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Test automation best practices

Much like the actual steps that comprise software development, there are a variety of ways to execute a test management strategy. Therefore, the goal of QA testers should not be to blindly follow a strict set of rules throughout the testing life cycle, but rather, to abide by certain best practices that help streamline the process and ensure delivery of the best possible solution for the end user. Let's take a look at what some of these best practices are, and what they entail.

Expertise is key

Like any other useful tool, the efficacy of test automation largely depends on the tester's knowledge of how to leverage it. The benefits of automation integration primarily stem from the ability to automate repetitive, tedious test cases - for example, most forms of regression testing. This significantly reduced strain on testing teams, which would otherwise be tasked with running such test cases repeatedly. Getting caught up in such tedium often results in careless human errors.

However, in many ways, test automation is not unlike a clock. It will serve its purpose, but it must be set in motion first by an experienced clock maker, so to speak. Thus, the first and arguably most important consideration to make when it comes to test automation is that not anyone is capable of overseeing an automated test management tool. Automation integration is not a substitute for testing personnel; it is an extraordinarily useful solution that is designed to make life easier for software testers. In some cases, this means bringing aboard a professional who has experience in test automation, rather than assuming that manual testers have the expertise needed to oversee automation integration. According to TechTarget, assigning test automation tasks to anyone who is not considered an "expert" in the field is a big no-no. Test automation calls for a master clock maker who can set the gears in motion, and maintain them as needed. 

Strategize, strategize, strategize

As stated above, a test management tool can only be effectively leveraged by trained professionals - but more specifically, by trained professionals who have a plan. Developing a test management strategy is essential to successful automation integration. Given that all software is different, use cases will vary significantly, and test cases - automated and manual - must be tailored to the solution. This includes knowing in advance which software testing metrics will take precedence, how test tracking will be achieved, and where and when to automate. All of these factors will be considered when choosing the right test management system for the job. 

Furthermore, the testing life cycle is not necessarily static, and regular maintenance changes will need to be made at various stages. This is especially true in cases of agile software development. However, testers must have all the details about the solution and its end users upfront in order to identify ideal scenarios for test automation. In other words, test automation is not just about who is using it, but how they are using it. Having a circumspect plan in place is half the battle.   

Manual testing will always be necessary

Many test cases will need to be run manually prior to automation. This is especially true for exploratory tests, as well as test cases that are essential for fluid functionality, and which must be thoughtfully integrated. Unit tests, and other black-and-white tests may be automated from the onset, but automation integration for complicated diagnostics will be more hands on. They must be well-written, and applied in all the right places.  

Likewise, defining specific test metrics for user interface can be extremely difficult given the abstract nature of human interaction with software. Manual testing helps identify pain points and confusing UI elements that test automation might not be "human" enough for. This is particularly true in cases where known user-related issues already exist.  

The right expertise, the right test management tools and a strategy that incorporates manual testing as needed, define the trifecta of proper test automation. Once this has been achieved, the chances of creating a well-tested, comprehensive solution for end users significantly improve.