Test Automation: How it Fits Into Agile Software Development

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Test Automation: How it Fits Into Agile Software Development

By Craig Barnard, Client Delivery Manager at Revolution IT.

As a principle of project delivery, Agile has always been about achieving better outcomes faster through the use of a dynamic, collaborative framework. When applied to software development, and more specifically to product testing, automation has become an essential strategy for businesses to maximise the speed and effectiveness of Agile delivery.

The traditional software delivery method can be considered a linear progression. At the beginning is concept and initiation, which is followed by analysis, development and testing, before finally moving into production. Each of these stages will differ depending on the nature of the project, but the key is that they are completed one after the other – an approach often referred to as ‘the waterfall method’.

In practice, this means that the testing phase will not begin until development is finished; thus, all bug fixes must be delivered in one big batch before the product goes live. This is a fairly rigid approach that does not favour the short delivery times and heightened consumer demand faced by the software development companies of today.

Keeping development and testing largely separate can cause other inefficiencies too. Developers may be able to create a great product, but they will quickly run into bug identification issues if the software isn’t compatible with an effective testing strategy.

Bringing test automation into the fold

A common saying encountered in the vocabulary of an Agile software developer is ‘shift left’. This phrase describes the goal to ‘shift’ everything to the left on the linear model, allowing all teams to work concurrently within a shorter cycle.

On its own, manual testing cannot smoothly integrate into an Agile project. It still forms an important part of the delivery cycle, but it’s unrealistic to test in an Agile environment using the same philosophy of the waterfall method. This is because the volume of tests required and the speed at which they must be delivered almost always outweighs the time and resources available to the tester.

So how can in-house testing be integrated so closely with all the other facets of software delivery? The answer lies in automation.

Test automation has emerged as an effective strategy to address this issue, as it allows testers to automate repetitive, tedious and time consuming fundamental tasks. They can then focus more on overseeing each sprint and performing more crucial manual tasks along the way.

By vastly improving the efficiency of these processes, test automation bridges the gap between testers and developers, allowing teams to concurrently develop and test software within multiple sprints. As a result, a product can be delivered to a significantly higher standard and hit production lines within a much shorter timeframe.

Applying the concept of automation to regression testing

Regression testing is a perfect example of how automation benefits testers in Agile projects and supports the use of internal and crowdsourced testing.

During software development, even the smallest change can have a huge impact. Regression testing is the process of testing all existing software to ensure nothing is ‘broken’ as a result of any new changes.

In an Agile environment, it’s impossible to deliver value to the end user if every part of the product needs to be manually tested after the implementation of any new software or changes to an existing function.

Let’s use a calculator as an example. In the first sprint, developers create the ‘addition’ function and test it to make sure it works. In the second sprint, they create the ‘subtraction’ function. They now need to test the new subtraction function while also testing the addition function a second time to make sure it isn’t affected. Each time a new function is added, each existing function must be re-tested.

This workload quickly becomes unmanageable in Agile projects, and it’s a quick way to lose time and money. For software that includes 10 functions, a manual tester may only have time to test 2 or 3 major features to stay within the tight schedule of each sprint.

Due to the nature of regression tests, they can be written into the code and performed automatically for a dramatic boost in efficiency and a far more unified integration with the Agile method of software development.

Test automation in practice

This test automation approach is not as effective when implemented retrospectively. To get the most out of this strategy, it’s important to have it smoothly integrated from day one. It’s also vital that testing is not considered an afterthought; it should be a core consideration for all involved to ensure it remains efficient and profitable throughout the entire development cycle.

For larger projects in particular, having a set of automation tools in place makes a huge difference in the quality of the finished product. It effectively creates a sustainable delivery pipeline where software is tested as it’s developed, thus identifying defects so they can be addressed, and smooths out creases for future testing conducted manually or through the crowd.

One point to consider in test automation is the implementation itself; on some Agile projects, teams will rely on their developers to write testing into the code, but it does not always achieve optimal coverage. A dedicated tester on the other hand is better equipped to write automated tests with a perspective that’s far more removed and comprehensive. However, many scenarios favour close collaboration between both parties to achieve the smoothest possible delivery cycle.

Moving in the right direction

In today’s economy, time to market is more important than ever. Tech giants such as Google and Apple are fiercely competitive, and they show it in the way they refine their software delivery processes to deliver the best possible value to the end consumer.

Test automation is becoming increasingly important in the world of software development. Just like crowdsourced testing, Agile, DevOps and other similar philosophies, it needs to be thought of as a strategy that requires a clear change in mindset. A proactive, forward-thinking approach is the most effective way to see automation become profitable.

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