As with any other test, putting computer systems through the proper Y2K paces requires homework. A good plan, says Lynn Holloway of RCG Information Technology Inc., should include the following steps: 1. Develop an overall project plan for the testing phase. Dont just allocate a chunk of time on the overall Y2K conversion plan and label it "testing." Instead, develop a separate plan with clearly defined stages and include the creation of the test environment, the identification of all required resources, and the coordination of the usage of the test environment as key components. 2. Define the test strategy. What will the scope of the testing encompass? Can automated testing tools play a part? If so, how big a part? Will there be a consistent set of objectives communicated to all parties involved in Y2K efforts? 3. Define the test environment. There are many options here: Applications can be tested off-site; companies can establish a logical partition on their mainframe and devote it to testing; or a new, smaller mainframe can be purchased for testing. Some mainframe computer vendors, including IBM Corp. and Amdahl Corp., are now offering special deals on machines purchased or leased for Y2K testing. 4. Develop test cases, test plans, and test scenarios. Decide which type of data needs to be run through the system to adequately reflect a production environment. Also determine what cycles need to be run and what dates should be tested. Closely related to any testing plan is the issue of "risk management," a term that will be heard more often as time runs out. It usually refers to the need to decide which applications need to be fixed most urgently, which ones most need to be tested, etc. For companies that dont have time to fix and test everything fully, risk management is a way to minimize the pain.