Automation is a common phrase amongst software developers and test automation engineers. You must have heard people using this phrase during a software development cycle and were confused. You may know what it means, but you don't understand why and how it plays in software development.
This article deeply delves into test automation and its role in software development.
What is test automation?
With test automation, all your manual test cases are written down in a code base. It helps you in the future when you want to run regression tests. Therefore, you don't have to start testing them manually again. Instead, you can just run your script from your system, and it automatically tests those existing test cases you had added in your script.
The concept of test automation is helpful across many organizations. It allows companies to have a database that assists new QA engineers. These newbies now know how things are done in the organization.
The role of test automation in software development
From my experience as a QA engineer, test automation wears many hats in the software development life cycle. Some of its benefits include:
The goal is always to optimize for time when building a software, and test automation makes it happen. For instance, you have about a thousand test cases to execute, and the business expects you to go live the next day or that weekend. It means you're running on a tight schedule, and implementing these test cases isn't feasible if you run them manually.
You need more time to test manually, which is where test automation comes into play. If these scripts were automated, you don't have to do anything. All you need to do is run the automated scripts, and it will test for you within five or ten minutes, depending on the largeness of your test suites.
You would have already gotten feedback on all these tests in a little time. But if you had decided to do it manually, you're looking at spending the whole day and some more on it.
Test automation helps you reduce the time it takes to execute your test cases.
You'd also get faster feedback when your test cases are automated. The more time you save on executing your test cases, the faster the feedback you will get.
If you were to test manually, you would look at six to seven hours to get feedback. But with test automation, you can get feedback within 20 minutes.
Reduces business expenses
Typically, businesses are always looking for ways to reduce their businesses, and test automation is one of the ways to go about it. You won't need more manual testers if you have an engineer that can automate. You're saving time and a lot of money with one engineer that can automate.
Even if you need manual testers, you wouldn't need so many. This way, you're saving the money you would have used to pay these manual testers' salaries.
Increases test coverage
Testing manually limits your test coverage because you are human. Many factors can hinder your progress, such as fatigue. Sometimes, it could even be a simple oversight.
It isn't unusual to feel that it would still be working because something was working before. Thus, you tend to ignore and not test it. However, automation doesn't think like humans. It does every instruction given to it to perform.
So, if you have like a thousand test cases, it would test all the test cases and give you feedback. If anyone fails, it will provide you with feedback; you can see the errors on the logs. Thus, giving you a higher test coverage.
Reusability of test suites
Let's say you write a test script that has to do with login functionality. Then, maybe you move to another product that also has login functionality. You don't need to rewrite that login functionality because you've already written it for another product.
All you need to do is pick the test you wrote and use it in your current project.
If you rely on manual testing, you might not check everything and ensure a hundred percent accuracy. You might skip some test cases believing it was working before and everything is working. But automation will test everything and give you accurate feedback against what a manual tester would have given you.
With manual testing, it's easy to assume that all your 10,000 test cases are working perfectly. But when you run the scripts, you might discover some tests failing. For example, you can see that 80% of the test passed while 20% failed. It means it is more accurate than manual testing.
Test automation and its role in the quality of the software
With all the roles that test automation plays in the software development life cycle, it improves the quality of the software. Therefore, test automation equates to higher and better quality in software development. After all, it gives you accurate feedback.
Some of the metrics you can use in checking software quality are:
It meets the business requirement
Less high-impact bugs complaints
Stability - almost 100% uptime.
Test automation also helps to improve quality through feature coverage. For example, you're trying to simulate thousands of virtual users interacting with your web application. It is more of a performance test because you're automating the process of simulating users that will hit your application.
Let's say you have the Moniepoint business app on production, and you're expecting a minimum of 200,000 users to be on that app. Now, you want to simulate that before you even get to production to be sure the servers will not crash. It would be best if you were sure you wouldn't have any downtime when you get 200,000 or 300,000 users.
Then, you get to know the bandwidth at which the server can take or the servers' limits or breaking point. You'd now put it at that point that if you get to this particular number, stop other people from going into the server until someone leaves. So it doesn't go down or get downtime.
Now, you understand how test automation helps to improve quality and makes your product outstanding.
How does test automation integrate with continuous integration and continuous delivery process?
There's what we call a pipeline in our dev ops tools, and I'll explain continuous integration with an example. Let's say you finish automating your test cases, and you need to add the test cases to the pipeline. You're doing this to ensure that if there's any deployment from the developers' end, you don't need to go and trigger it manually. So once there is any new code deployment, automatically, the CICD picks up your automated test scripts and runs them for you from the start of testing.
On the part of integrating, it is adding your automated script to the pipeline, and then you set up the configurations on the pipeline. How do you want your automated script to be run? Is it immediately after a code has been deployed? Or do you want it every 10 minutes? Or 20? Or every 24 hours? Once you add it to the pipeline and set those configurations, this pipeline is now the CICD tool.
Whenever you have deployments, it checks the configuration to know how to run the code based on your settings. If it's for every 5 minutes, it runs the tests every five minutes and sends feedback. If any build fails and everything doesn't pass successfully as it should, it stops deploying the build to the next environment.
Challenges in implementing test automation
I'd be lying if I said implementing test automation is easy. While it is useful and has many benefits, some people or organizations ignore it because of the challenges they might have encountered.
Some of these challenges are:
The technical know-how
It could be that the test engineers within the organization are not familiar with the chosen automation tool, or they do not know the programming language. Often, they are used to the manual system, and navigating automation processes becomes difficult for them.
Not knowing how to prioritize tests
With automation, you need to know how to rank lower priorities against test cases of higher importance. When you run the automated scripts, it should test for test cases that are relevant at that time so that it doesn't waste the time of everyone involved in the project.
Typically, you should test those of higher priorities before lower-priority test cases. So, prioritizing tests is another challenge that many engineers face.
Communication and collaboration
It is essential to know how to pass information to every team member involved in the project. You also need to know how to reach out to teammates when there is an issue.
For example, I have a blocker that is blocking me from being able to write my automated tests. It could be that there is someone on the team who can help me with a more straightforward solution that could unblock me in less than five minutes. But because I do not know how to reach out or communicate, I try to research independently.
Then, I spent about two or three hours on something I could have resolved in five minutes. Therefore, communication is another challenge. You need to learn how to communicate well or properly research when you have an issue, or else you wouldn't be able to solve it.
Taking actual user conditions into account
Let's use the earlier scenario of stimulating virtual users that hits a specific application. If you don't consider things like that, it might be challenging because things will still be breaking once you go to production.
So, take actual user conditions into account.
Measuring the success of your test automation
Often, it isn't about creating something new or automating a process. You need to check that it is working and successful. As a new engineer in a new organization, the best way to measure the success of your test automation is by checking if it catches all those bugs it's supposed to notice.
For instance, you write an automated script and run it for the first time, and everything succeeds. Then, a code change springs up somewhere, and you may not be aware of the change. Then, they tell you it's time for production, and you rerun your automated script. A successful automation should catch that bug and show that something has broken.
It is best to remember that sometimes, some tests could fail due to network issues or a change in the UI flow. If you know the difference in the flow, you need to update your flow to match what you currently have.
One of the ways to test your success metrics is by checking that it captures a failure if there is a change in code or something breaks in a process that was working initially. Once it signals that something is wrong, you can check manually to know why it's failing.
It allows you to delay deployment until the issue is resolved. Once they fix the problem, you can rerun your script and ensure everything is a hundred percent successful before giving the go-ahead for production.
Best practices for creating and maintaining automated test suites
Creating and maintaining automated test suites is a detailed process. Some of the ways to go about it are:
Decide which tests to automate
Every test automation plan must begin with narrowing down which tests will benefit from being automated. So, it's advisable to automate tests using some of these qualities:
Tests requiring repetitive action with vast amounts of data
Tests prone to human error
Tests that need to use multiple data sets
Tests that extend across numerous builds
Tests that must run on different platforms, hardware, or OS configurations
Tests focusing on frequently used functions
Typically, you'd need to talk with your product manager and discuss ticket priority. So, once you have tickers, you need to divide them into higher and lower priorities based on the metrics I have highlighted above.
For example, you know that login tickets would have a higher priority because you cannot do anything inside the application if you cannot log in. The same applies to the registration, as you cannot do anything in the application without registering.
So, you sit with your PM and draft out those higher-priority tickets. Start with the registration flow, go ahead to the login, take the next higher-priority feature, and automate.
Divide tasks based on skill
When creating test suites and cases, assign each to individuals based on their technical expertise. For example, if the test requires a proprietary tool to be executed, it will allow team members of varying skill levels to create test scripts with reasonably minimal ease.
Collective ownership of tests
It is crucial to keep in mind that everyone has a role to play when it comes to test automation. It isn't just about a single tester or engineer to carry out the entire automation testing project. Everyone involved in the process has to be active and on deck.
If the rest of the team does not stay up to date every step of the way, they will not be able to contribute in any meaningful way.
The entire point of automation is to achieve consistent and accurate test results. Whenever a test fails, testers have to identify what went wrong. However, with an increase in the number of false positives and inconsistencies, a corresponding increase in the time required for analyzing errors occurs.
To prevent this, one has to eliminate uncertainty by removing unstable tests in regression packs. Additionally, automated tests can sometimes miss out on checking necessary verifications because they need to be updated. You can prevent this with sufficient test planning before running any tests.
It is also essential to be conscious of whether every test is always up to date. Also, ensure that the sanity and validity of automated tests are adequately assessed throughout test cycles.
Test on real devices
No matter the website or app, there is a need for it to be tested on real devices and browsers.
Keep records for better debugging
When tests fail, it's essential to keep records of the failure and text and video logs of the failed scenario so that testers can identify the reasons for the failure. It also helps when new engineers come on board.
Choose a testing tool with an in-built mechanism for automatically saving browser screenshots in each test step. It makes it easy to detect the stage at which the error occurs.
Use data-driven tests
A manual test becomes out of the question if multiple data points need to be analyzed together. The sheer volume of data and the number of variables would make it impossible for any human to conduct quick and error-free tests.
Implementing data-driven automated tests boils it down to a single test and a single data set, which can then be used to work through an array of data parameters. Thus, it helps to simplify the process.
Early and frequent testing
Start testing early in the sprint development lifecycle to get the most out of automation testing. It also helps if you run tests as often as required. By doing so, testers can start detecting bugs as they appear and resolve them immediately.
Doing this saves much of the time and money that would have to be spent to fix bugs in a later development stage or even in production.
Prioritize detailed and quality test reporting
Automation should reduce the amount of time QA teams have to spend verifying test results. So, set up adequate reporting infrastructure with the right tools which generate detailed and high-quality reports for every test.
Group tests according to parameters such as type, tags functionality, results, etc. A good test summary report should be created after each cycle.
Automation is not the same as Artificial Intelligence (AI)
One of the biggest misconceptions I hear about automation is that it is the same as AI/ Machine Learning! To wrap up, I want to clarify that both concepts are different.
The concept of machine learning implies that things automatically happen based on instructions, or it learns and understands how testing is done before it starts doing it on its own. But for automation, you need to add specific actions they need for it to work how you want it to.