Getting Started with Automation Testing

The Reflect Team
August 10th, 2021

Ask any software team, and they’ll tell you that testing is an important part of their development process. With early stage products there’s usually only a few key workflows and testing them manually doesn’t take much time. But as the product becomes more complex, and as the stakes get higher with more and more users depending on the product, what once was a straightforward process becomes anything but.

Automation testing uses software to execute a predefined set of actions against your user interface that automatically verifies those actions against a set of predefined results. When done right, teams can increase test accuracy and achieve greater test coverage in shorter timelines by taking over mundane, repetitive, time-consuming tasks such as regression tests. Manual testing efforts can then be focused on exploratory tests, test results review, and other higher-value tasks.

This type of testing also allows teams to test early and test often, thus facilitating a smooth execution of the Agile methodology. Testing code as early as possible during the development lifecycle makes it more likely that bugs are found before they make their way to production. This translates into significant cost savings since it’s cheaper to fix bugs early rather than in production or during deployment.

Practical tips for adding automated tests

So, where should you start? We have a few practical tips to help you to make that decision.

Start small

Trying to achieve 100% test coverage is extremely difficult, even for experienced teams with a dedicated testing staff. Seeing success from your initial automation efforts requires taking a practical, pragmatic approach that seeks to make the most of the time you’re investing.

We recommend identifying a few key workflows in your UI and starting there. Usually these will be workflows where bugs would have the greatest negative impact to the organization. Sign up flows, login screens, onboarding workflows, and order processing / billing scenarios are usually at the top of the list here.

Another way of determining where to start is to identify the areas of the application that are historically the most buggy. The problem with this approach is that often the buggiest parts of the application are also pretty complex. For example, a workflow that grabs dynamic data from a third party integration may be a source of a lot of bugs. But creating automated tests for that workflow could be quite difficult, especially if the third party integration does not lend itself well to automated tests.

Workflows that see a lot of use, have historically been buggy, and that would not be overly complex to test in automated fashion are usually the best candidates to start with.

Focus on Repeatability

Teams implementing automated testing for the first time often underestimate the importance of repeatability in their tests, or the difficulty in achieving repeatability when they’re implementing their first automated tests.

When testing workflows manually, subtle changes in behavior between test runs can be easily accounted for. Oftentimes these subtle changes aren’t even documented in a manual test case, as the experience and know-how of the tester can identify and account for these changes without an issue. But with automated testing, even minor changes can cause automated tests to fail and can be a source of frustration and wasted effort on the part of the software team.

When building an automated test suite, it’s important to take note of repeatability issues that can cause tests to be flaky and difficult to maintain. Workflows involving relative time periods are one common scenario that can be difficult to automate. “Select the date two Fridays from today” is an instruction that’s easy for a human tester to interpret, but for an automated test this can be quite tricky. Testing scenarios with one-time-use values can also be difficult. For example, to test a sign-up workflow, you’ll likely need to register with a different email address every time.

Planning is key

Rather than design large automated tests (which are complex and difficult to debug and edit), try dividing them into smaller, logical tests. This makes for a more manageable and coherent test environment. It also makes for faster test execution, since you likely can run these smaller tests in parallel in order to get your test results faster.

After creating several small automated tests, teams can then group them into a larger, automation workflow. You can go further by organizing these tests based on reusable or modular test pieces, user stories, or functional areas. You can also always update automated tests to address new functions by adding new small segments incrementally.

Challenges of Automated Testing

Switching to automated testing is no walk in the park. Software companies looking to make the switch may face the following challenges:

Time and resources

Testing is by its nature a preventive measure. Often an increased focus on testing is precipitated by one or a series of bugs which had a sufficiently negative impact to warrant the investment in better testing practices. But many smaller organizations lack a dedicated testing team, and in these cases it’s not often clear who is the rightful owner of this effort. When embarking on building automated tests, it’s important to have a clear idea of who ultimately is responsible for building and maintaining these tests. For code-based testing frameworks, this must be a developer. For codeless test automation frameworks, it need only be someone with a clear understanding of the product and the testing objectives.

Automate processes as well as tests

When moving to automation, one major mistake organizations make is focusing on tests alone. Other processes such as creating/destroying test environments, cleaning test data, and reporting need to be automated as well. These processes will gradually become bottlenecks if they are not automated along with testing processes and will ultimately bog down the automation testing process.

High implementation costs

Although automation increases testing velocity and accuracy, it comes at a cost — an upfront investment of time and resources. It can be difficult to prove the ROI of investing in test automation due to the uncertainty of the “payback period”. This makes it hard to sell the idea to management, which results in the next challenge.

Getting corporate buy-in

Not everyone within an organization may agree that the ROI is worth the investment in test automation. Such individuals may feel that the time, cost, and resources involved can be better used on other initiatives. Getting stakeholders to agree on key requirements and success metrics up front is a great way to get everyone on the same page about the benefits of automation.

After defining requirements, the next step to ensuring the test automation project is a success is to define a tightly scoped set of workflows to attempt to automate. This will make it easier for personnel to see the value of automation without a huge upfront time investment.

Finding the right tool

The importance of choosing the right tool cannot be overemphasized. The best test automation tools have a short learning curve that enables your team to get up and running quickly, while being powerful enough to allow you to translate your more complex manual test cases into automated tests. Choosing the right tools is a key part of the process of switching to automated testing. The speed and accuracy of test automation are largely determined by the kind of tools being used. Although test automation can deliver several important benefits, choosing the wrong tool can adversely affect the accuracy, speed, and integrity of the testing process.

Integrating automation testing into your development process

A lot of quality assurance teams understand the importance of automating tests but forget to integrate it into the overall testing and software development process. Integrating automation testing into your development process is challenging but the hassle is well worth the ROI. Test automation plays a critical role in continuous development, integration, and testing. especially for companies leveraging or looking to implement Agile in their development workflows. The DevOps approach emphasizes the automation of every process associated with software development including software testing. As such, one of the easiest ways to integrate automated testing into development environments is to use an automation tool that is capable of integrating with other tools across the DevOps environment and provides robust functionality across the various stages of development.

The importance of developing an automated testing Strategy

Automated testing is increasing in popularity as more and more organizations mature in their testing and DevOps practices. The right automated testing strategy will help QA professionals:

Organizations that enjoy the benefits and higher velocity of continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) and agile processes typically want to implement test automation wherever they can. However, they shouldn’t just implement automation for automation’s sake. The primary objective of automation is to derive value faster from testing activities and not just faster tests. Aiming to complete tests quickly but missing bugs in the process will ruin the chances of achieving ROI from test automation initiatives.

This is why it’s important to design a robust automated testing strategy. This strategy will detail the overall method of tests and reporting in line with the organization’s expectations for the test cycle. It should also outline the details for each phase of a standard automated testing pipeline: Initiation, Automation Test Planning, Execution, Reporting, Close-out.

Automated testing strategies should be set up to monitor production environments in real-time and expose problems as they crop up prior to end-users. This means that automation reporting principles need to be integrated into the software delivery process to trigger the automation suites to validate recent code changes committed by developers. Failed tests should be immediately visible to QA teams so that dev engineers can review results/test logs and resolve issues before moving on to other tasks.

You should also account for test maintenance in your test automation strategy. After designing and deploying a test automation strategy, you must prioritize the continuous maintenance and updates of tests. Regression suites and test cases will grow as you build/integrate new features and make product improvements. Regular maintenance helps to ensure that these tests will continue to be usable in the months and years to come.

Wrapping Up

The expansive universe of technological devices available, the constant deployment of innovative applications, the challenge with automating browsers, and the need for faster release cycles are driving demand for higher-quality software through the roof. To stay competitive, software teams need to up their game and make testing cycles as efficient as possible. Automated testing is the gateway to faster delivery times, more flexible development methods, and increased efficiency of the software delivery process. This translates into higher-quality solutions for consumers.

The right automation solution can help organizations achieve the perfect trifecta of quality, speed, and cost rather than make tradeoffs. Taking the right approach when building out your first automation tests ensures that you’re creating a solid foundation on which to build as your needs for additional testing increase.

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