Analysis of ISO 29119-2: Test Processes

This is the second post in a series following and analyzing the ISO 29119 standard. Most of the essential context references were covered in the first post, Analysis of ISO 29119-1. One thing that has changed since that first post is the AST Committee I proposed has been formalized. Watch for more from us soon!

So, what can we expect in Part 2 of the Standard?

ISO/IEC/IEEE 29119 supports dynamic testing, functional and non-functional testing, manual and automated testing, and scripted and unscripted testing.The processes defined in this series of international standards can be used in conjunction with any software development lifecycle model. Each process is defined…and covers the purpose, outcomes, activities, tasks and information items of each test process.

Can’t wait!

Please remember I am criticizing the standard (and the idea of a testing standard), not the people who worked on it. I believe that smart, experienced people attempted to lay out their view(s) of testing, hoping to help people test effectively. I think that in the right discussion about the many contexts software might be tested in, they might concede that no prescriptive standard can be relevant and useful in every context. In fact, some of them are already doing that. Whatever the shortcomings of 29119 (and there are plenty) it could never possibly satisfy its mission, even if it was a better standard than it actually is.


My best-practice, conform-ational approach is to summarize my primary conclusions at the top of my blog posts, sparing tens of readers the post’s full brilliance. Here are my “above the fold” takeaways from analyzing ISO 29119-2:

  • 29119 literally puts process (Part 2) before technique (promised in Part 4, still not published)
  • 29119 claims to be applicable to testing in *all* software development lifecycle models, despite heavy documentation and compliance burdens
  • 29119-2 has Conformance on page 1. To claim Conformance, there are 138 “Shalls” to conform to in this document. To claim “Tailored Conformance” without meeting every “Shall”, “justification shall be provided…whenever a process defined in…29119 is not followed”
  • Part 2’s vocabulary section has conflicts, revisions, and pointers to new terms relative to Part 1. This is not a “gotcha” – but is worth remembering when someone claims that with a test standard “At least there is a common vocabulary for testing”.
  • Conformance is driven by fear. Fear is the mind-killer.
  • Some of the “shalls” are highly specific. Some are vague and hard to understand. Some, through reference, contain multitudes. Some are nonsense.
  • The standard is not detailed enough to be very useful to someone who doesn’t already understand a fair amount about testing, yet an experienced tester would waste a lot of time and effort attempting to comply with it.


29119-2 goes to Conformance very early – Page 1. Either Full or Tailored conformance can be claimed for the standard.

  • “Full conformance is achieved by demonstrating that all of the requirements (i.e. shall statements) of the full set of processes defined in this part of ISO/IEC/IEEE 29119 have been satisfied.”
  • “Tailored conformance is achieved by demonstrating that all of the requirements (i.e. shall statements) for the recorded subset of processes have been satisfied. Where tailoring occurs, justification shall be provided (either directly or by reference), whenever a process defined in…ISO 29119 is not followed. All tailoring decisions shall be recorded with their rationale, including the consideration of any applicable risks.”

I can find no guidance on what “the recorded subset of processes” means. Not just what the various nesting levels of “process” are in the standard, either. Are these the processes that reference record-keeping and documentation? I bet I can find a consultant to help not-interpret that…

There is a “Reference” example given for exclusion from the requirement for providing direct justification:

“Where organizations follow information item management processes in standards such as ISO 15489… ISO 9001…or use similar internal organizational processes, they can decide to use those processes in place of the information item management tasks defined in this part of ISO/IEC/IEEE 29119.”

So, no exclusion from the requirement to document and describe the justifications – just an exclusion from the requirement to provide a separate document including these justifications for ISO 29119, as long as they are in another document somewhere else.

After 10 months, the only defense raised thus far by the authors of the standard to the questions about difficult compliance is to claim it is more flexible than what is actually said in the standard:


… and that’s the last message in the conversation. I suppose we could take the word of a standard author over the standard itself, which says with little ambiguity under Intended Usage: “The organization shall assert whether it is claiming full or tailored conformance to this part of ISO/IEC/IEEE 29119”.

Clashing Definitions

Section 2 spells out definitions for some terms. There is overlap with Section 1 – and some disagreement with what was found there.

For example, in Section 1, Feature Set meant  “collection of items which contain the test conditions of the test item to be tested which can be collected from risks, requirements, functions, models, etc.” Section 2: “logical subset of the test item(s) that could be treated independently of other feature sets in the subsequent test design activities”. Additional differences, revisions, and pointers to new terms are found. This is not a “gotcha” – but is worth remembering when someone claims that with a test standard: “At least there is a common vocabulary for testing”, ISO 29119 already has divergence in critical definitions between its first two parts.

Do-not-think-it-meansAt least these terms are interesting to think about. It’s far less interesting to trace the relationships between test activity, test item, test condition, rest requirement, test phase, test plan, test policy, test planning process, test procedure, test procedure specification, test condition, test process, test sub-process, test script, test set, test models, test technique, test specification, and test type. Yes, these are all separate things, but time spent debating their boundaries is time not spent “testing”.

Exploratory testing is again defined as “spontaneously designs and executes”, not “simultaneously” as we define it.

Process and Hierarchy


This diagram shows a hierarchy of test processes. It doesn’t actually cover all the processes referenced in the standard, despite the caption’s claim. The diagram does demonstrate the standard’s insistence on separating control processes from execution processes.

It is intended to illustrate that the vertical layers define each other downwards. First is the organizational process that defines process for organizational test policies, which dictate policy, strategy, process, procedure, and “other assets”. Test Management Processes are defined at the project level, Dynamic Test Processes are said to control a phase or particular type of testing.

This seems tailored for adoption by the mid-level executive who wants to put their stamp on an organization’s entire testing practice. Over and over again, the standard lays out separate process nodes for each possible step of testing. This exhaustive documentation of the steps involved in one view of testing is way too much for an experienced tester, who would rather provide useful information to stakeholders. It’s still not enough to arm someone with no testing experience to plan and supervise good testing. So who is it for?

When Fear Drives Testing


Software testing is frequently perceived as a high-risk, low-reward activity by people who aren’t testers. It’s thought of as a cost center (“there is no ROI in testing”) and if anything goes wrong, someone’s in trouble. Over and over again, testing is blamed for poor quality, despite the fact that most people who work in software engineering know “you can’t test quality into the product”. Testing is often thought of as less intellectually rigorous than other parts of software engineering, frequently is not a prestigious area to work in, sometimes is led by people without real training, experience, and/or skill in testing, and is often a convenient scapegoat for quality issues – particularly by people who should know better.

Many people that work in testing (rightfully) fear the buck stopping on their desk after a quality failure, and for good reason. If you are likely to have blame imposed for a bug escape, the most rational response by a skilled person might be to interrogate the context and demand the tools and latitude to gather the most comprehensive and useful set of information about the system under test.

If you are controlled by fear, you might shy away from the responsibility, and look for some cover under best practices. After all, if you faithfully observed and obeyed someone else’s plan, you can’t be blamed if the plan fails, right? It wasn’t you, it was the plan!

If you don’t know what you are doing, you might be even more likely to seek the comfort of an externally defined standard that removes your responsibility to decide what to do. If you don’t trust your team (and yourself), you hand off control to someone or something else. Like a prescriptive standard, full of “shall statements” to replace “you thinking”.

The standard is still not detailed enough to be very useful to someone who doesn’t already understand a fair amount about testing, yet an experienced tester could waste a lot of time and effort trying to comply with it. Any discussion of actual techniques seems to be waiting for 29119-4 – at one point promised for late 2014, currently late in the approval process.

You Shall…

There are 138 instances of “shall” in this document. Some of them are highly specific. Some, by reference, contain multitudes. Some are simply nonsense. Some of them are too vague to be useful, though that may make them more applicable in multiple contexts. Some real wisdom can be found in here.

I spent some time pulling apart the various processes, sub-processes, dependencies, and circular references. Rather than try to further sketch out the overall shape of process (and documentation) requirements, I present my 10 most entertaining/concerning/Kafkaesque “Shall Statements” in ISO 29119-2:

  1. The person responsible for organizational test specifications shall implement the following activities and tasks in accordance with applicable organization policies and procedures with respect to the Organizational Test Process.
  2. The organizational test specification requirements shall be used to create the organizational test specification.
  3. Appropriate actions shall be taken to encourage alignment of stakeholders to the organizational test specification.
  4. The traceability between the test basis, feature sets, test conditions, test coverage items, test cases and test sets shall be recorded.
  5. The testing of the feature sets shall be prioritized using the risk exposure levels documented in the Identify and Analyze Risks activity (TP3).
  6. Any risks that have been previously identified shall be reviewed to identify those that relate to and/or can be treated by software testing.
  7. Each required test activity in the Test Strategy shall be scheduled based on the estimates, dependencies and staff availability.
  8. Those actions necessary to implement control directives received from higher level management processes shall be performed.
  9. Readiness for commencing any assigned test activity shall be established before commencing that activity, if not already done.
  10. The test coverage items to be exercised by the testing shall be derived by applying test design techniques to the test conditions to achieve the test completion coverage criteria specified in the Test Plan…
    NOTE 2 Where a test completion criterion for the test item is specified as less than 100% of a test coverage measure, a subset of the test coverage items required to achieve 100 % coverage needs to be selected to be exercised by the testing.

It’s not all baffling. Here’s a richly meaningful shall statement that demonstrates something about the depth necessary to understand context:

A Test Strategy (comprising choices including test phases, test types, features to be tested, test design techniques, test completion criteria, and suspension and resumption criteria) shall be designed that considers test basis, risks, and organizational, project and product constraints…

NOTE 3 This takes into consideration the level of risk exposure to prioritise the test activities, the initial test estimates, the resources needed to perform actions (e.g. skills, tool support and environment needs), and organizational, project and product constraints, such as:
a) regulatory standards; b) the requirements of the Organizational Test Policy, Organizational Test Strategy and the Project Test Plan (if designing a test strategy for a lower level of testing); c) contractual requirements; d) project time and cost constraints; e) availability of appropriately-skilled testers; f) availability of tools and environments; g) technical, system or product limitations.


The last third of 29119-2 is an Annex mapping clauses of other standards (ISO 12207, ISO 15288, ISO 17025, ISO 25051, BS 7925, and IEEE 1008) to 29119-2. Rather than critique these other standards, I will simply question the value and purpose of this exercise. Is it to justify the standard, or to prove that it equals or even supersedes the others?


We still have parts 3 (and 4? soon?) of 29119 to go. Having processes defined before considering what we want to accomplish will guarantee we end at our desired results (whatever that might be), right?


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