Key differences between test management app vs Excel
The key difference between using Excel vs specialised tools lies in the philosophy, but it has very practical consequences. Business-wise, perhaps the biggest impact is whether you really know when to stop testing.
Test management with Excel is trying to shoehorn a (pretty advanced) spreadsheet editor into a QA tool. Test management solutions were designed as a QA tool and thus help you improve quality without the extra layer of clunkiness and limitations. The sensible choice is to manage your test cases, yet alone test scenarios with a dedicated solution.
Pros of using test management tool
Now that we outlined the key differences that can sway you to go with a test management tool or Excel, let’s further dive into the advantages of the modern route.
Excel is no match for test management solutions when it comes to data security. They combine a great degree of protection and convenience. Most solutions bring modern authentication protocols (such as Single Sign-On and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) that give authorised users a free berth while keeping externals out.
The deployment models are pretty flexible when it comes to security protocols as well. A lot of companies can get away with the cost and convenience of storing QA items on the vendor’s cloud. Software testing in government sector and other sensitive industries often require on-premise installation. A good compromise could be hosting the server of your test management solution on your own cloud, breaking away from any security vulnerabilities on the vendor’s side.
Excel is often praised for saving a lot of time and effort, but it lacks the same prowess in test management. You don’t quite get to set up a QA architecture that can be easily scaled with spreadsheets and spreadsheet tabs alone. Splitting tests between different files to at least some degree means making the same change with much more cases than one.
On the other hand, test management solutions encourage reusability and make it simple. Most tools allow you to group tests into scenarios that can be executed at once. This is a great way to quickly see if the upcoming build passes essential checks and can be feasibly deployed. Bulk edits and shared test steps also save you the hassle of introducing a new test or making the same change dozens (if not hundreds) of times.
Granular user permissions
Access management with Excel indeed reminds you of the early 2000s. You can protect the spreadsheet or individual tabs with a password, and you can share either a read-only or editorial password. That is about it.
On the other hand, some dedicated software for testing can offer up to 100 permissions that admins can grant or revoke individually. Most solutions usually cap at a few dozen, which is still a major improvement from Excel. Test management tools also employ basic roles (e.g. Developer, Tester, Project Management) and sometimes even custom roles to simplify user management.
Excel does not offer much in the way of automated testing. Some third-party automation tools can export test reports in Excel-friendly file formats, but that does not really count as QA automation with Excel. You are still stuck piecing these test reports together with whatever you get out of manual testing with Excel.
Test management solutions, on the other hand, are designed with automation in mind. Some offer first-party automation (usually via universal frameworks) so you can automate tests within that tool alone. Others offer integrations with popular third-party software, which is itself often free to use (e.g. Selenium). Most solutions also provide REST API support that allows you to read/write QA data with any third-party tool, not just an automation one.
Reporting & dashboards
Sure, Excel is hard to outmatch with any pros when it comes to visualising data. The key question here, however, is getting and displaying the relevant data.
Software testing, just like modern agile development, runs on a pretty tight cycle. As a QA Lead, Project Manager, or even Product Owner, you would like to see how the new release is shaping up. Visualising an Excel spreadsheet offline does nothing to show the current status. Compare that to a dashboard that pulls data from all the test cases to display pass/fail rate or combines bug reports to show you the number of Major and Critical issues left.
As for reporting, most tools do not make it much prettier than summarising excerpts of test data from your server. Others can go pretty wide, such as letting you add custom text and imagery on top of what you pulled from the server. You are still likely to get some templates that can save you quite a bit of regulatory hassle, such as a requirements traceability matrix template.
With Excel, discussing and sharing test cases is literally sending spreadsheets several times a day and praying you don’t accidentally work in an outdated file. This can really slow down everyone’s day, especially if we’re talking about resolving bugs — something that requires communication between a tester and a developer.
Most test management solutions have some sort of notes or even a comment section under every item. You can usually tag/mention other users or change the ticket status to let people know that it’s their turn to act. Some solutions support free form documentation to massively help onboarding new employees and keeping current ones to the regular standards.
Perhaps most importantly, test management tools grant you the complete picture of the QA process. You see the status of tests and bugs. You can assess the workload of every tester. You can identify bottlenecks on the developer side. You can create views (sets of filters) that your team members can use to prioritise their tasks.
Even better, some solutions (including aqua) can act as Application LIfecycle Management (ALM) tools. It means that one single tool can be used to keep track of prototyping, design, development, and testing. Imagine the time and money that you save by using an ultimate solution. Double what you have just imagined.
Test management solutions are the inevitable evolution of testing with Excel. Dedicated tools work faster, increase the efficiency of QA, and provide you with the security that is nice to have if not mandatory for your industry. Some software can even be used as an Application Lifecycle Management solution, replacing a dozen of tools (and their subscription cost) with just one.