5 Actionable Steps to Streamline Test Automation for Effective Software Delivery

test automation strategy

Introduction

Software companies are increasingly pressured to deliver high-quality software rapidly, highlighting the inefficiencies of traditional manual testing. Automation can bring down the duration of test cycles and improve the speed of feedback on software quality. While test automation can accelerate the release of high-quality applications, improper use can be counterproductive. This article explores common challenges in test automation along with best practices to streamline your test automation strategy. This will help you to optimize its use, ensuring faster and more effective software deployment. 

Common Test Automation Pitfalls

Developing an effective test automation strategy requires careful planning, yet companies often face several common pitfalls. Leadership pressure for speed can lead to inadequate time spent defining test automation goals and objectives. Merely deploying automation engineers or investing in tools isn’t enough for success. 

A heavy focus on GUI automation results in teams spending excessive time fixing broken tests, which are also slow to execute. Often, the mismatch between the test automation approach and the skills of the existing functional testing team is overlooked. Additionally, when automation is combined with regular testing tasks, it tends to get deprioritized, leading to low coverage. In my personal experience, I have seen companies that have ended up spending more money to maintain scripts than what was spent for initial script development. 

The speed of application development will increase due to two main reasons in the new future and the GUI-related scripts may require more maintenance in the future.

A) The adoption of low code/ no code development platforms will increase, and companies will be able to release applications faster to production

B) The usage of Coding Assistants like Codium, GitHub CoPilot, etc, will improve the application development speed.

Transitioning to test automation necessitates detailed business planning and a deep understanding of its potential advantages and limitations. It’s crucial to have realistic expectations about the benefits of test automation and the requirements for its success. Often, unrealistic expectations are the primary reason for the failure of automation initiatives.

Strategic Planning for Test Automation

The 5-step process below will ensure success when preparing for test automation initiatives.

Step 1: Define your Test Automation Goals and Objectives

First crucial step in test automation strategy planning is defining clear and measurable goals. It aids in selecting the appropriate approach and tools for test automation. The primary aim of testing is early defect detection and quality risk reduction, which improves confidence in release candidates. Automated tests in automated build processes help discover bugs early, providing rapid quality feedback to developers. Key test automation goals include risk reduction, enhancing release confidence, delivering high-quality software, saving tester time, and faster application releases. Well-defined goals clarify the expected benefits of test automation, fostering stakeholder and team support for the initiative.

A couple of years back, I had the unique chance to collaborate with a Fortune 100 client. Their primary objective for automation was to triple the frequency of application releases to production. We faced numerous technical challenges, ranging from obtaining API access to establishing test environments. Additionally, our work was heavily dependent on other teams, adding complexity to our project. The automation goal was well-understood and supported across all teams, including development, release management, and business. This collective awareness and support significantly aided us in overcoming the hurdles associated with test automation.

Step 2: Manage Your Automation Initiative as a Strategic Program

Treating automated testing as a software development program is crucial. It requires a substantial initial investment, skilled personnel, and dedication. Since the skills for designing, implementing, and maintaining automated tests might not be readily available in-house, the skill set available significantly influences the immediate payoff of automation. A detailed plan and defined metrics aligned with automation goals are essential for leadership to measure the return on investment. Often, having a dedicated test automation team ensures proper focus and coverage. Managing these projects demands dedicated effort, which significantly enhances the chances of success.

From my practical experience in various organizations, I’ve noticed that the main emphasis is often on business-as-usual activities. Testers are typically engrossed in tasks like testing enhancements, fixing bugs, and conducting regression tests. In many instances, the testing teams are relatively small and are more than fully engaged with these daily responsibilities. Due to this intense focus on immediate tasks, automation initiatives frequently struggle to gain the necessary attention and support, leading to their gradual decline. The best approach for getting started with a test automation initiative is to have a dedicated team setup, and once you have established a decent amount of coverage, you can move towards a decentralized approach. 

Step 3: Selecting the Focus Areas for Automation

When selecting focus areas for automation, it’s important to prioritize applications based on criteria like business criticality, application stability, release frequency, and the quality of existing test cases. This prioritization helps in planning the test automation strategy effectively. It is also important to select the right set of automation tests. The automation pyramid, a concept by Mike Cohn, can act as a guide for test selection. The automation pyramid suggests a hierarchy of tests: abundant unit tests at the base for speed and ease of maintenance, a moderate number of faster, maintainable API tests in the middle, and fewer GUI tests at the top, chosen strategically for their impact on user experience. 

I’ve seen that many automation efforts are initiated by senior leadership, often putting the testing team under pressure to demonstrate progress. Consequently, managers tend to opt for UI automation, which is visually impressive and can easily generate buzz. However, a major issue arises from the lack of a systematic approach to selecting the right tests. Decisions are frequently made on intuition rather than solid criteria, leading to the selection of tests for features that may soon become outdated or undergo significant changes.

Despite the significant rise in the use of APIs and Microservices in recent years, API tests, which are simpler to create, maintain, and execute, are often overlooked. To ensure the success of an automation program, it’s crucial to establish clear criteria for test selection and strike a balance between UI and API testing.

Step 4: Selecting the Right Set of Tools

Selecting the right set of automation tools is crucial and should align with the skills of your test team. Evaluate whether your team comprises technical testers (SDETs) or functional experts who aren’t programming savvy. Scripted tools like UFT, Test Complete, Playwright, or Cypress are suitable for technical testers. Alternatively, codeless tools such as Tricentis Tosca, Opkey, or Accelq might be more appropriate for more functional testers. If there’s an existing investment in RPA for IT and business automation, tools like the UiPath Test could be beneficial. Additionally, consider your automation roadmap, technology compatibility, tool costs, and advanced features like self-healing in your selection process.

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The scripted and codeless approach for test automation has its own advantages and disadvantages. An automation approach or tool that would work for a product startup or a Fortune 100 company may not work for your organization. It is important to define a set of customized criteria for selecting an automaton tool by looking at the applications, skills, team structure, maintenance requirements, etc. Also, carry out a proof of concept or pilot before you purchase or implement the tool to ensure that you pick the right one. This will help you avoid a lot of headaches in the future.

Step 5: Establishing a Framework for Ongoing Automation

Establishing a framework for ongoing automation involves key practices to ensure efficiency and sustainability. It’s important to have version control for scripts and avoid environmental dependencies, enabling tests to run in any environment at any time. Good test design and regular maintenance are crucial; tests should be easy to understand, maintain, and yield clear results. Recognizing tests as first-class artifacts, they should be treated with the same level of care as code. Clear processes for the ownership and maintenance of test assets are necessary, including a well-defined handover from the test automation team to the maintenance team

 I encountered significant challenges during a knowledge transfer of an automation project for a healthcare application a few years ago. The project was handed over from a large Service Integration firm and consisted of thousands of scripts. However, when my team attempted to run these scripts, we found that less than 5% were functional. This high failure rate initially led me to question the competence of my newly assembled team. Upon further investigation, we discovered that the automation scripts were fraught with issues, including hard-coded values, test data dependencies, and inadequate code commenting.

Realizing the extent of these problems, we estimated the effort required to rectify the scripts. However, given the magnitude of the issues, the customer ultimately decided it was more feasible to discard the existing scripts and develop a new set entirely. This decision was made alongside establishing a proper automation process and framework, ensuring a more stable foundation for future automation efforts. The sustainability of automation is crucial, and it’s important to concentrate on implementing appropriate processes and governance to achieve desired outcomes.

Conclusion

A strategic and well-planned approach is essential in test automation for software development. Successful implementation requires defining clear objectives, selecting appropriate tools, and establishing a sustainable framework. It’s important to consider common challenges and align test automation strategy with business needs and team capabilities for effective strategy execution, ultimately enhancing software quality and efficiency.

George Ukkuru

Written by

With over 45,000 hours of experience, George is a seasoned expert in enhancing product quality, reducing release times, and cutting costs for Global 1000 firms. He’s touched over 50 million customers through his work. Starting with Functional Testing, George has mastered Test Automation, RPA, and DevOps, earning a reputation as the go-to person for automation solutions. George’s brainchild, NoSkript, accelerates test automation by 1.5X and reduces quality costs by 15%. He’s conducted over 4 dozen maturity assessments for Fortune 500 companies and authored books like “Getting Ready to Return” and “Test Automation Best Practices.

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