Test automation is a useful and often necessary practice, but it shouldn’t be the only approach.
There is a natural desire to automate everything when starting a project or working on a new testing strategy. Although it is technically possible to minimize or even fully eliminate the manual component in most parts of the testing process, going this far is usually not worth the effort.
In an ideal world, a company would have a fully automated pipeline to test every functional and non-functional aspect of its software product. But is that the best approach? A hobbyist programmer might choose to spend a week automating a task that only takes half an hour to do manually. Competitive businesses, however, do not always have this kind of luxury. Sometimes manual testing is the right way to go.
The amount of time and resources needed for automation varies greatly from one test case to another. While small unit tests can usually be covered by an off-the-shelf tool or a simple script, properly testing an entire system will likely require a custom solution, which can be costly to develop.
The time saved by automating different test cases is often disproportionate to the time spent doing so. When deciding what to automate, it can be helpful to remember the 80/20 rule. While 80% of results can be achieved with 20% of the work, getting that last 20% can easily take up 80% of the effort.
Of course, this ratio will change from project to project, but the importance of comparing how much time automation can save to how long it will take stays the same. Sometimes leaving a few manual workflows in place can help to release a product sooner. The following three steps might help leaders find the optimal mix of manual and automated testing.
1. Compare the Benefits
When deciding between automated and manual testing, evaluate the benefits that come with both options. For example, automating tests that take the most time to do manually tends to be a good choice because it can save a substantial amount of effort for the QA team.
Automating a frequently used test case that will remain relevant throughout a product’s life cycle is probably a safe bet, too, even if it takes a relatively long time to develop. This is especially true for tests that run across several software or hardware platforms.
Any cases that require a lot of manual input and are therefore sensitive to human error should also be a high-priority candidate for automation.
Performance testing is another area that benefits greatly from automation due to the large volume of data generated at this stage. A specialized benchmarking tool can track a system’s speed, responsiveness, latency, and resource usage over time under various conditions, making it easier to identify and subsequently eliminate bottlenecks.
2. Consider the Risks
The business value a company can expect to gain from automation can change depending on the risks associated with each test case. Therefore, it is vital to understand the liabilities that come with the two approaches.
A bug that makes a certain feature on an application completely unusable can do a significant amount of damage and alienate a percentage of users, even if it is fixed in a single day. A minor graphical glitch, on the other hand, is unlikely to cause problems of the same scale.
To accurately determine the severity of potential issues, organizations need to have a solid understanding of their users’ needs, as well as knowledge of possible workarounds that can be put in place quickly if an important part of the system fails.
3. Determine the Priorities
As it is usually impossible to automate every stage of the testing process while maintaining a reasonable timeline and budget, businesses need to compromise. Deciding which cases can remain manual requires careful consideration.
To understand the relative importance of each test case, it can be helpful to consider the following questions:
- How often do we run this test?
- What is the probability of fault?
- Would a fault severely affect the user experience?
Preparing a list of cases and organizing them in order of importance enables enterprises to outline the minimal amount of automation necessary to ensure an acceptable level of reliability. Having worked through the critical cases, a company can launch the product without major risks or delays.
It is never too late to automate
Following this practice enables companies to reach the market sooner and ensure high software quality without investing too much into test automation.
After an initial release, development teams can continue to implement automation, gradually reducing maintenance costs and shortening update cycles. This way, an organization can gain the ability to deliver frequent updates without the fear of breaking things, while still shipping the first version of the product on time.