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  • Writer's pictureCraig Risi

Are test management tools necessary?

In my analysis of different testing tools, I thought I would discuss the important topic of test management tools. This could be a controversial topic because while I see the importance of test management tools as a centerpiece of testing traceability, I can also see why they are losing favor with the industry as their high costs, vendor locking strategy – and in-effectiveness with keeping up with modern development practices does make it a difficult sell where it’s hard to see the benefit of. Especially when you’re already running automated tests in a CI/CD pipeline and gaining all the traceability you need from there.

So the reality is that a lot of the benefits around test management tools depend on the context of your business and where you are in your development processes. Even if you are running fully automated Ci/CD pipelines you will still need some form of test management, though you can get by without needing a fully-fledged tool to bring it all together. However, if you are a company in a heavily regulated and audited industry (banks, financial institutions, medical, aviation, or military, as examples) or a company with a fair amount of legacy applications. Then there is a chance you will find value in a test management tool despite their often exorbitant costs.

So what are test management tools and what do they offer?

Test management tools are software applications designed to assist software development and quality assurance teams in organizing, managing, and automating various aspects of the software testing process. These tools help streamline and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of software testing activities.

Here are some of the key functions and features typically provided by test management tools:

Test Case Management: Test management tools allow users to create, organize, and store test cases, which are detailed instructions on how to test a specific aspect of a software application. Test cases typically include inputs, expected results, and test steps.

Test Planning: These tools support the creation of test plans that define the scope, objectives, and strategy for testing a particular software project. Test plans help teams understand what needs to be tested and how.

Test Execution: Test management tools enable testers to execute test cases and record the results. Testers can mark test cases as pass, fail, or blocked and capture details about the testing environment and test execution date.

Test Automation Integration: Many test management tools integrate with test automation frameworks, making it easier to schedule and execute automated tests. They also provide a central repository for storing and managing automated test scripts.

Defect Management: Test management tools often include defect tracking capabilities, allowing teams to log, track, and manage software defects or issues that are discovered during testing. They help in prioritizing and assigning defects to development teams for resolution.

Test Reporting and Metrics: These tools generate reports and provide dashboards that offer insights into the testing progress, test coverage, and test results. Metrics help teams assess the quality of the software and make informed decisions.

Requirement Traceability: Test management tools enable users to link test cases to specific requirements or user stories, ensuring that all requirements are adequately tested and providing traceability from requirements to test cases.

Test Data Management: They may include features to manage test data, allowing testers to create, import, and manipulate data for testing scenarios.

Integration with Version Control: Some test management tools integrate with version control systems to help manage test assets, such as test scripts and test plans, in conjunction with the software code.

Test Scheduling and Prioritization: These tools help teams schedule and prioritize test execution to ensure efficient testing, especially in complex projects with multiple test cycles.

Collaboration and Communication: They often provide features for team collaboration, allowing testers, developers, and other stakeholders to communicate, share feedback, and collaborate on testing activities.

Access Control and Permissions: Test management tools allow administrators to define user roles and permissions to control who can access and modify testing artifacts and data.

Compliance and Audit Trails: Many test management tools offer audit trails and compliance features to support regulatory requirements and maintain a history of changes made to test cases and other testing artifacts.

Test management tools help teams streamline the testing process, improve communication, and ensure that software products meet quality standards. They are valuable in both manual and automated testing environments and can be tailored to the specific needs of a project or organization.

As you can gather, there are a lot of very important aspects that get covered here that offer a lot of structure and traceability from a testing point of view – allowing teams to keep track of exactly what happened during the entire testing process. Something vital in many industries.

To use these tools properly though, takes a lot of time that many companies don’t have and often companies end up sending money on these expensive tools not even using any of the features as they’re just trying to cover the bare minimum to pass an audit rather than trying to make their testing approach more efficient.

And, as mentioned, for a lot of small companies, particularly start-ups, and companies where this sort of regulation is not needed, they can feel cumbersome and take away from a fast-moving, DevOps approach to development. Having automated tests at every stage of a pipeline process that also links to a user storyboard in some way, can provide you many of these same benefits without any additional costs or time spent needing to keep everything up to date.

Below is a list of cons that come with using a test management tool:

  • Cost: Test management tools may require an initial investment in terms of software licenses, infrastructure, and training. This cost can be a barrier for smaller teams or projects with limited budgets.

  • Learning Curve: Learning to use a test management tool effectively can take time, and the tool's complexity may overwhelm some users, especially those new to testing.

  • Maintenance Overhead: Test management tools need regular updates and maintenance, which can be time-consuming. Keeping the tool up to date and ensuring data integrity is essential.

  • Customization Challenges: Customizing the tool to fit specific project needs can be complex and may require technical expertise. Off-the-shelf tools may not always align perfectly with project requirements.

  • Overreliance on Tool: Teams may become overly reliant on the tool, potentially neglecting critical thinking and test design. A tool should enhance, not replace, the skills of testers.

  • Scalability: Some tools may struggle to handle very large or complex projects. Ensuring scalability may require more powerful hardware or licensing costs.

  • Vendor Lock-In: Depending on the chosen tool, teams may become dependent on a specific vendor, which can limit flexibility and make migration to other tools difficult.

  • Not a Silver Bullet: Test management tools are not a guarantee of improved quality; they need to be used effectively, and their benefits depend on the quality of the testing process and the expertise of the team using them.

So, should we be using test management tools?

Well, as has probably been gathered, in most cases- I would argue yes. But if you are adopting modern development practices, there is a good chance you will no longer need these tools, and can save yourself a lot of time and money. Companies that have been slow to transition away from their legacy approaches that aren’t in heavily regulated industries are paying the price for needing to rely on these and if teams are looking for extra motivation to put in the effort to repurpose some of their aging applications and approaches- this should hopefully provide it. Both in reduced cost and increased speed.

I will add though that it’s also important for companies to fully understand a tool they’re using too. Many of these tools can help increase efficiency, but then you will have to use it the way it is intended and possibly shift some of your development approaches around the tool.

In summary, the use of a test management tool can significantly improve testing processes and outcomes, but it's essential to carefully consider the specific needs of your project and organization. The pros often outweigh the cons, especially for medium to large software development efforts, but smaller projects or teams with limited resources may need to evaluate whether the benefits justify the costs and complexities of a test management tool.

In my next post, I will explore some of the criteria you should consider when selecting a test management tool that will hopefully make this decision easier for you if you need to select one.


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