Robert V. Binder

The Spreadsheet Experiment

Having spent man
mad scientist cartoony years on the bleeding edge of test automation and model-based testing, I recently tried an experiment to see to what extent Excel could support a test plan for manual testing of mobile apps.

In a earlier post, I explained some of the thinking behind my new course “How to Test Mobile Apps.” Most mobile app devs don’t have any testing tools and do only limited manual testing. With this audience in mind, I used Excel to develop a complete test plan template, following IEEE 829. Excel is not limited to MS Office — you can use Open Office or Google Docs to develop and share spreadsheets. The course case study includes a complete example test plan in Excel, which I used to refine the approach.

The test plan follows my test model: tours, use cases, variants, actions, and variables. Worksheets (tabs) are basic grouping structure for use case test instances, with rows as test actions. It includes tours, which are sequential overlays on the use case test instances.

Following the incremental approach I teach in the course, adding new test instances is easy — you just make a new copy of the baseline sheet and tweak as necessary.

Then the completed plan file is copied, producing a file for each test run. The tester enters verdicts, etc. into the test run file. This had the unexpected good side effect of providing an exact snapshot of the test plan and the test run — subsequent updates to the plan didn’t wipe out the plan used at the time.

In contrast to a good test suite management tool, the burden of consistency, naming, and indexing is entirely on the user. Excel isn’t designed to support a large number of sheets with inter-sheet dependencies — you need a database and UI for that. And, using a spreadsheet (or other kind of flat file) is bad idea for more sophisticated testing: maintenance gets messy, no integration with requirements, bug tracking, or project management; it can’t scale; shared access/update is not supported (if files are housed in Sharepoint, you get some support for shared, multi-user access.)

However, for testers who are willing and able to follow the structure and maintain it, this is a practical, complete, and no-cost solution.

The template is available with the course:


  1. I want to learn software testing from basic.


  1. Testing the Limits With Bob Binder | Software Testing Blog

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.