4 ways to minimize test automation maintenance

Test automation maintenance is inescapable. Here are four ways to reduce maintenance and ensure software testing is as effective as possible.

Test automation scripts might save time on software validation, but they add maintenance time and often increase the complexity of tests.

It's easy to think, from a business perspective, that more automation is better. Test automation catches more bugs in software with less work. But the story doesn't end there. Test automation also requires maintenance, and it generates technical debt.

Don't resist change -- it is inevitable. Focus on sophisticated scripts to minimize test automation maintenance. A small, prioritized test suite can be better than an exhaustive one. However, the right test approach varies from one scenario to another. Follow these best practices for minimizing test automation maintenance.

Changing apps means changing tests

Test automation maintenance is time spent rewriting or updating tests. Test maintenance is required when the application undergoes change that would break existing tests. For example, a UI design update moves the button that a test clicks on, and therefore the test fails, even if the functionality still works.

Testers can write scripts that accommodate some degree of change. Design-agnostic locators, like IDs, solve the UI revamp problem, for example. But at some point, application changes force test updates.

Adaptive test scripts simplify the work

A good automated test design minimizes the time spent on maintenance. When you design a test, avoid repeating code, and write the minimal amount of code necessary to accomplish the task. Thus, when locators or page objects need an update, these changes only happen in one place in the test script.

Disciplined design can save hours on test automation maintenance. However, there's a trade-off to accommodate flexible design. Design patterns and page object models that reduce code repetition and overall lines of code also ramp up complexity.

Test management increases software quality

When code passes tests, the development team gains confidence that the software quality is high. Likewise, failing tests mean that the software doesn't function or meet requirements. Poorly written automated tests are time-intensive to maintain, and they create long waits while tests are non-functional, yielding zero value. Poor test design creates false negatives or positives, where the code passes even when bugs do exist.

Given the inherent cost of test automation maintenance, QA teams should follow best practices to balance that cost with the highest reward. Find the right number of automated tests in a test suite to deliver the most value from running it.

A test has value if it increases software quality, but there's more to it than that. Even when tests are properly designed, a bloated test suite's maintenance demands can outweigh the value it creates. It is more effective to have a small number of well-designed automated tests focused on the most important, highest-risk features of an application versus an exhaustive test suite for every single facet of a feature. The return on investment from a small number of tests is greater, because most issues are caught by the first tests that run. If most issues are found with the small number of tests, then spending an extra hour running 10 times the number of tests will slow down development greatly and only minimally increase value.

To track the value of your tests, measure how often they run, and how often they catch bugs.

Popular automated testing tools

Test automation tools cover a range for code-averse to code-savvy testers. Here are a few test automation tools to consider:

  • SmartBear TestComplete
  • Micro Focus UFT
  • Tricentis Tosca
  • Idera Ranorex Studio
  • Telerik Test Studio
  • Eggplant Functional
  • Mabl
  • Testim
  • TestProject
  • Selenium
  • Appium
  • Perfecto Mobile
  • Sauce Labs

Fit the test process to the situation

The right approach is tailored to the situation. If you have a well-designed, comprehensive test suite, but speed is of the essence, run a subset of those tests to provide quick feedback to developers. Pick tests for the most important and highest-risk features. This small subset of the test suite can run as often as needed. Then, the entire exhaustive test suite can run during a later stage of development. Make the full suite part of a final QA process, before the feature deploys to production.

Keep an automated test suite well-designed and minimize maintenance to enable quicker releases and more confidence in software quality. Ensure that tests always provide value, whether as a quick verification or an exhaustive check.

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