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Test Automation: The Reality About Moving Forward

In pulling together this blog series on test automation, Rob Virdee and I draw on the work we do with professionals who are responsible for, and passionate about, one or more stages of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). QA professionals and product owners alike share with us their goals for, and day-to-day successes with, test automation. Quite frankly, understanding their ambitious plans and their frustrations is at times humbling and a source of inspiration.

That’s why when executives and practitioners who have been ‘sold’ test automation as the ‘next big thing’ seek our opinions, we take as much time as is needed to provide clarity about the realities of test automation. In this blog, we chip away at this challenge by answering three questions that shed light onto the reality of moving forward to embrace test automation. We’ve found that QA professionals and product owners always have these specific concerns (even when they are left unspoken):

  • How widely adopted is test automation, really?
  • What are the real alternatives to test automation?
  • What are the real obstacles to test automation?

Whether you are deep into your 100th test automation initiative or are just exploring test automation as a strategy for the first time, your forays into test automation will be more successful by keeping the following realities in mind.

The Reality of Test Automation Adoption

If you own any part of the SDLC, you need to understand the extent to which test automation is actually being adopted. That’s because you are constantly being pressed to build exciting new products and get products to market faster – all the while increasing process efficiencies and constantly innovating. In your world, survival means more than keeping pace with competitors, it means keeping ahead of them.

So, here’s the reality about test automation adoption: according to a recent international industry benchmark study, 66% of companies expressed the desire to transform their testing from manual to automated. Furthermore, such companies are targeting to have as much as 75% of their testing shift from manual to automated – and that’s within the next five years.

The Reality of Alternatives to Test Automation

But what if you are unsure about whether test automation is right for you, your team, or your organization. For example, what if a previous attempt at evolving your testing processes and/or capabilities delivered lower-than-expected results? Or, what if you have been unable to secure budget or support for enhancing your software testing tools/methods? You can certainly choose alternatives to test automation. Each however has its pros and cons. For instance:

  • Alternative to Test Automation #1: Hire more people to conduct the volume/type of tests you need completed. On the plus side, this approach does allow you to avoid investing in test automation technologies, staff, and training. However, the time it takes to find, recruit, train, and oversee additional people takes time. In fact, when you calculate the cost of all of these processes, hiring more people is revealed to increase the overall cost of the SDLC.
  • Alternative to Test Automation #2: Conduct fewer tests. You can choose to narrow your testing to a smaller number of devices, platforms, or operating systems. Indeed, risk-based testing has long been a method to define smaller areas of ‘test coverage’. However, new technologies are being rolled out so rapidly that it becomes increasingly more difficult to determine which technologies can be omitted from your testing plans. Furthermore, users’ loyalty for software products is fickle. If you offer them a less-than-satisfying experience – resulting from insufficient test coverage – you’ve lost them for good.
  • Alternative to Test Automation #3: Bring your product out to market later. Adopt this testing strategy and you can be confident that your offering has been tested thoroughly – thereby ensuring your company’s reputation for quality is maintained. However, taking this approach opens you up to two significant risks: being out paced by competitors’ and being branded as an ‘also ran’ rather than a niche/industry leader.

The Reality of Obstacles to Test Automation

Your software development team is busy and overworked. At the same time, you are competing fiercely within your company for available resources as well as with forces outside of your company such as customers demanding better, faster and/or less expensive offerings. Of course, that’s the nature of the software industry. Despite these harsh facts, companies find it difficult to quickly embrace test automation. The reality is that there are three types of obstacles to embracing test automation that you will face at one time or another:

  • Business Realities. As a product owner or QA professionals, you have come to expect more quantifiable value from the resources devoted to testing. In fact, 55% of companies surveyed (in a recent international industry benchmark study) are looking to invest in test automation to achieve all of the following goals: reduce development time, reduce costs of testing, and reduce the instances of failure and/or risk associated with software testing. The good news is that you can take specific actions to ensure that test automation does more than help recover costs, but deliver a return on investment.
  • Organizational realities. Every organization has work processes that they are most comfortable with. And, if your company is unfamiliar with hiring, training, managing, or inspiring testers with specialized test automation expertise, you will be at a disadvantage when rolling out test automation plans. To address this issue, you can put things in place to help get your test automation programs off on the right foot.
  • Human realities. Adopting change is difficult for even the most experienced and ambitious people. To overcome inertia (or reluctance) to adopting new testing approaches, people need to know that they ‘going in with their eyes open’. You can help people feel confident about embracing a new testing approach by providing a snapshot of the current state of test automation and dispelling test automation myths.

In the next Test Automation blog, we will tackle how to craft a test automation framework.

Rob and I welcome your insights about how test automation is shaping your priorities and projects. Let us now what you think by reaching out to me via email (HCoomber at