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How to Evolve Your Manual Test Plan Toward Automation

Justin K. Mar 9, 2020 Testing

Many applications begin with manual quality assurance since it would be a waste of time to create a robust testing framework for a prototype with big, frequent changes. As the application matures and becomes more complex, manual QA processes become time-consuming and inefficient. That's when it makes sense to develop automated QA processes and streamline things.

Let's take a look at how to transition from manual test plans to automated testing as an application matures.

Start Small

Many people preach the benefits of near-complete automated test coverage, but in reality, these levels are rarely possible — or even advisable. Rather than trying to automate everything under the sun, most teams would benefit from starting small and focusing on creating maintainable and reusable test cases to form a base for expansion over time.

There are a handful of tests that make the perfect start:

  • Regression tests are often the best starting point because they are both time-consuming (and mind-numbing) to execute manually and the easiest to automate.
  • Cross-browser testing is another area that takes up a lot of time and is ripe for automation since modern automation frameworks can spin up thousands of configurations.
  • Location-based testing can be time-consuming when testers have to switch between locations, making it another great choice for early automation.

Rather than trying to implement these tests from scratch, you may want to consider using test automation tools to simplify the process. Sauce Labs is a great example of a platform that supports cross-browser testing and integrates with everything from WonderProxy for location-based tests to Jenkins for continuous integration and deployment.

Find the Right Tools

Most quality assurance tests are built using scripts, such as Selenium scripts, or using open source platforms, such as JMeter. While these are free, open-source and flexible tools for building QA tests, they can be challenging for test engineers or testers that aren’t experienced with programming or that struggle to manage complex projects.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of UI-driven quality assurance platforms. These platforms enable test engineers to build tests using a point-and-click interface that builds the scripts behind-the-scenes. That way, anyone can participate in building and maintaining scripts, even if they don’t have extensive programming knowledge.

Other developer-heavy teams may prefer to use only code-based solutions and avoid any platform requirements. For instance, JMeter provides a platform for load testing, but it requires a user interface to manage. Gatling provides an alternative that’s 100% code-based, which enables QA engineers to keep tests alongside the source code in a repository.

Automate with CI/CD

Automated tests can certainly save a lot of time compared to manual tests, but if test engineers are manually executing the scripts, there's still a bottleneck in the process. Continuous integration and deployment, or CI/CD, processes can help automate quality assurance processes and vastly improve the efficiency of the software development process.

After creating automated tests, you can add them to a CI build server that runs them with each developer-driven merge. These efforts free up test engineers to focus on other high-value areas of quality assurance, such as diving into the reporting, creating high-quality bug reports and running manual QA tests in areas where automation isn't possible or helpful.

Jenkins is one of the most popular open-source continuous integration servers. With hundreds of plugins, it's easy to integrate the most popular quality assurance frameworks, including Selenium and JMeter. Many premium tools, such as Sauce Labs, integrate with Jenkins without the need to create complex scripts to manage the build process.

Don't Forget About Reporting

It's easy to set-and-forget automated tests as you transition from manual testing — and that's the goal to some extent — but that doesn't mean you can ignore the test results. Successful QA teams are proficient at translating the results of automated tests into actionable items for developers to address if and when any problems arise.

Selenium test reports in Jenkins
Example of Selenium Reporting in Jenkins - Source: HTML Report Plugin for Jenkins

There are a few ways to improve reporting:

  • Report generators scan test results for HTML files and create an overview of the executed tests to make it easier to glean useful insights. For instance, the Selenium HTML Report plugin for Jenkins automatically publishes easy-to-navigate reports that can help identify issues.
  • Generate screenshots using Selenium's built-in capabilities and integrate them into Jenkins to automate the process. That way, QA teams don't need to worry about reproducing bugs in the browser just to get screenshots each time.

These reports are invaluable for both creating bug reports for developers and providing high-level reporting for stakeholders. From performance testing data to screenshots of bugs, it's possible to automate the reporting process to keep everyone informed by interfacing with Jenkins or your other continuous integration and deployment tools of choice.

Keep Some Manual QA

There are many areas where automated tests aren't possible or helpful. In these cases, you may want to reconsider automating tests and choose to manually complete them. If you do want to automate them, you may want to leave them until last since they could provide the least benefit to your overall test suite.

Some areas where manual tests are helpful include:

  • Exploratory tests involve probing an application for edge cases that may cause unexpected results. Since these edge cases aren't very common, it doesn't make sense to write scripts to test them on a regular basis.
  • User experience tests are designed to assess the overall user experience rather than looking for specific regressions. Again, you may not know exactly what you're looking for at the start.
  • Accessibility tests are designed to test the accessibility aspects of an application. While there are ways to automate this testing, the quality of these automated tests may not be up to par with user expectations.

In general, you should prioritize tests that are both easy to automate and save the greatest amount of time for testers. Tests that are difficult for testers, but take a lot of time to automate, may not make much sense to focus on early on, while the same is true for tests that are easy to automate but save only a small amount of time for testers.

The Bottom Line

Many applications begin with manual quality assurance processes and slowly move towards automation as the application matures and becomes more complex. By starting small, using CI/CD tools and knowing when to use manual tests,  you can make the process a lot easier and less stressful for everyone involved while dramatically improving efficiency.

If your application involves location-based functionality, WonderProxy provides an easy way to automate testing to ensure the best user experience. Explore our plans today!

Justin K.

Justin is a technical writer and developer with over a decade of software development experience.