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16 testing terms every project manager should know

The following is a list of 16 testing terms that every IT project manager should understand to effectively communicate with their test team and to plan the testing activities on their projects.

Test case

A test case is a single unit of testing that should be completed in its entirety. A test case may have a number of pre-conditions and/or dependencies (see below).

A test case consists of a number of steps that define how to perform the testing. Test steps define what must be done and also what the expected outcomes are from these steps.

As an absolute minimum there should be enough test cases on a project to test the golden thread (see below). There should also be test cases (or steps) to check for extremes and edge cases.


A pre-condition for a test case defines what should be in place before the test can be performed, for example what configuration must be loaded, should the user be logged in or not, or what other systems must be available.


A test case would typically be dependent on at least one requirement in the project. In this case the test case would check that the system meets that particular requirement(s). Should the requirements change, then the test case may need to be updated and should then be retested, possibly as part of a regression test (see below).

Test cases can also be dependent on other test cases. For example test A must be completed before you can start test B. If test A is changed it may no longer create the correct environment for test B to be completed.

Golden thread

The golden thread of an application is the main pathway (or process) through that system. This can also be defined as the absolute minimum functionality that must be implemented before the system can perform its basic function.

Testing for the golden thread means testing only the functionality on the golden thread of the system. No alternative paths, extremes or edge cases are included.

Testing only the golden thread may give a false impression that the system is working correctly, but the system is likely to fail as soon as you step off that golden path.


Where data entry or data exchange take place, it is good practice to test for extreme values for all fields. For example if a field expects a positive integer value test for the largest possible number. Also check for the largest possible negative number. If a 32bit number is expected, include some 64bit values. If the system expects a string up to a maximum length, include some tests with longer strings – what happens?

Edge cases

Edge cases test where the system copes correctly with values just in range and just outside of the range defined for the system. For example if the system should accept an integer value from 0 to 100 then you want to test the system response to values like -1, 1, 100 and 101. You should also check for non-integer values e.g. -0.01 or 100.01

Traceability matrix

A traceability matrix is a technique to visualise the dependencies between requirements, requirements and test cases and also between test cases.

The matrix typically lists all of the sources (requirements of test cases) on one axis and all of the dependents on the other axis. The intersection between a row and a column would indicate if there is a dependency between those two items.

Agile testing

Agile testing is a software testing practice that follows the principles of agile software development. Testing is integrated into each phase (iteration) of the software development rather than leaving it to the end of the project.

Regression testing

Regression testing re-executes test cases to ensure that any changes made to the system have not adversely affected other parts of the system.

In large systems it is not always practical to re-test all parts of the system for regression testing. In this case a statistical or risk-based approach may be used to select the test cases to re-execute.

Test automation

You can use a test automation tool to build test scripts that will automatically be executed against the system. Such a tool will include mechanisms to reset the system the correct configuration before tests are executed and to automatically record the results of the tests.

Test automation can make it a lot easier to do regression testing and even allow you to perform all tests for a regression test. It can however take a lot of effort to maintain the test automation scripts, in some cases even exceeding the development cost.

Unit testing

Unit testing is where you test an individual component rather that the system as a whole. For example if the system is a whole car, then you may perform unit testing on a wheel to check that it is inflated correctly, balanced and aligned.

Pen testing

Pen testing (or penetration testing) is the practice of using hacking techniques to try and break into a system without any credentials or to escalate the privileges of a restricted account. Pen testing may include testing organisational processes such as authentication for calls to the help desk.

Black-box testing vs white-box testing

Black-box testing is where a system is tested without any prior knowledge of the internal design or workings of that system, except for the requirements of that system.

White-box testing includes test cases that are specifically related to the internal design or workings of the system. Unit testing falls into this category as it would typically include test cases designed to trigger the different logic paths of the system.

User interface testing vs end-to-end process testing

User interface testing focuses the effort on testing the user interface(s) of a system without regard for other systems or processes it may relate to or interface with.

End-to-end process testing involves checking that systems interface properly with each other also with any human processes that are required for the correct functioning of the end-to-end processes.

The following is a list of 16 testing terms that every IT project manager should understand to effectively communicate with their test team and to plan the testing activities on their projects.

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