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Do we need step by step test cases?

Many companies have moved to agile software development but they still maintain large suites of step by step test cases for regression testing. At the company I work for, I’ve managed to get rid of these step by step test cases altogether.

What is wrong with step by step test cases anyway?

If you are in a traditional waterfall setup with high level requirements and test cases, then the test cases are actually quite valuable as they document how the system works. But if you start to move quality to the left and specify requirements in more detail upfront with user stories, then test cases make much less sense. You are essentially duplicating the requirements in test cases and end up with a whole set of assets that need to be maintained in a separate test management or ALM tool. A big problem with that is that you do not have a single source of truth on how the system behaves.

A second problem with step by step test cases is that they are not visible to the business. I can’t think of many product owners or even business analysts who want to trawl through detailed test cases to understand how a product works. So we get to a situation where the business has a high level idea of how the product works through requirements but only the testers know how the product really works.

Another big problem from a tester’s perspective is that regression testing is boring! Who wants to go through step by step test cases over and over again? Surely testers are more intelligent than that. Once a tester understands a product they do not need step by step test cases to test it effectively. I prefer the idea of an intelligent tester who has a good knowledge of the product and is finding issues, rather than blindly following a step by step test case.

To summarise, the problems with step by step test cases are:
  • They duplicate requirements which means you have two sets of assets to maintain and  there is no single source of truth about how the product works
  • Step by step test cases are not visible to the business
  • It encourages the notion that anyone can test by blindly following a step by step test case

How can you get rid of step by step test cases?

If you would like to find out how I got rid of test cases, why not come to the talk I’m giving on this subject at the CASTx18 conference in Melbourne, Australia. CASTx18 is on 1 March 2018 and you can register here:

In the talk I describe the steps I took to change processes and convince management there is a better way to do things. The approach I pioneered hinges on creating user stories to define features and, in particular, writing acceptance criteria  that effectively become the test cases. This approach means that we have one source of truth for how a feature works and what has been tested. I’ll also describe how other types of tests, such as shakedowns, were replaced with mind maps.

If you live overseas or are not able to attend the conference, I’ll try and get a video of the talk and/or write a follow up post that expands on the details of my approach.


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