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Test Automation: Quality Assurance for Long-Term Success

Here’s why a strong testing mindset is crucial for identifying gaps in product quality and prioritizing risk mitigation through automation.

Product companies rely on their enterprise software to create seamless product lifecycle workflows. There’s no room for process errors or hiccups in the user experience.

That’s why it’s imperative for enterprise software providers to shift from a tactical mindset to a strategic one in automation efforts, emphasizing the importance of long-term planning for sustained success.

Simply reducing the need for manual testers isn’t enough of a reason to hit “go” on an automation test. In the fast-paced world of software development, the rush to innovate processes leads some organizations to fall into the trap of automating everything without a strategic approach, leading to suboptimal results and maintenance nightmares. 

This guide explores how a strong quality assurance approach to automation is key to a successful test automation strategy.

Collaborative Quality Assurance is the Key to Successful Automation Testing

Your DevOps organization needs a data-driven quality assurance (QA) team to oversee all automation procedures. Propel Software’s QA team, for instance, carefully breaks down and analyzes new features planned for an upcoming release and compiles a comprehensive list of test cases associated with each feature. 

This list then served as a basis for constructive discussions with our product managers (PMs) and developers.

The testing strategy we follow is never prescriptive; it's not a matter of simply dictating which layer should be targeted for each test case. Instead, we foster an environment of open conversation and collaboration. It may seem counterintuitive, but all automation strategies should leave room for human intervention before running tests, so all testing team members are on the same page.

Different organizations may have unique requirements and considerations that may challenge the general heuristic. 

By engaging in dialogue, we identify the test cases that have already been covered by unit tests, taking advantage of the fact that we provide our test cases to the developers at the outset of application development. This collaborative approach ensures the efficient allocation of testing efforts and avoids duplicating work.

Clarifying the Critical User Journey

By clarifying the critical user journey, teams can align their testing efforts with the most vital aspects of their product. This focus ensures that end users can rely on the core functionalities while also highlighting the significance of thorough continuous testing for these critical paths.

At Propel, our automation testing process cannot begin without first looking at the impact on the critical user journey. This term helps us effectively communicate with our engineers and QA team by defining the value proposition and use case for the end user. While the term 'critical user journey' may differ across different businesses, it essentially represents the testing of core functionalities that define the product.

If a specific functionality fails to work, it renders the other 99 features of the product irrelevant. For instance, if a user cannot use the platform to create a bill of materials or generate a change order—which are fundamental actions in our product—the rest of the features hold little significance.

Regardless of other impressive capabilities such as exporting data or accessing informative dashboards, the inability to perform essential tasks undermines the overall value. This exemplifies the essence of the critical user journey–ensuring that the core features are functioning as expected.

Types of Software Testing for Effective QA

Software testing is a big broad term, encapsulating various forms of testing, from critical functionality to debugging to exploratory testing needs. All of which play a crucial role in ensuring the quality and reliability of a product. 

Testers employ a range of methodologies and techniques to uncover potential issues and validate the functionality of systems: 

  • Smoke testing identifies major problems early on so they can be addressed promptly and without wasting time and resources on testing features that rely on a faulty foundation.
  • Functional testing focuses on verifying individual components and features, ensuring they perform as intended. 
  • Non-functional testing assesses the system to ensure it meets expected quality specifications and identifies bottlenecks on user experience requirements, such as security, performance, and usability.
  • Integration testing evaluates the interactions between different components to identify any compatibility or communication issues. 
  • Performance testing assesses the system's responsiveness, scalability, and stability under various loads and conditions. 
  • Acceptance testing determines if a software system or application's compliance with specific requirements is suitable and if it’s ready for acceptance or release.
  • Regression testing ensures that new changes or updates do not adversely affect existing application functionality.

In order to perform any of these types of tests, developers and quality engineers need to first write test scripts, or test cases, which are usually tied to a system, user, or functional requirement specification. The intent of these scripts is to outline a set of instructions or commands that communicate the sequence of actions and verifications during the testing process.

These scripts can then be translated into programmatic scripts for use in test automation which will be executed to simulate user interactions, validate expected behaviors, and check the system’s response. Traditionally these automation scripts are created using various programming languages such as Java, Python, C#, or Javascript, depending on the chosen automation framework and tools. 

With the rising popularity of competitively advantaged no-code/low-code automation tools and software, it is now possible to also create these automated scripts declaratively using these modern tools in a more user-friendly drag-and-drop manner or other similarly designed approaches. The recorded actions from these automated test scripts can then be played back to verify they are functioning properly. Playback allows for the automation of repetitive tasks and helps ensure consistency and accuracy in test execution.

By applying a comprehensive end-to-end testing approach that incorporates these different types of automation testing, organizations can enhance the overall quality and user experience of their software products, enabling them to meet the expectations and demands of their end users.

The Role of Automated Testing in Achieving Continuous Delivery

Modern industry solution providers such as Propel focus on delivering high-quality software at an accelerated pace, because they recognize continuous delivery is crucial for their customers to stay competitive. 

This is where automated testing plays a vital role—ensuring faster releases without compromising quality. 

Continuous delivery of new features and continuous integration of major upgrades means streamlining the entire delivery pipeline, from development to deployment, ensuring that software development updates can be released swiftly and seamlessly. 

Automated testing involves using specialized test automation tools and frameworks to automate the execution of the test plan or test suites, verification of expected outcomes, and comparison of actual results from test data. 

Let's delve into how automated testing facilitates the continuous delivery process:

1. Rapid Feedback Loop

Automated tests provide immediate feedback on the quality and functionality of the software. By integrating these tests into the development pipeline, developers can receive prompt notifications about any failures or regressions. This rapid feedback loop enables early bug detection, reducing the time and effort required for bug fixing.

2. Ensuring Code Stability

Continuous delivery requires a stable codebase that can be deployed at any given time. Automated tests, especially unit tests, validate the correctness of individual code units, ensuring code stability. These tests identify issues early, preventing them from propagating to higher levels and minimizing the risk of introducing bugs into the codebase.

3. Reliable Regression Testing

Regression testing is a critical aspect of continuous delivery. As new features and enhancements are added, it's essential to ensure that existing functionality remains stable. Manual regression testing can be time-consuming and error-prone. Automated tests, on the other hand, provide a reliable and efficient means of performing regression testing. By automating repetitive use cases, teams can focus on examining new features and rely on the automated suite with reasonable confidence to ensure appropriate regression coverage.

4. Increased Test Coverage

Manual testing alone cannot provide the level of test coverage required for continuous delivery. Automated testing allows organizations to increase their test coverage by executing a vast number of test cases in a shorter amount of time. This comprehensive coverage ensures that critical functionalities are thoroughly tested, mitigating the risk of releasing defective software.

5. Consistency and Reusability

Automated tests ensure consistency and reproducibility in the testing process. Manual testing can be subject to human errors, resulting in inconsistent test results or data sets. Automated tests, on the other hand, follow predefined scripts and instructions, guaranteeing consistent and reproducible outcomes. This consistency is vital for ensuring that software behaves as expected across different environments and configurations.

Understanding the Automation Pyramid

At Propel, we strongly advocate for the adoption of the automation pyramid as an agile test automation framework within our organization. 

While automation testing plays a crucial role in ensuring the quality and reliability of software products, not all tests are created equal.

Determining the right balance between comprehensive coverage and efficient testing can be a challenge. This is where the automation pyramid framework comes into play. 

The automation pyramid is a testing framework that guides testing teams in distributing their tests across different layers based on their level of granularity. It consists of three layers: unit tests at the base, integration tests in the middle, and user interface (UI) tests at the top. Let's take a closer look at each layer:

Base Layer: Unit Tests

At the base of the pyramid, we find unit tests. These tests focus on verifying the smallest units of code, typically individual functions or methods. Unit tests are fast, reliable, and provide excellent coverage at the code level. Unit testing is executed frequently and serves as a first line of defense in preventing defects from entering the codebase.

Middle Layer: Integration Tests

Moving up the pyramid, we come to the integration testing layer. Integration tests interact with the application's interfaces and validate the integration and communication between different components. They provide a broader scope of coverage compared to unit tests, ensuring that various parts of the system work harmoniously. By testing the integrations and the APIs, teams can catch issues related to data exchange, request/response handling, and business logic.

Top Layer: UI Tests

The top layer of the pyramid consists of user interface (UI) tests. These tests simulate user interactions with the graphical user interface of the application. While UI tests provide the most realistic testing scenario, they are slower, more fragile, and prone to breakage due to frequent UI changes. Hence, it's advisable to limit the number of UI interactions and focus on critical user journeys or high-risk areas of the application.

Advantages of the Automation Pyramid

Implementing the automation pyramid offers several benefits:

Efficient Testing: The pyramid's distribution of tests optimizes testing efforts by prioritizing fast and reliable unit tests, complemented by a moderate number of API tests, and a smaller set of UI tests. This approach ensures that the majority of tests execute quickly, providing rapid feedback on code quality.

Faster Feedback Loop: By catching defects early in the development cycle at the unit test level, teams can identify and rectify issues promptly, minimizing the risk of defects propagating to higher layers. This results in a faster feedback loop, enabling faster iterations and accelerated delivery.

Reduced Maintenance Effort: UI tests are more susceptible to flakiness and breakage due to UI changes, making them more time-consuming to maintain. By emphasizing lower-level tests, teams can reduce the manual testing and maintenance efforts associated with UI tests, thereby improving overall efficiency.

Always Have a Testing Mindset

Maintaining a testing mindset is crucial for successful software testing and automation efforts. It goes beyond just using the right tools and technologies. It involves adopting a strategic approach, prioritizing tests based on risk analysis, and understanding the value of each test case. Quality is everyone’s responsibility. By embracing a testing mindset, organizations can enhance the quality of their software, identify potential issues early on, and deliver a reliable and user-friendly product to their customers.

To learn more about how Propel ensures continuous delivery, check out Ready-to-Adopt Release Cycles: Upgrades That Won’t Upend Your Business.

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Post by
Anmol Singh
Senior QA Engineer, Propel