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Test Automation Best Practices. What and How to Automate

test automation best pratices

Importance and benefits of test automation in software testing

Test automation is crucial both for testing and for the development process in general. It will allow you to execute test cases faster and with greater efficiency, which can save you a lot of time.

Properly automated tests can result in better test coverage and be conducted in a more accurate way. It means that test automation is not only useful for testers, but also for the entire development teams and companies. This is because such an efficient and automated testing process can save money and, eventually, result in the higher quality of software.

The key benefits of test automation are:

- Enhanced productivity: Test automation lets you execute tests in a faster and more effective manner. You don't have to manually repeat the same testing tasks. At the same time, the increased productivity of testers allows the development team to release software on time or even more quickly than planned.

- Better coverage: Thanks to automation, you can handle more test cases or deal with more difficult scenarios. It's often impossible to manage big volumes of tests manually.

- Improved precision: Manual testing, as any manual activity, is prone to human error. Once automated, tests are executed in a precise and accurate manner. This makes the testing process reliable and repeatable, so you can be sure that your software and all its areas are tested always in the same way.

10 test automation best practices

Below, we're presenting 10 essential best practices that you can start using to enhance and speed up your test automation efforts. The discussed techniques have been successfully applied by testers and QA specialists in different organizations across the globe.

Some of them, like having a good test strategy, might seem obvious and easy until you realize how multifaceted such a strategy can be. On the other hand, other practices, for example, reviewing your test coverage, may appear tedious or even redundant, but we can promise you that in the long run, they'll be worth your time.

1. Make sure you need to automate testing

Test automation is a time and cost saver. We proved it already across multiple articles like Automation Testing Guide for Startups - Level 1 and Automation Testing Guide for Startups - Level 2. But it is also a buzzword. It is easy to guess that there are bosses out there who will tell you to automate because “everyone does that so will we”.

We can’t stress enough the importance of proper resource analysis. You might have a project or a task within the project where setting up automation will just not make sense. For example a so-called corner-case. You may skip for a moment to #5 within this article to check the part on prioritizing test cases. If you don’t see your cases as high priority, then maybe consider manual testing.

Make sure you have a basic idea if you have enough time, money and the actual need for a test automation project. If you don’t, you may basically stop reading this article right now. Just kidding! You still have nine more best practices to follow.

2. Prepare appropriate test environment and make sure your app is testable

Later in the article you will learn that you can start to test your application before it is complete. But it needs to be in a testable state. Imagine this - your boss spends lots of money to hire a skilled automation engineer. He or she launches the app first thing in the morning and sees "SYNTAX ERROR". We would love to see the look on your bosses face for this one 😃

Jokes aside, we know how unlikely it is, but you get the point. Make sure all the libraries, dependencies, frameworks, compilers or whatever your technology requires are in place and fully functional.

Proper environment is crucial to test the application. Whether or not you will have a separate server as a test environment, make sure that it is as similar to production as possible. A proper database, a proper network and a set of dummy data needs to be in place. If you are not preparing the data by hand, try creating a factory that covers edge cases.

3. Prepare a plan for your testing efforts

If you came to a conclusion that the testing effort is worth automating, it is time to prepare a plan. There might be reasons why you would not create a full scale document (even though we really suggest it), but at least create something in writing.

The crucial components of such a document would be the subject matter and the human resources. With a large variety of methodologies and techniques to choose from it is crucial to understand what we are actually testing. A whole software? One functionality? Or maybe how will our product comply with increased traffic?

After that you have to look around you. Recall the skillset of your team and your organizations’ stage of growth. Do you have a QA? Maybe a team of them? Or on the other hand nobody from the team has any testing experience whatsoever? You need all the answers because…

4. Pick a proper test automation tool

We can easily write a book on that one. We could give you dozens of team size/ project size/ money / time combinations that would end up with different tool suggestions. But there is a theory - if you can not explain something clearly to a 5 year old, you are explaining it wrong. So let’s stick to a rule of thumb - smaller your team and project is, less code your testing tool should require.

Remember that we can divide testing tools into three basic categories - full code, low code and no code. Those full code hardcore tools require vast technical skillset and at least some experience in using them. The latter two have their entry barrier significantly lower. Most of them, like BugBug, will allow you to set up a first test within a few minutes.

A tool (or tools depending on the scope of your automation testing) will probably stick around at least for the duration of the project. Make sure you do the proper research and experiment with a few before making a decision. Two good practices - engage your testing team to help you with the selection and choose a tool that will be resistant to any ui changes your app may face.

5. Prioritize Test Cases for Automation

Prioritizing test cases is one of the key automated testing best practices. It helps to streamline the software development and testing process. Setting priorities allows you to address new changes to the code. To successfully deal with your priorities, try to focus on the following aspects within your test automation strategy:

- Impact: Which test cases would have the biggest impact on your software and users in case they were unsuccessful? Can you afford not to create test cases for crucial functionalities? We believe you can't.

- Risk: You should prioritize high-risk test cases, namely, the ones that are likely to be unsuccessful (for example, test cases that deal with newly introduced features).

- Doability: It may not be possible to automate all of your test cases (for example, some test cases might need your interaction to be successfully conducted).

- Recurrence: You may need to execute some of your test cases on a regular basis. Automating them can save you a lot of time and effort. Especially if you are automating regression tests.

6. Create test scenarios for your test automation plan

If at this point you are asking yourself “what on Earth is a test scenario” please click here: Test Case vs Test Scenario: Compare, Contrast and How to. It shows the differences between test case, test script and test scenario.

If you remember or just read it, we wrote that “test scenarios can not be automated”. Then why would we put it as a best practice? Well the idea behind creating test scenarios is to emphasise the end-users’ behaviour within our app.

It is the base of end-to-end testing and a good place to start in order to set up specific test cases. It also increases the test coverage since we need to change our perspective as testing engineers. Test scenarios make us leave NerdVille and start looking at our software as the clients will.

The other asset that test scenarios bring to the table is a sort of structure for your test automation process. It helps to divide and manage the workload. Going from the scenario to the specific cases makes you focus on positive and negative outcomes and provide proper testing data.

7. Shift left - have your automation engineers start testing early

Let's hope that SEO bots will not read the headline as a call to change your political views 😃 In the context of this article shift left refers to testing as early as possible. In this philosophy successful test automation can begin even during the design period. It is one of the best practices for automated testing.

For a long long time the QAs used to test the software after the whole code was completed. Luckily that is not the case any more. The success of test automation starts earlier. Various testing may be done on an iterative basis which not only catches bugs but is able to prevent many of them. You can write test cases almost immediately after creating the "hello world" within your app.

If you are reading about shift left philosophy and three letters come to your mind - specifically TDD, you are right. Test Driven Development is the most known approach of shift left. Test Driven Development basically means that first you create a test and then you write code in a way that the test will pass.

8. Incorporate Continuous Integration and Delivery (CI/CD) Practices

CI/CD is a highly useful practice for the software development process. It helps to build and deploy software in a quick, structured, and efficient manner. Using it for your testing needs can be beneficial, too.

Having an efficient CI/CD pipeline for testing will help you close bug issues earlier as well as conduct tests parallely. They will also let you set up and manage automated tests in an easier and more effortless way.

Moreover, properly structured CI/CD pipelines allow people with limited technical knowledge to execute automated test cases. The bottom line is, a CI/CD pipeline is a great method to make your testing process faster, easier, and more reliable.

9. Review and optimize your testing works

Practice makes perfect. It’s also true for testing. By reviewing and optimizing test coverage, you can smooth out the testing process and contribute to the quality of the final product.

Such reviews of test results and optimization efforts may help you to find cracks and gaps in your test coverage so that you can make sure that all the vital areas of your software are tested. The reviewing process can also ensure continuous enhancement of the overall testing process.

It may seem like a tedious task, but reviewing the coverage after some time can help you find gaps and flaws in your process that you couldn't see before. Revisions are important for many activities, be it writing documentation or crafting a test strategy.

A proactive attitude is always beneficial, also when we talk about test automation. New trends and tools allow you to apply the latest and most efficient methods for finding bugs.

Modern approaches and tools for test automation will also save you time and reduce the costs required to conduct the testing process. It goes without saying, that the quality of your software will also be positively impacted if you keep on staying ahead of the game.

In our professional lives, continuous learning is essential for our overall success and the success of the product we're working with. Also, challenging yourself with checking out new possibilities, solutions, and tools can be incredibly refreshing if you've been in your role for a long time.

Conclusion

The presented best practices can help you make the test automation processes more failproof and allow you to scale them better. Applying the best practices will lead to a more comprehensive test coverage and improved test automation efficiency.

In the end, you, your team, and your product will benefit from your decision to add good practices and techniques to the development process as, eventually, they can improve both the quality of your work and the quality of your product.

Happy (automated) testing!

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Marcin Łojewski

Software Developer

Software developer currently working as a tech writer and PM.
linkedin.com/in/marcin-%C5%82ojewski-a4191518/

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