Time to market is often an overriding concern of software development and with good reason. If your organization delivers a new software product or a revision to an existing one later than promised, there are significant negative side-effects. Not the least of these is a dilution of publicity efforts to build anticipation in customers for the new product. Obviously, the customers themselves will be disappointed also.
The Importance of Testing to Software Schedules
Software schedules always seem “doable” at their start, but as they progress slippage typically occurs. A key reason for this is that essential testing of the product, including test requirements, does not commence simultaneously with code development. This situation leads to finding showstopper bugs in the code or design late in the development cycle. These take more time to rectify than if they were found earlier.
Test Early and Often, Automatically
Pushing an inadequately tested product out the door in order to meet the schedule is not a viable option either. A perception of poor quality in the market will linger far longer than the disappointment of a late release that is of decent quality.
Thus, thorough testing is a key requirement for any software project. It must be begun early and to ensure effectiveness and efficiency, it must be automated as much as possible.
What Can Be Automated?
Automation can be effectively applied to nearly every aspect of the QA process:
- Unit tests within developers’ IDE
- Functional testing of software components and libraries
- Negative testing that attempts to force errors through invalid inputs
- Stress testing for determining functional capacity of the software and platform
- Performance tests to measure compliance with product requirements
- UI/UX tests or instrumentation to determine usability of the software
- Regression tests to detect new defects in existing code at each new build
- Test case and test script generation to improve test coverage
Automated Testing Benefits
Relative to software schedules, testing automation has a key advantage: it saves time, which means it reduces the risk of schedule slip, improves quality and reduces short- and long-term costs. The greater the automation effort, the more advantages that accrue.
Faster Test Case Generation and Better Coverage
Developing test cases is often a time-consuming process done manually by translating design and code requirements into test scripts. Most test cases can be generated by tools that utilize code annotations, execution path analysis, randomization of inputs or script generation from recording user interactions. All test case generation methods increase testing coverage.
Improved Reliability and Repeatability
Automation eliminates mistakes that arise from manually running tests, such as intentional or unintentional omissions in test steps, which miss bugs or produce ones that do not actually exist. When bugs are detected, for the sake of developers, they must be reliably repeatable. Automating bug reproduction increases the likelihood that they are.
More Efficient Workflow
Comprehensive test tools allow testers to automatically select individual tests or test suites, record the results and take appropriate steps in the case of defect detection. These steps include logging technical details, screenshots, videos and generating bug reports. These automatically generated data can be shared instantly with both test and developer teams.
Enabling Agile Methodologies
Reducing temporal lag throughout the software development process is an essential feature of agile methodology. The closer in time that requirements, design, coding and testing can exist, the faster iterative development can take place. This leads to higher work efficiency among all teams involved in producing the software. Automated test tools, especially those with superb collaboration capabilities, are essential to quick turnaround in defect detection and removal.
Saving Time on the Next Project
The ability to store tests in scripts or code is not only a time saver for the current project. These can be reused for the next revision of the product or even for different but similar products undertaken later.
The Challenges of Test Automation
Automation is certainly not a substitute for poor testing practices within the organization. In fact, automating bad behavior is likely to make things worse. Additionally, automation cannot alter the “physics” of testing. It cannot guarantee the absence of bugs nor is it a guarantee of a quality product release.
If test automation is new to an organization, the QA department has hurdles to clear:
- Unrealistic expectations are likely to exist regarding how much time will be saved in the testing schedule
- It costs time and money to analyze, acquire, learn, utilize and maintain automated test tools
- A new level of expertise may be required within the QA team for writing automation code
- Test software is like any software, it has bugs and these must be dealt with
Test automation may require additional compute and network infrastructure.
Some, but not all of these challenges, can be mitigated if the organization employs a cloud-based testing service in lieu of building all the software and hardware infrastructure in-house.
The simple answer in support of test automation is that it saves time. Despite the initial costs, once established, the return on investment is rapid. QA staff and developers become more effective and quality conscious in an environment where both are able to collaborate efficiently. Testing schedules have higher predictability and a higher quality product, delivered on time, is more likely.