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What Goes First? The Basics of Test Planning and Prioritization

Author: Sowmya Sridharamurthy

Last updated: June 10, 2024

test planning
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Confidence in quality becomes a top priority in the fast-paced sector of software development, where quick innovation and strict deadlines conflict. The effectiveness of testing depends on a strategic approach, particularly test planning and prioritizing in the face of the many tasks and limitations. This becomes a compass directing testing efforts toward the most critical aspects in an environment where every test cannot be executed.

Organizations can ensure not just the discovery of flaws, but also the optimization of resources and the achievement of a robust, dependable end product by meticulously establishing priorities and creating a defined plan. In this investigation, we look into the crucial importance of designing and prioritizing tests, revealing their capacity to influence the course of software quality.

Test prioritization is a component of test engineering’s fault detection strategies. Firstly, it allows development teams to wisely use their limited resources by directing them toward the most important and high-impact areas. Early testing of essential functions helps to identify any potential flaws quickly and allows for quick improvements. Because problems found and fixed early in the process are much less expensive to rectify than those discovered later, this proactive approach results in lower costs. Additionally, test planning and prioritization help teams proactively manage risks, preventing issues before they arise and avoiding traps that can endanger project timeframes and stakeholder confidence.

Most importantly, test prioritization techniques support a thorough and organized testing strategy. Teams ensure no detail is missed by meticulously classifying test cases based on factors like risk, impact, and business value. By ensuring that every nuance of the software has been examined, this thorough test coverage not only strengthens the application against potential flaws but also inspires confidence in stakeholders.



Test Planning & Prioritization Gives Value to Execution

Prioritizing test cases makes testing less of a formality and more of a planned endeavor that improves product resilience while also maximizing resources and shortening time to market. Multiple factors are layered in decision-making for efficient test case prioritization. Some of these include but are not limited to:

  1. Risk Assessment: Identifying areas of the application that are most susceptible to defects or failures.
  2. Business Impact: Critical to the core objectives of the application receive attention first.
  3. Functional Dependencies: Prioritize the test cases that need to be executed first to create a foundation for subsequent testing and to identify issues that might affect multiple functionalities.
  4. Requirement: Test cases linked to high-priority requirements.
  5. Third-Party Integrations: Third-party integrations are of higher priority to achieve better interoperability.
  6. User Feedback: Addressing known user concerns can enhance customer satisfaction.


Challenges of Test Planning & Prioritization

  1. Limited Resources: Testing often operates within constraints of time, budget, and resources. With a multitude of test cases to choose from, selecting which to prioritize becomes a delicate balancing act. A systematic approach helps allocate resources judiciously by focusing on critical areas that yield the highest value.
  2. Complex Interdependencies: Software applications are often complex and feature-rich, with functionalities that are interdependent. Prioritizing test cases without considering these dependencies can lead to incomplete testing or missing critical defects. A systematic approach ensures that dependencies are considered when determining the order of test execution.
  3. Evolving Requirements: Requirements can change throughout the project lifecycle. This dynamic nature can challenge the stability of test prioritization. A systematic approach incorporates mechanisms for regularly reviewing and updating priorities in response to changing requirements.
  4. Subjectivity: Different stakeholders might have varying opinions on what constitutes a high-priority test case. Without a structured approach, decisions might be driven by personal biases rather than objective criteria. A systematic approach provides a framework for objective decision-making based on predefined criteria.
  5. Lack of Visibility: In larger projects, it can be challenging to have a comprehensive view of all test cases and their associated priorities. This lack of visibility can lead to overlooked critical tests. A systematic approach involves documentation, categorization, and clear communication to enhance visibility.
  6. Misaligned Priorities: If there’s a lack of clarity or consensus among team members regarding project goals and priorities, the test prioritization process can be undermined. A systematic approach involves collaboration, ensuring that all stakeholders share a common understanding of priorities.
  7. Frequent Releases and Changes: Agile methodologies and continuous integration lead to frequent releases and changes. This dynamic environment demands a systematic approach that can quickly adapt to changes in priorities without disrupting the overall testing process.

Test planning outlines the approach, objectives, scope, resources, and schedule for testing a software application or system. It is a roadmap for the entire testing process, providing a structured framework for how testing activities will be carried out to ensure the quality and reliability of the software. A well-defined test plan is essential for effective project management, communication, and coordination among team members.

Teams should carefully consider the purpose and objective of the tests when creating a test plan and develop a unique prioritization strategy for test execution. There are various strategies that can be employed and not limited to:

  1. Risk-Based Prioritization: Identify and prioritize test cases based on potential risks. Focus on areas that could lead to severe consequences if they fail, such as security vulnerabilities, critical business processes, or compliance requirements. Collaborate with stakeholders to assess risks and allocate testing efforts accordingly.
  2. Requirements-Based Prioritization: Align test cases with the importance of requirements. Prioritize test cases that cover high-priority and critical requirements to ensure that the application meets essential functionalities early in the testing process.
  3. Business Value-Based Prioritization: Consider the business impact of each feature or requirement. Prioritize test cases that correspond to functionalities with high business value, ensuring that the final product aligns with organizational goals.
  4. Impact Analysis: Evaluate the potential impact of defects on the overall system. Prioritize test cases that cover features with wider implications or that affect multiple functionalities. This approach helps address issues that could cascade into other areas if not identified early.
  5. Time-Based Prioritization: Allocate test cases based on project timelines. Focus on executing essential tests within the available time frame. This strategy is particularly useful when facing tight deadlines.
  6. User-Centric Prioritization: Prioritize test cases that cover user scenarios and workflows most frequently used or crucial to the application. This approach ensures that the application is tested from the perspective of its primary users.
  7. Regression Testing Focus: Prioritize test cases that cover existing functionalities affected by recent code changes. This ensures that new changes don’t introduce defects that affect previously stable areas of the application.
  8. Dependency-Driven Prioritization: Test cases with dependencies on other functionalities should be prioritized accordingly. Start by testing the foundational functionalities before moving on to test cases that rely on them.
  9. Historical Defects Analysis: Prioritize test cases that relate to areas of the application that have been problematic in the past. By addressing known issues early, you can prevent the recurrence of similar defects.
  10. Combining Strategies: Often, a combination of strategies yields the best results. For example, combining risk-based and requirements-based prioritization can provide a comprehensive approach that considers both potential issues and business-critical functionalities.
  11. Continuous Review and Adjustment: Prioritization is not a one-time task. Regularly review and adjust priorities as the project evolves, new information becomes available, and requirements change.
  12. Use of Automation: Automate the execution of high-priority test cases to ensure they are consistently run and provide quick feedback on critical functionalities.



In the realm of software development, where innovation intersects with complexity, the art of test prioritization and planning emerges as a compass guiding the pursuit of quality. These practices empower teams to navigate the challenges of resource constraints, changing requirements, and dynamic environments. As a cohesive strategy, they optimize testing efforts, leading to efficient defect detection, risk management, and ultimately, the creation of robust and reliable software products.

The journey is not devoid of challenges, but with a systematic approach and a blend of methodologies, organizations can harness the power of prioritization and planning to deliver products that stand the test of time. In this dynamic landscape, the wisdom of these practices remains constant, a beacon guiding the quest for excellence.

Sowmya Sridharamurthy

Sowmya Sridharamurthy is a product quality leader at Lytho. She’s worked on several software solutions and mentors teams in building effective strategies and implementations to achieve ROI through test automation. Sowmya focuses on driving inclusive software development. DevsOpsDays and The Test Tribe have had her as a speaker at their events. She’s also active on LinkedIn, Twitter, and her website.