In today’s age of tight deadlines and accelerating delivery cycles of software, test automation is surely favorable for the world of functional testing and critical to the success of big software development companies. But its various benefits have led to unrealistic expectations from managers and organizations. This article highlights the role and use of automation in an agile context and the irreplaceable importance of manual testing.
Working in an agile environment makes it essential to automate system testing to rerun tests in each iteration. But in the nascent stages of some systems, there are changes in the UI, product flow, or design itself in each iteration, making it difficult to maintain the automation scripts. The role of automation in agile context is repetition of regression and redundant tasks, while the actual testing happens at the hands of manual testers. The creativity, skills, experience, and analytical thought process of a human mind cannot be replaced by automated scripts. This belief has to be ingrained in every organization’s culture in order to achieve the best quality.
Talking about software testing today is incomplete without the mention of test automation. Automation has become an important part of testing tasks and is deemed critical to the success of any software development team—and rightly so, with all its benefits like speed, reliability, reducing redundancy, and ensuring complete regression cycles within tight deadlines.
But the common perception of team managers and policy makers is that automation tools are the complete package for testing activities, and they begin expecting the world out of them. A common misconception is that test automation is the “silver bullet” for improving quality, and organizations start to believe that investing once in an automation tool ends all other testing-related tasks and investments. Managers start expecting everything out of their automation suites—100 percent coverage, minimum run times, no maintenance, and quality delivered overnight. It’s basically expecting godlike miracles to happen! Hence, there arises a need to educate and understand the actual purpose of automation and the importance of manual tests in this context.
Working in an agile environment makes it essential to automate system testing due to the bulk of regression tests required in every iteration. But what makes test automation hard within an agile context is its very inherent nature of constant change. Because the system under test changes continuously, the automation scripts have to be changed so often that they actually become a task themselves instead of a benefit.
As tester James Bach wrote, Test Automation Rule #1 is “A good manual test cannot be automated.” According to this thought, it is certainly possible to create a powerful and useful automated test, which will help you know where to look and to use your manual exploration. But the maximum benefit thereafter will come out of using the experience and exploration techniques.
This is based on the fact that humans have the ability to notice, analyze, and observe things that computers cannot. Even for unskilled testers, for amateur minds, or in total absence of any knowledge, requirements, or specifications of the system under test, people can observe and find a lot of things no tool will be able to.
In a true sense, automation is not actually testing; it is merely the repetition of the tasks and tests that have been performed earlier and are only required as a part of regression cycles. Automation is made powerful by the various reports and metrics associated with it.
But the actual testing still happens at the hands of a real tester, who applies his creativity, skills, experience, and analytics to find and report bugs in the system under test. Once his tests pass, they are then converted to automated suites for the next iteration, and so on.