Procedural Test Scripts

Cem Kaner has sometimes called detailed manual procedural test scripts “an industry worst practice”. I tend to agree. At one time I thought they were a good idea, but they lead to all kinds of problems. One is a lack of diversity in testing, another is that they become a maintenance nightmare and rob time that could be spent actually testing the software with new ideas. Another problem is that we usually write them off of requirements which narrows our focus too much, and we write them early in a project when we know little about the product. But I’m not going to get into that in this post. Instead, I’m going to describe a recent conversation that outlines why we as testers should question why we do this practice.

I was recently discussing the creation of procedural test scripts prior to testing with developers. They were skeptical of my views that pre-scripting detailed manual test cases are a scourge on the testing world. “How will testers know what to test then?” I replied: “Good testers will use their judgment and skill. When they don’t have enough information, they will seek it out. They will utilize different testing heuristics to help meet the particular mission of testing that is required at the time. They will use information that is available to them, or they will test in the absence of information, but they will rely on skill to get the job done.” This didn’t resonate, so I came up with an equivalent for developers. Here is the “procedural development script” that follows what is so often done in testing. (To make it more authentic, it should be written as long before the actual development work is done as possible).

Development Procedural Script:

Purpose: write widget foo that does this business functionality


  1. Open your Eclipse IDE. Start/Programs/Eclipse.
  2. Select your workspace for this project.
  3. In the package explorer, create a new java source code file.
  4. Begin typing in the IDE
  5. Use the such-and-such pattern to implement this functionality, type the following:
         public void <method name>(){

The development manager chuckled and said he’d fire a developer who needed this much direction. He needs people with skill that he can trust to be able to program in Java, to use their judgment and implement what needs to be done under his guidance. He would never expect developers to need things spelled out like that.

I countered that the same is true of testing. Why do we expect our testers to work this way? If we scoff at developers not needing that kind of direction, why do we use it in testing? Why do we promote bad practices that promote incompetence? Testers need to have skill to be able to figure out what to test without having everything handed to them. If we can’t trust our testers to do skilled work without having to spell everything out first, we need to get better testers.

Developers and business folk: demand skill from your testers.

Testers: demand skill from yourselves.

Are you a tester who wants to improve their skills? Cem Kaner’s free Black Box Software Testing is worth checking out.