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Introducing Automated Testing to a Project

Since the beginning of automated testing, test teams have frequently implemented new tools without first developing a process or strategy that details how they'll make the test tool productive. Don't be that team, says automated testing expert Elfriede Dustin.
This article is adapted from Automated Software Testing: Introduction, Management, and Performance (Addison-Wesley, 1999, ISBN 0-201-43287-0). Elfriede is also the author of the book, Quality Web Systems, publishing in August of 2001.
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Today's software managers and developers are being asked to turn around their products within ever-shrinking schedules and with minimal resources. This is due to a push from government and commercial industries toward streamlining the product acquisition lifecycle, as well as the survival necessity within the commercial software product industry of getting a product to market early. Most information resource management (IRM) organizations are struggling to handle this challenge within the constraints of existing information-management budgets, while simultaneously implementing other competing information-management initiatives.

In an attempt to do more with less, organizations want to test their software adequately, but as quickly as possible. Faced with this reality, software managers and developers have little choice but to introduce automated testing to their projects. But these software professionals may not know what's involved in introducing an automated test tool to a software project, and may not be familiar with the breadth of application that automated test tools have today.

Manual testing is labor-intensive and error-prone, and doesn't support the kind of quality checks that are possible through the use of an automated test tool. Humans make mistakes—especially when mundane, repetitive tasks are involved. Computers are especially effective in performing these mundane and repetitious tasks—without the mistakes. The introduction of automated test tools helps to replace archaic and mundane manual test processes with a more professional and repeatable automated test environment, one that promotes test-engineer retention and improves test-engineer morale.

Introducing Automated Testing to an Organization

New technology is often met with skepticism, and software test automation is no exception. How test teams introduce an automated software test tool on a new project is nearly as important as the selection of the most appropriate test tool for the project. A tool is only as good as the process being used to implement the tool.

Test teams have largely implemented automated test tools on projects without having a process or strategy in place describing in detail the steps involved in using the test tool productively. This approach commonly results in the development of test scripts that are not reusable, meaning that the test script serves a single test string but cannot be applied to a subsequent release of the software application. These test scripts need to be re-created repeatedly for incremental software builds and must be adjusted multiple times to accommodate minor software changes. This approach increases the testing effort and causes schedule delays and cost overruns.

Perhaps the most dreaded consequence of an unstructured test program is the need for extending the period of actual testing. Test efforts that drag out unexpectedly tend to receive a significant amount of criticism and unwanted management attention. Unplanned extensions to the test schedule may have several undesirable consequences to the organization, including loss of product market share or loss of customer or client confidence and satisfaction with the product.

The test team also may attempt to implement a test tool too late in the development lifecycle to adequately accommodate the test team's learning curve for the test tool. The test team may find that the time lost while learning to work with the test tool or ramping up on tool features and capabilities has put the test effort behind schedule. In such situations, the team may become frustrated with the use of the tool and even abandon it so as to achieve short-term gains in test progress. The test team may be able to make up some time and meet an initial test-execution date, but these gains are soon forfeited during regression testing and subsequent performance of the test.

In the preceding scenarios, the test team may have had the best intentions in mind, but unfortunately was simply unprepared to exercise the best course of action. The test engineer didn't have the requisite experience with the tool or hadn't defined a way of successfully introducing the test tool. What happens in these cases? The test tool itself usually absorbs most of the blame for the schedule slip or the poor test performance. In fact, the real underlying cause for the test failure pertained to the absence of a defined test process, or, where a test process was defined, failure to adhere to that process.

The fallout from a bad experience with a test tool on a project can have a ripple effect throughout an organization. The experience may tarnish the reputation of the test group. Confidence in the tool by product and project managers may have been shaken to the point where the test team may have difficulty obtaining approval for use of a test tool on future efforts. Likewise, when budget pressures materialize, planned expenditures for test tool licenses and related tool support may be scratched.

By developing and following a strategy for rolling out an automated test tool, the test team can avoid having to make major unplanned adjustments throughout the test process. Such adjustments often prove nerve-wracking for the entire test team. Likewise, projects that require test engineers to perform hundreds of mundane tests manually may experience significant turnover of test personnel.

It's worth the effort to invest adequate time in the analysis and definition of a suitable test tool introduction process. This process is essential to the long-term success of a automated test program. Test teams need to view the introduction of an automated test tool into a new project as a process, not an event. The test tool needs to complement the process and not the reverse. In other words, the tool is only as good as the process, meaning that a process has to be in place before a tool can be brought in.

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