When is a good time to Automate a Test? Reaching maximum efficiency while minimizing risk

when it is a good time to automate a test
By Leo Prada, Technical Project Manager

Test automation, with its promise of faster execution, improved accuracy, and reduced human effort, has become a beacon of hope for development teams seeking to navigate this challenging terrain. Yet, the decision to embark on the test automation journey is not one to be taken lightly. You can’t just start whenever you feel like it. No, no, no! Like any transformative endeavor, the timing of its initiation can play a pivotal role in its success. It requires careful consideration, taking into account various factors such as project complexity, team dynamics, budgetary constraints, and organizational readiness. It’s like orchestrating a grand symphony, where the conductor meticulously times the entrance of each instrument for maximum impact.

In this article, we´ll embark on an expedition to discover when is a good time to automate a test. Whether you’re a seasoned software engineer seeking to optimize your testing processes or a project manager that´s tasked with improving delivery speed without sacrificing quality, join us as we dive deep into the art of timing the right moment to embrace the automation revolution.

Which Projects Need Automated Testing?

When considering which projects require automated testing, it's important to assess various factors to determine if automation is suitable. Here are some key considerations to help identify the projects that can benefit from automated testing:

  • Complex Projects. Projects with intricate architectures, complex functionalities, or extensive integration points often require thorough and repetitive testing. Automated testing can help streamline the testing process, ensuring comprehensive coverage and reducing the risk of human error.

  • Long-Term Projects. Projects with extended lifecycles or frequent updates can benefit from automated testing. As changes are made to the application over time, automated tests can be executed quickly and reliably. This helps provide continuous feedback on the application's stability.

  • Regression Testing-Intensive Projects. Projects that involve frequent regression testing (where previously tested functionality needs to be revalidated), are prime candidates for automated testing. Automation enables the efficient execution of regression test suites, which saves time and effort that would otherwise have been spent on manual retesting.

  • Large-Scale Projects. Projects with a large codebase and/or extensive functionality can benefit from automated testing by ensuring thorough coverage. Automated tests can be designed to validate different areas of the application simultaneously. This provides comprehensive testing across various modules.

  • Critical Projects. Projects that involve critical functionalities or mission-critical applications require robust and reliable testing. Automated tests can help ensure that essential features are thoroughly validated. This minimizes the risk of potential failures or vulnerabilities.

  • Agile/Continuous Delivery Projects. Projects that follow agile or continuous delivery methodologies require frequent and fast-paced testing. Automated tests can be integrated into the CI/CD pipeline, which enables rapid feedback and a reduced time to market for new features.

  • Projects with High Test Volume. Projects that involve a large number of test cases or scenarios can benefit from automated testing for handling the volume efficiently. Automated tests can be executed in a parallel manner, which saves time and resources compared to manual execution.

  • Cross-Platform and Cross-Browser Projects. Projects that need to be tested across multiple platforms or browsers can leverage automated testing to ensure consistent functionality and user experience across different environments.

  • Projects with Performance and Load Testing Requirements. Projects that require performance and load testing can benefit from automation tools that simulate multiple users and/or system loads. Automated performance testing helps identify bottlenecks and assess application scalability.

  • Projects with Regulatory Compliance. Projects that need to adhere to strict regulatory standards and/or compliance requirements benefit from automated testing. Automated tests provide a consistent and auditable process for validating compliance/regulatory-related functionalities.

By considering these factors, you can determine whether a project will benefit or not from automated testing. It’s important to remember that not all projects may be suitable for full automation, and a hybrid approach combining automated and manual testing can be more appropriate in some cases.

How to Determine Project Maturity: A Scientific Guide

You may stick to a scientific approach to identify the essential project components that require automation and to find out when is a good time to automate a test. You will have to estimate every component to get a comprehensive project maturity assessment.

The following 14-item list will guide you:

assessing project maturity
  • Test Automation Strategy. Check your strategic plan. Are the goals for test automation clear and are the risks identified? Does your team understand their roles and responsibilities?

  • Resources. You will need quite a few skilled people, reliable financing opportunities, and the correct assessment of time and effort.

  • Test Organization. Your testing team should be motivated and experienced with choosing the best test automation tools, writing tests, and maintaining them. You will need problem-solving mechanisms in place that will work smoothly.

  • Knowledge Transfer. In order to communicate best practices and nourish collective knowledge, it´s best to take into account the amount of time and effort that´s required for transferring the knowledge efficiently. 

  • Test Tool Selection. Select the right tool by taking the features needed for your project into account, such as a need for mock testing. Think about the technical constraints like programming languages, the test environment, your budget, and local regulations.

  • Test Tool Usage. New tools require testing in pilot projects. You should set clear goals and reevaluate them from time to time.

  • Test Environment. Make sure that all of the requirements on a test environment are simple and that the environment configuration is under control.

  • Test Requirements. Your engineers need a clear path that´s well-defined for deriving the test automation requirements.

  • Test Design. There are specific test design techniques to choose from. When your engineers create test cases, select those that can fit different purposes like smoke, regression tests, and more.

  • Test Execution. Make sure your engineers prioritize test cases to meet your schedule. They should pre-process tasks before the execution and have post-processing tasks performed automatically.

  • Verdicts. Verdicts indicate the results of executing automated test cases. You will need them to see the results that were collected from different sources in order to manage and integrate them into the big picture.

  • Test Automation Process. This process should go in hand with the development cycles.

  • Software Under Test (SUT). The execution speed of an SUT should be fast enough to conduct test automation.

  • Measurements and Quality Attributes. Consider the key aspects of test automation, such as ROI for test automation, test thoroughness, effectiveness, reliability, portability, maintainability, usability, and functionality.

You have to take all of the above-mentioned components into account thoroughly before you decide on when is a good time to automate a test.

To Automate or not to Automate, That is the Question

ScenarioWhen to AutomateWhen Not to Automate
Repetitive TestsAutomate tests that are executed frequently and require consistent execution. It saves time, effort, and reduces human error.If the test is a one-time activity or infrequently executed, it might not be worth the effort to automate. Manual testing can be more efficient in these cases.
The Requirements are StableAutomate tests when the application's requirements are stable and unlikely to change frequently. This ensures consistent and reliable test results.If the application requirements are volatile and frequently changing, automating tests can be counterproductive as the effort required to maintain the automation scripts might outweigh the benefits. Manual testing can adapt to changing requirements more easily.
Large Test Data SetsAutomate tests that involve a large amount of test data, such as data-driven testing, to ensure comprehensive coverage and accurate results.For smaller and simple test data sets, manual testing may be more feasible and faster to execute.
Regression TestingAutomate regression tests to quickly detect potential issues or regressions when new changes are introduced. This provides efficient and reliable regression testing.For complex scenarios or new features where the expected behavior is not well-defined, manual testing allows for exploratory testing and a better understanding of the application's behavior.
Performance and Load TestingAutomate performance and load tests to simulate large user loads and identify bottlenecks. This provides consistent and repeatable results.For user experience-related testing or testing scenarios that require real-user interactions, manual testing is better suited for capturing the nuances of performance and usability.
Cross-Browser/Device CompatibilityAutomate tests to ensure compatibility across multiple browsers and devices.This provides broad coverage and saves time.For specific edge cases or scenarios where manual interaction is crucial, manual testing can uncover platform-specific issues that automated tests might miss.
Data-Driven TestingAutomate tests that involve multiple combinations of data inputs in order to validate various scenarios. It improves test coverage and efficiency.For tests that require human intuition or qualitative analysis, manual testing is preferred. It allows testers to explore different data perspectives and identify issues that automation might overlook.
Test Reports and DocumentationAutomate test reporting and documentation to ensure consistent and standardized reports. It saves time and effort in generating and maintaining documentation.For detailed analysis or specific insights, the manual review and analysis of test results might be necessary. Automation can provide data, but human interpretation adds context and depth to the findings.
Non-Functional Testing (Security, etc.)Automate repetitive security tests, performance tests, and other non-functional tests to ensure consistency and thorough coverage.For in-depth analysis, exploration, or for uncovering complex security vulnerabilities, manual testing with the expertise of specialized testers can provide a more comprehensive assessment.
UI TestingAutomate UI tests to validate consistent UI elements and behavior across different scenarios. It provides quicker and more reliable UI testing.For visual elements that require human evaluation or subjective judgment, manual testing is beneficial. This allows testers to assess the overall user experience, visual design, and aesthetics.

Note: This table provides general guidelines, and the decision to automate or not to automate a test should be based on project-specific considerations and the expertise of the testing team.

When is a Good Time to Automate a Test: The Perspectives of Different Experts

The perspectives of various experts can provide valuable insights into determining when is a good time to automate tests. The opinions of test automation specialists, agile practitioners, QA managers, development team leads, and CI/CD experts can help us gain a comprehensive understanding of the factors influencing the decision to automate tests. By examining their viewpoints, we can gather valuable guidance on when to leverage test automation effectively and how to maximize its benefits.

Test Automation Experts Test automation specialists typically suggest automating tests when the software or application under test has reached a certain level of stability and maturity. They emphasize the importance of having well-defined test cases that are unlikely to change frequently.
Agile PractitionersAgile practitioners often recommend incorporating automation into the development process as early as possible. They advocate for automating tests that are repetitive and form a part of the team's regression test suite. They believe that automating early helps identify and fix issues quickly and ensures the continuous delivery of high-quality software.
Quality Assurance (QA) ManagersQA managers may consider automating tests when there is a need to optimize testing efforts. They focus on automating test cases that are time-consuming, complex, and/or involve large datasets. They weigh the benefits of automation against the investment required and they prioritize the tests for automation that provide the most value.
Development Team LeadsDevelopment team leads may suggest automating tests when it improves the overall efficiency of the development process. They look for opportunities to automate repetitive tasks, reduce manual effort, and increase test coverage. They may also consider automating tests that validate critical functionality and the areas prone to frequent defects.
Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) ExpertsCI/CD experts advocate for automation throughout the software development lifecycle. They emphasize the need to automate tests that support continuous integration and deployment pipelines. Automation allows for faster feedback on the quality of code changes and it helps maintain a high level of software stability.

It's important to note that opinions may vary based on the specific context and expertise of each individual. The decision to automate tests should be based on a careful assessment of the unique needs and constraints of the project along with considering the expertise and recommendations of the relevant stakeholders.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, determining when is a good time to automate a test  is a decision that demands careful consideration and evaluation. It necessitates both a keen understanding of the software development process and a strategic approach towards achieving optimal efficiency and reliability.

Just as an artist selects the precise brushstroke to bring their masterpiece to life, a discerning tester recognizes the critical juncture to introduce automation into their testing endeavors. It´s a moment that can elevate the entire testing framework to enable faster execution, broader coverage, and enhanced accuracy.

By assessing factors such as test case stability, repeatability, complexity, and frequency, one can discern when the stars align for automation. The aim is to harness its transformative potential, freeing human resources from repetitive and mundane tasks, and empowering them to focus on higher-value activities, such as exploratory testing and critical analysis.

Automation is not a panacea, but a valuable tool in the testing arsenal. Its implementation, when undertaken at the right time, yields a plethora of benefits, ranging from increased productivity and reduced time-to-market to improved software quality and customer satisfaction.

Frequently Asked Questions

Test cases that are repetitive, time-consuming, prone to human error, or require extensive data sets should be considered for automation. Additionally, test cases that cover critical functionality, regression testing, cross-platform or cross-browser validation, performance and load testing, and compliance testing are ideal candidates for automation. It´s essential to prioritize test cases based on their impact, complexity, and frequency of execution in order to maximize the benefits of automation.

Automating tests offers many advantages, including increased efficiency, faster execution, improved accuracy, enhanced test coverage, and reduced manual effort. Automation enables repetitive tests to be executed consistently, allowing for faster feedback on software quality. It also frees up resources for more complex testing activities, accelerates release cycles, and helps identify defects early in the development process. This leads to higher-quality software and improved customer satisfaction.

There are certain scenarios where it’s preferable not to automate a test. One instance is when the test is exploratory or requires human judgment. Another case is if the test is one-time or infrequently executed, making the effort of automation not worthwhile. Additionally, when the cost of automating the test outweighs the potential benefits, manual testing can be more practical.

The main criterion for selecting an automation tool depends on the project´s specific needs. Some key factors to consider are the tool's compatibility with the technology stack, its ease of use, available support and documentation, scalability, and cost-effectiveness. The tool should align with the project's goals and requirements while providing robust features for test creation, execution, and reporting.

Automation does not completely replace manual testing. While automation can greatly enhance testing efficiency and coverage, manual testing still plays a crucial role. Manual testing is essential for exploratory testing, usability assessment, and scenarios that require human judgment. Combining both approaches allows for comprehensive testing which will ensure the detection of subtle issues while delivering high-quality software products.

Leo Prada
Leo Prada
Technical Project Manager
Leo Prada is passionate about leading distributed teams and has vast team management experience across 10 different time zones. An avid traveler, he has spent many winters in the backwoods of Maine and some in Croatia, reclaiming his inspiration to work productively.

Tell us about your needs