Software Test Automation Best Practices

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1 Software Test Automation Best Practices

2 2 Test automation is a critical regression activity. Yet for many reasons, automation projects often fail. Follow these best practices to improve your chances of test automation success. Test automation is a critical regression activity in software development projects with short development cycles. As features build up from iteration to iteration and release cycles grow ever shorter, the time required to regression test can expand geometrically. In these circumstances, automation is often viewed as the magic bullet for survival. However, for a variety of reasons, automation projects often fail. Through XBOSoft s years of experience working on automation projects, we ve come up with a list of key Best Practices that we believe if followed, can significantly improve your chances of test automation success. 1. Get the right people doing the right thing Successful automation starts with the right test scripts. Writing or recording a script that has a simple checkpoint for data verification is easy to do, and writing several of them that test a big function by adding them together is also a no brainer. However, writing a test script that checks for every possible data input for a given field that a user may enter (negative testing), and that is modularized to call with different parameter inputs for an entire function or set of fields is much more difficult and requires a certain level of programming skill. Having a tester develop simple monkey tests is easy, but if they are not maintainable and do not achieve real objectives then the automation effort may fail. Developing smart scripts which are maintainable and re-usable across many functions requires basic programming knowledge.

3 3 a. Don t expect manual testers to convert to automation testers without significant training and recognize that perhaps they may not be able to do it. b. Not all of the members in an automation team need to be developers. The most important thing is to have good structure and programming guidelines based on the particular software under test. To accomplish this, you can have a senior level programmer providing guidance and structure to the overall effort. To expect a QA Tester without proper training and experience to program at such a level is an invitation to failure. Have the right person do the setup, and afterwards, the QA & Testing staff can be trained to generate the scripts which follow. c. Add a programmer from the development side of the product to provide programming and product expertise. They may also be familiar with the structure of the application s functionality which would help in developing script architecture. 2. Allocate enough time and resources It takes time and creative thought to program a test suite which properly tests the application and gives good actionable feedback. Don t be fooled by the marketing of the automation tool companies that these tasks are easy. It takes time to plan, to architect the structure of the scripts, and to make sure they all fit together with re-useable modules and functions. Creating high quality scripts that are maintainable, that tell you where they failed and why, that automatically report results so they can be easily compared to other historical results creates VALUE! Even after the test scripts are written and running, plan to constantly update and improve them. Creating VALUE through high quality (and maintainable) automation scripts takes time and resources. a. Assign a dedicated person or team to write and maintain the automation test scripts. They need to focus and concentrate just like programmers so don t ask them to multi-task around the programming. If you cannot afford a dedicated person or team, at least block out chunks of hours or days to concentrate on quality script writing. 3. Think maintainability Automated test scripts need to be considered continuous works in progress. Products change and tests scripts need to be updated accordingly. The adaptability of a test script to change is dependent on setting up an architecture, and script structure, using consistent programming guidelines. The better job an automated tester does on this in the beginning, the easier it is to maintain moving forward, not only for them, but for others after they are gone. Automated test scripts need an architecture and need to follow programming guidelines in order to minimize maintenance, remain robust and value added.

4 4 a. Set up a structure and guidelines that include parameterization and abstraction where it makes sense. Set conventions for variables, constants, modules, functions, filenames, etc. b. When writing your scripts keep the content scope small and easy to understand. Then have one master script call a set of other smaller scripts. c. Follow output standards for debugging and reporting so that you know from the error message where and why the script had an error. Each script, upon error should output an appropriate error message so you know why it failed. This way, there is less investigative work in maintaining them. d. If a script fails due to a change in control tag, code that error into the output so you can easily find the reason why the script failed. e. Establish an agreement with developers to notify the testers of any interface or business logic changes. 4. Keep it simple Don t make a single test script to check many functions. Large test scripts are harder to maintain more difficult to modify, and challenging to trouble shoot when there is a script failure. For example, if one test depends on the output of a previous one, and there happens to be an error, then the current test or future tests will be out of sync causing all the tests later in the script to fail. Keep the scope of each script limited and easy to understand. a. Each test should complete one specific task or function. This makes it easy to troubleshoot and to read/understand, especially for others who may take over responsibility for maintenance of the script. b. Each test should be independent so that any test can run on its own and pass/fail without dependence on other scripts. c. Complicated features should be broken down to smaller sub-features and have a standard data set for each test. d. Design a script or set of scripts that sets up a default application environment and settings, because scripts can be dependent on the set up of the program. e. Separate the features into modules based on both logical and technical perspectives, to make each module simple.

5 5 5. Automate with the real environment Often, scripts will work on one machine but not on another. This may be due to differences in the test environment. The test environment must be controlled so that the only variable altered is the application software itself. Control your hardware environment. a. If you write a script and give it to someone else to run in their environment, you need to ensure that their environment is identical to yours. This includes all hardware and software on the machine. It s best to have a clean machine with only the operating system, automation software, and application under test. b. Make the script portable so that you can execute the script across the test environment matrix. c. It s a good habit to run automated test scripts on a fresh new environment and then come up with a list of pre-requirements for the script to be run in different environments. 6. Set expectations on all fronts Managing expectations is important. Commercial automation tools can be very expensive and they all come with sales brochures that claim how easy it is to record a script. After spending so much money on a tool that is easy to use, management may expect unrealistic results. However, as any tester can attest or discover, script recording is just the beginning and no tool will write well-structured scripts. Inform and educate management to keep expectations aligned. a. Try to find an open source tool or trial version of the tool you are considering buying. Give it a thorough test. If it s a trial version, work with the vendor for additional time until you get the feel of the tool and know it can do what you expect. Also do research for comparison results, user feedback or different automation test tools. As a tester, it s your responsibility to determine what s best for your project. b. If needed, work with management to educate them and set expectations. They need to know that automation will not save at the beginning, but in fact requires an upfront investment in time and resources. They need to know that automation cannot completely replace manual testing, but enhance the overall testing process by giving manual testers the time to dig deeper into the logic and functions of the product. c. Allocate time to write scripts and experiment as early as possible to ramp up the learning curve. The sooner this is done, the better. d. Tell management that record and play are just reference points and that well written maintainable test scripts are rarely done using record and play.

6 6 7. Understand the application thoroughly Before assigning automation testers to crank out loads of test scripts, take the time to assess if the testers are well versed in the application s business logic. Determine if they truly have a grasp of the nuances of the application s features and functions. If their understanding is limited, then you may end up having a pile of scripts that covers the wrong functionality, or an unimportant feature that no user will access, or even a useless scenario. Master the application first. When it comes to automated testing scripts, quality trumps quantity. a. Arrange for a product expert to give training to the automation testers on the software s operations and business logic. b. Allow time for the automation testers to master the product and think through the logic. Don t simply push for script output. c. Provide clear guidelines to the automation testers on how to operate the application, using screenshots where applicable to reinforce their understanding. d. Test the scripts thoroughly to confirm they pass or fail as expected depending on the input. e. Prioritize the critical functionality that the automation testers will write scripts for. 8. Develop a strategy and go step by step Taking the time and effort to prepare an automation strategy can pay big dividends. It s not so unusual after buying a brand new shiny automation tool, for testers to start coding or recording away. Resist the temptation as you will likely miss out on getting the bang for the buck for your efforts. First, figure out what parts of the application are critical, medium, and low priority for automation. Developing priorities for automation should be a function of not only the areas that are used most by end users, but also, areas that are the easiest to implement automation. Second, develop test cases. Just as manual testing has manual test cases, automation testing should have its own automation test cases. The two main components of an automated test case are the operation and verification. The operation includes the steps of how the application works, and the verification is what will be checked by automation via checkpoints. In the verification checkpoints, you can leave this very general or you can get specific with negative testing verification as well (see below for an example). Invest the time to develop an automation strategy.

7 7 Tips a. Develop an automation strategy complemented by an automated testing framework. b. Develop automation test cases before diving in and recording/writing scripts. 9. Conduct Test Case and Script Reviews For a large automation project involving several people, how do you ensure that the automation testers are doing the correct things and that scripts are written well and can be integrated into a common structure? The recommended approach is to divide and conquer. In this case, each tester is assigned responsibility for a very well defined test scope of functions and features that can be further broken down into smaller test packets. Each test packet is subject to frequent test case and script reviews. This frequency of review is maintained as the small test cases and scripts are rolled up into a common structure. Breakdown the test scripts into the smallest reasonable scope and then conduct frequent test case and script reviews as they are re-integrated. Tips a. Implement a 2 step process for reviewing test cases and scripts: Step 1: Test Case Review After the testers finish writing the test cases for the features they are responsible for, arrange a meeting to review the test cases together. The purpose is to make sure the test case checks the right thing and the verification points are correct. This avoids very basic misunderstandings before they start writing the test scripts. At this time, a joint review of the script writing standards could be carried out to make sure the team is clear on structure, naming conventions, abstraction levels, etc

8 8 Step 2: Script Code Review Once a functional module or major feature has been finished, conduct a pair code review or walk through meeting. Don't wait until some issues occur; by then it's too late. In addition, continue to enforce the coding structure and style. Catching errors in the scripts as a team gives more opportunities for the automation testers to communicate with each other, to better understand the product, and to work toward improving integration and overall script quality. 10. Treat test scripts as a development project Writing quality test scripts is a serious endeavor. Use version control for the test scripts and don't let team members keep scripts on their personal machines. Remember, with many team members writing different scripts for functionality and possibly other software versions, don t allow the scripts to get mixed up. Treat test scripts exactly the same as product source code. a. Make code standards for coding test scripts, include naming convention, file history documents, comments standards, etc just as in any development project. b. Implement a configuration management system to version control your test scripts from very beginning. Moving forward Follow the 10 Best Practices above, and even after all the effort and possible twists in the program, test automation will pay for itself in: Extended platform coverage Regression testing for base functionality Regression testing to prevent defects from reappearing Faster regression, shortening the test cycle, and allowing for deeper manual testing on new features and functions. XBOSoft Inc. 640 Rocca Ave. South San Francisco, CA w

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