Moving from Manual to Automated Testing

Learn the pros and cons of manual testing and what you stand to gain from switching.

The rise of software development methodologies that require a continuous and streamlined workflow, such as Agile and DevOps, have pushed teams globally to automate as much as possible. Quicker testing cycles that are more integrated with both the development and deployment phases of the SDLC are a must for teams and organizations looking to beat the competition and get to the market faster.

More than half of all tests today are still executed manually, which means for many teams and businesses, the first step is to start automating. This can be a daunting task. Moving from manual testing to automated testing without impeding current development proceedings requires more than just adopting an automation tool or hiring an automation engineer. For the process to be effective, frameworks have to be built, test cases have to be written differently, buy-in has to be confirmed across the board, from practitioners to managers, and employees have to be trained. Doing all of that without comprising the quality of the software being built is an astronomical request – but doable.

Once built, an effective automated testing process can help teams:

  • Reduce testing times and speed up delivery cycles
  • Improve test coverage and accuracy
  • Cut maintenance costs
  • Find and fix more bugs before they reach production
  • Boost employee efficiency by eliminating mundane and duplicate tasks

With so many acknowledged benefits and the pressure teams are under to deliver faster, why haven’t more teams switched to automated testing?

Manual Testing: The Opportunities and Threats to Your Business

Manual testing is a process in which a human being will test software by acting as the end user and walking through various application workflows. The goal, as with any testing process, is to ensure the application does what it’s supposed to and find bugs before the product reaches consumers.

Depending on the product, what the test case is, and how many variations need to be tested, manual test execution could take an exorbitant amount of time. Imagine testing the classic ‘logging in’ action by hand. You’d have to set up the same test repeatedly, with different data sets, until every scenario you could think of has been exhausted. Alternatively, imagine you’re walking through your ecommerce site and realize the text is illegible, or that it’s impossible to navigate to the cart. Both scenarios are critical to the success of the software, and both tests were performed manually. The latter requires manual testing, the first does not.

It’s important to understand that there are pros and cons to manual test execution. Manual testing is essential and if you’re at either end of the spectrum - either dead set on automating or taking a stance in rebellion - you should realize it will never be eliminated. 

Pros of Manual Testing

Manual testing has essential benefits, which is why the practice as a whole shouldn’t be eradicated.  These include:

  • Identifying tricky bugs and usability issues. Consumer behavior is notoriously unpredictable, so having a tester act as an end user can help you uncover issues you’d never think to write tests for.  To assess application quality, responsiveness, and experience from the user perspective, the human mind is key. Curiosity is something that computers don’t have (yet).
  • Can be implemented by any team member. Manual testing doesn’t require scripting or coding skills, so anyone on your team, not just QA, from the tester to the project manager or product owner, can help implement the tests. Just ensure you properly document the process and outcomes. A common trap everyone falls into is finding a bug and not being able to replicate it. 
  • Great for when you’re just getting started. When you’re building a new piece of software and are just starting to test, you’re still focused on simply stabilizing the product and your development process probably isn’t iterating quickly. This is a great time to use manual testing.

You don’t have a library of regression test cases that need to be run and any feedback provided would be addressed in a sequential and linear timeline. At this point in time, it would be counter-productive to start automating.

  • Some things just aren’t worth automating. In our previous example, ensuring text is legible to your online readers is a quick and easy check. Trying to automate tests for quality assurance checks like this simply aren’t worth the hassle.

Cons of Manual Testing

While manual testing will help teams find sneaky bugs, there are plenty of reasons to automate. If running manual tests, you risk meeting your deadlines and ultimately business goals. Often, the testing process will become the bottleneck for the larger development cycle because:

  • It’s time consuming, making your time to market slower. Manual tests are run by hand, by someone sitting in front of the computer or application and clicking around. These have to be run sequentially, which means you can’t start the next test in a suite until the first one is done (and ideally has passed).
  • Mundane and repetitive tasks are prone to human error. It boils down to human nature. Certain test types, similar to the ‘logging in’ function in our previous example, have to be run repeatedly. Done over and over again, it’s normal for testers to get bored and make mistakes. 
  • Lack of complete platform coverage.  As a result of testing taking longer and being subject to human nature, manual test suites often lack the ability to ensure complete coverage. The bare minimum sets of environments (browsers, resolutions, devices, operating systems, and even versions) are usually what’s tested and that’s it.

Roadblocks to Automation

Automated testing in the past few years has been widely accepted as a means to fix key manual testing issues and a pathway to reach more flexible development cycles, but getting there isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. Those looking to move away from manual testing will face a few challenges:

  • Test Scalability and stability. Manual tests aren’t executed with repetition in mind. As test suites grow, regression testing will become more critical and more tests will need to be repeated to ensure continued functionality of the product. As teams scale, they will need the ability to do this quicker and tests need to be built for doing so.
  • The complexity, time, and resources. Any new process come with a learning curve. For teams just starting out with automation, this can mean current testers need training or hiring personnel with new skill sets. Both take time and require money.
  • Automation of processes, not just tests. A top mistake teams make in moving to automation is focusing on just tests. Other tasks, including reporting, cleaning test data, setting up and tearing down environments all also need to be automated. If not, these will each become their own bottleneck to the new testing process and render the entire plan useless.
  • Corporate view and mindset. Not everyone agrees that the benefits of automated testing will outweigh the costs and time associated with transitioning. Getting everyone on the same page, from management down to the practitioners, is essential. This can mean proving the short and long-term return on investment (ROI) the organization would realize as a result to upper management. For implementation, the planning phase for testing needs to happen sooner. Everyone needs to be convinced and onboard with the new processes.
  • Finding the right tool. Ultimately, the tool set teams choose should address many of the previous roadblocks mentioned, from enabling regression testing to offering the right environments the team needs for full coverage. Automation tools today should be easy-to-use and offer a myriad of methods for testers to leverage to create scripts and automate other tasks. This can shrink the learning curve for many teams.

Getting Started with Automation

Manual testing will never disappear entirely, but as teams grow and scale, it’s essential to make testing cycles as efficient as possible. Today, efficiency is synonymous with automation. Automated testing is the first step in the gateway to more flexible development methods and faster times to delivery. It can also mean improved quality for consumers and at the end of the day, satisfied organizations.

With the expansive universe of technological devices available, it’s becoming only more critical that teams get more testing done in less time. By automating vital components of testing phases, from the tests themselves to reporting, testers will have more time to focus on serious issues and put their creative thinking to work on strategy and planning.

Getting there is tough, but with the right resources, it can be done. Check out our Automated Testing Starter Kit for videos, white papers, and other tools to help you get going. You’ll discover things such as:

  • Steps for building an automation roadmap and what to automate first
  • 6 Ways to prove the ROI of Automated Testing
  • Critical elements for building a successful automated testing framework
  • How to choose the automated testing tool that best fits your needs

 Check out the Automated Testing Starter Kit

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