Draw it five times before writing it down

Any time I'm planning a testing approach for a project, I try to come up with a way to model it visually (flow charts, system diagrams, sequence diagrams, venn diagrams, other...) so I can quickly explain what I think we're testing and how we're testing. I usually end up drawing my picture of our testing on whiteboards, flip charts, and the back of napkins and scrap paper hundreds of times in a project. Over time, my diagram changes as I add more detail and my story of our testing gets richer.

The more I draw the picture of our testing, the more feedback I get. Its for this reason I make sure I draw it a minimum of five times, for at least five different audiences, before I commit my picture to any formal medium (like Visio or Word). History tells me I don't know anything until I'm at least at version 0.5 of my picture. And even then, things are still changing regularly. But after five, I normally have the outline.

As I draw, I'm telling the story of what our testing will look like. I always tell the entire story, even if I think the person I'm telling it to may already know what we're going to do. Early on, I hear "you can't do that" or "that's not how it works" at least once every five minutes. If I don't hear someone saw I can't do what I'm thinking, or express some other concern, I start to wonder if they're really listening to me. Because for any project of even medium complexity, testing is messy (environments, domain knowledge, resources, orders of magnitude estimates, etc...).

On a side note, my iPhone makes a great repository of photos of draft versions of the picture so I can see how it evolves over time. After the first week of a project, I almost have a flip-book for how our test approach unfolded. Kinda neat.
Test PlanningMichael Kelly