Efficient test case writing and execution

Not long ago, I sat down with three test managers I have recently worked with. They all have extensive background in managing test teams and supervise the writing and execution of test cases in large Medical Device projects. Since we have made the observation that about 50% of the total DHF is consisting of tests, I had long been pondering how the test activities could be done more efficiently.

We talked about how to find the right "review and release" effort (goldilocks principle, "not too much, not too little"), the optimal test case size, the optimal number of fields in a test case and how to deal with the ever reoccurring problem of volatile specifications. I got some interesting input on all topics and I was very satisfied with how the conversation went on.

After a while, one of them said, "Mr Larsson, it is all well and good that you want to optimize the test case writing and execution. I understand your intentions. But, you know, testing is more than just writing and executing. In my opinion, only 30% of the total test effort consists of the writing and execution activities you talk about. 70% is about setting the table. If I were you, I would take a look at those 70%."

Only 30% of the test effort is about writing test cases

I must confess that I did not really understand what he was talking about. In my world, testing is writing and executing test cases. And what did he mean by "setting the table"?

After some prying, we got closer to the heart of the matter: setting the table implies activities such as:

  • Setting up infrastructure (computers, user accounts, instruments etc.)
  • Training testers – get to know the instrument, the “lingo”, the templates and the processes
  • Setting up / calibrating the instruments to test
  • Learning simulation tools, log parsers etc.
  • Generating test data
  • Reviewing specs
  • Dry runs and exploratory testing
  • Collecting test data

These are all auxiliary test activities that lay the foundation on which efficient test case writing and executing is subsequently performed. They might not look particularly impressive at first, but experience has shown that performing these activities carefully, consciensly and consistently pays of immensely. The reverse is also true; failing to give these activities their proper attention will have a severe impact on testing efficiency.

Finally, another test manager said, "Writing and executing a test case is the end of a long journey. It is the result of a long array of preparatory activities. It is how you get to this point that decides how efficiently your writing and execution will be".

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