The number of data points you can run through a typical business day is staggering. So it can be frustrating when test data gets lost or mismanaged, especially when it’s due for a deadline. Data mishandling is why an organization needs a cohesive strategy for managing its data.

Let’s look at some best practices for structuring and organizing your test data so you can avoid common pitfalls, such as mislabeled or missing values.

What Are Test Management Strategies?

A test management strategy is a plan that outlines the responsibilities of each party involved in executing a testing process to achieve high-quality results. 

A practical test data strategy provides your team with a map to follow when creating and working with test data. The management plan includes the test projects to be completed, timelines, special considerations, and deliverables. 

A test data management (TDM) strategy involves using database tables and spreadsheets to organize test results. TDM should include procedures for storing, organizing, archiving, accessing, and retrieving this information. 

Test Data Management Best Practices

Test data should be easy to find, consolidate, and correct if necessary. Here are the best practices to help you manage your test data effectively.

Begin With a Test Data Strategy

Have a comprehensive plan in place before creating your test data. You must know where the data will come from, how it will be stored and managed, and its update frequency. A clear purpose and goal for your data strategy will dictate your test data organization effectively. It will also clearly reveal if you have the information needed to ensure quality testing. 

Coordinate with company stakeholders to ensure that all people working on the same project have an easy way to access and update the data for that project. Name your test data variables in a way so that all team members know their purpose of use. You can also create a central repository table or document where everyone can get the latest information as it comes together.

Every testing project should have a comprehensive use case outlining information usage. You must know where your data will end up, because this can sometimes affect how you structure the test data. Review your test data strategies annually to ensure that the organization is consistently using the best practices and staying on track.

Discover Test Data From Multiple Data Sources

Multiple data sources must be considered when creating a test data management strategy. You need to work with your project’s architects and business analysts to determine what data you will access and how it will be structured.

Documentation from the client or product owner is a vital test source. It’s often the only way to find out about the project requirements, the expected system behavior, and other essential information your team needs. 

Requirements specifications, system use cases, and user stories are valuable when determining just how much detail you want to include in your test data. 

Business data can be an invaluable source of information if you have the right to access it. This can be data related to sales, order history, inventory details, and other metrics and analytics that may be critical to testing. You must be sure you have the approvals for direct access before starting your project or trying to test data.

Test data from multiple sources should help you make well-informed decisions on whether or not to include specific scenarios and detail levels in testing overall. Additionally, the data provides a systematic way to identify where test data is missing so you can have the up-to-date information you need to get better results.

Utilize Test Data Generation Tools

While you can piece test data together by hand and manually enter values into a table, this is often tedious and prone to error. Creating test data through a test data generator is the best way to ensure your data is correct and consistent.

Test data generation tools are invaluable for generating test data automatically. Choose the right tool for your needs, ideally one that helps you create realistic, valid data based on your business model.

You should consider whether the tool will work with existing systems or if you have to rebuild those systems from scratch. If you need to rebuild, make sure the system will follow industry standards like XML or CSV files.

Refresh Data Sources Regularly

Your test data strategy must include a plan for refreshing your test data sources when needed. An automated process to update your test data will ensure you don’t miss any critical information. Test data should be refreshed at least once a production phase, and even more often if possible. 

Automating the data refresh process ensures that your team has access to the most current and relevant information when retesting after making changes to the system. Automated refreshing also helps you find errors and adjust your test data.

Virtualize Whenever Possible

Test data virtualization is a powerful tool for remotely setting up and managing your test data. A virtualized environment can be incredibly dynamic, providing flexibility when you need to change  data. Virtualized environments are ultimately more cost effective in the long run. 

A hardware-independent environment will also reduce the number of resources necessary to maintain test data management. Virtualization is especially effective for agile teams that are frequently creating and changing test data. Virtualization services for test data also include database replication. 

Leverage a Platform-Based Approach to Test Data Management

A platform-based solution can be ideal for TDM because it helps you quickly organize and secure your data. You can access your data from anywhere, whether at home or on the go. 

A platform-based approach is a good solution if your team is distributed across different locations. It also means that when a change occurs, everyone is aware of it immediately. No one is left with outdated test information. 

There are several factors to consider when using a cloud-based TDM platform. Think about how much storage space you need, how many users, and what extras will be required.

Wrapping Up

A test data management strategy helps ensure that your tests run as expected. Create a plan for your test data, determine what secondary sources to use and how often, and then work on automating it with the most reliable software. You won’t be disappointed with the results.