 - 10:44pm
Lauren lauren.ryan's picture

Hi - xmind is a mindmapping tool that does support exporting to Excel.  Gets rid of one of the "cons".  We've used mindmaps with great success on some of our testing initiatives.

Good article!

December 9, 2014 - 1:00pm

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