Even though agile software development has become quite common, many teams continue to grapple with achieving even modest levels of test automation. Agile methodologies present significant challenges to any automation team. The essence of agile is more frequent software releases and increase in team collaboration, but this often results in too many iterations, ambiguous project scope, and little or no documentation.

Lamentably, and often unnecessarily, test automation initiatives often fail to deliver. This is primarily due to these factors:

  • Frequent failures — High-complexity, interconnected systems, and applications often contain a variety of test environment inconsistencies. These thwart test automation efforts in many ways, and often produce false positives. The extra effort is tedious, burdensome, and decreases motivation for continuing with automation efforts.
  • Costly, extensive maintenance — Conventional script-based test automation requires frequent updates to keep up with a high-speed, dynamic delivery process.
  • Performance — Moving to simple automate conventional tests often results in long execution times. This means that it becomes impracticable to run an adequate regression against each build, which also means that the team doesn’t get accurate, immediate feedback on how recent changes impact user experience.

Many software teams are looking to testing automation as they seek to cope with continuous integration/continuous development—which is a common delivery framework for agile teams. Although automation can eventually achieve the efficiency that enterprises need for critical, repetitive, and complex test processes, it can become a disaster if there is a lack of planning and analysis.

Perhaps your agile team now realizes the need for testing automation but is wary of embarking on a potentially treacherous journey. Or, maybe you’ve been trying—without much success—to achieve effective outcomes in your automation efforts. Here, we consider the main challenges to this pursuit, how to address those challenges, and how to increase the probability of success.

Automate in parallel

A major reason that teams that attempt to implement test automation don’t achieve their quality objectives is that agile development is all about short iterations in a continuous delivery pipeline. Shorter, frequent sprints usually result in more bugs, which require more fixes. It becomes difficult to find the time to identify, fix, and test the products of each iteration. In pursuit of test automation, the mindset and the culture must change before any success can be realized.

While it is very challenging, success is only possible when enough time is allocated for testing—and automation efforts can proceed alongside the development sprint. Otherwise, the entire pipeline will lag, or release quality will continue to decrease. Parallel testing and automation will also eventually be more responsive to new requirements and increase team productivity. Some testers will also have additional capacity for exploratory testing—which is necessary even in the most highly automated environments.

Build robust tests

There’s really no way around it. Testers must build tests that can be readily integrated into the regression suite. Both scripted or scriptless tests must be built with sufficient flexibility to accommodate long-term regression testing requirements, and also satisfy these criteria:

  • Accuracy
  • Maintainability
  • Integrity
  • Portability
  • Versioning
  • Performance

The objective here is to consistently execute automatic, accurate, smooth, high-performance regression testing with minimal intervention from any tester. If the test scripts are stable and sound, testers can finish the regression phase while avoiding unnecessary modifications. Speed and accuracy improvements are sure to follow.

Pursue DevOps integration

Solid DevOps integration—development, testing, and operations—is essential to supporting an effective agile development team. DevOps enables cross-functional collaboration that is vital to rapid feature development and the automation that is necessary to support continuous delivery. DevOps is critical to a shared-work environment in which development, code integration, and automated testing need to happen in real-time.

Evaluate and deliberate over automation tools

If you don’t invest quality time to evaluate capabilities of automation tools, you’re likely to make poor investment decisions. Prior to any test automation tool purchase, it crucial to ensure it will the success of your test automation efforts. To avoid wasting time, money, and unmet expectations, look for automation tools and technologies that:

  • Readily handle the automation of unit and end-to-end testing.
  • Provide easy-to-use interfaces, features, and navigation.
  • Seamlessly aid in accumulating and maintaining a suite of regression test.
  • Return test results quickly.
  • Automatically detect function/feature changes and self-heal / self-adjust tests as necessary.
  • Provide solid support for integration with other test management tools, test management tools, bug tracking tools, and continuous delivery setups.

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Keep tests concise and efficient

Ensure that your test cases are concise and lean. Not only will it be much easier to use only the test data that is necessary to achieve expected testing outcomes. Feature-specific, small-footprint test cases also contribute to a solid, manageable regression suite that is easy to maintain—especially for environments that contain various programming languages, scenarios, and configurations.

Make time to compile relevant test data

Don’t skimp on your test data, since it is vital for test automation success. Take time to optimize the size of the datasets, and ensure that the data itself is suitable for the application(s) that you’re testing. As necessary, combine and separate the data into categories such as invalid data, valid data, and boundary conditions. Various data sources might include XML-generating database, a structured DBMS, text or Excel files Also ensure that the data is current and devoid of obsolete values.

Periodically conduct test reviews

Periodically review your test cases and data to ensure it contains all necessary updates and verify the validity of all tests. To avoid inefficiency, bloat, and potential secondary problems, make a strong effort to identify and archive tests that have become irrelevant to current test cycles. As appropriate, validate the substance and functionality of those tests which are most likely to have an enduring impact on your test automation program.

Continuously monitor the development environment

It’s also important that testing teams frequently track changes to all development and staging environments—including additions or modifications to cloud environments, complex virtual machine clusters, and external databases. Anomalies, issues, and defects can lurk outside the core application—in the integration frameworks, network configuration, services, and databases. A clear, precise understanding of all core and supporting environments goes much further toward keeping the team focused on achieving quality targets. That is certainly preferable to blindly scrambling to find root causes.

Following these suggestions and pursuing excellence will help your team to realize a high return on the investment of your time and capital. Dedication and perseverance will result in a high degree of automation and higher levels of quality in your deliverables. Over time, you’ll also benefit from faster performance and increases in testing efficacy. 

 

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