A risk is the probability of occurrence of an unexpected outcome that causes a negative impact. If a risk is not mitigated at the right time, then it can have catastrophic effects like loss of business revenue or even loss of life. 

From the first computer to the modern smartphone, automation has slowly become a part of every industry. It is also changing the way we look at our daily life. With the advent of robotics and the Internet of Things, we are in the midst of the technological revolution. 

When everything is pointing to automation as it seems to be the future of the world, but the surrounding hype has caused a cart-before-the-horse mentality where people invest heavily before making the specific reforms. 

Why is test automation important for businesses?

In today’s digital age, applications are the primary mode of consuming most of the products and services and delivering a seamless user experience. Most of the companies have already adopted agile development and testing practices to test the new ecosystem of complex, interconnected, and cloud-driven applications. 

Surely, test automation can do wonders for businesses by reducing time, cost, and effort. But to get effective results, it is important to avoid challenges as they can lead to wastage of automation efforts. 

8 most common test automation challenges (and how to overcome them)

The good news is that these challenges can be handled with the right technology and tools. Here are the eight most common test automation challenges you should consider to mitigate the risks of test automation failures. 

Challenge 1: Selecting and using the appropriate tools

Many teams lack the expertise of using certain testing tools, or the tool does not offer complete test coverage, or the tool they want does not exist. Today, there are plenty of tools, ranging from commercial to open-source tools that support various technologies and types of testing. The testing product vendors have a common tendency to exaggerate the capabilities of the tool and assume that they have a “secret sauce” to all the test automation challenges. And this causes a lot of confusion and misconceptions about selecting an appropriate testing tool.

Many times, we do not do sufficient research before selecting the right tool and tend to quickly buy popular commercial testing tools. It is always important to define a set of tool requirements based on the application under test and the experience of the team. When the testing tool is selected after extensive research and proper suitability assessment, the test is less likely to be failed. If the tool does not offer everything you need, consider a multi-tool solution. However, it is not possible to test everything, but you can use the tools to test the most crucial things. Lastly, if the tool is out of your budget, quickly conduct a cost vs. benefit analysis to measure the damages of earlier bugs and the time and money you could have saved by using the test automation tool. 

Challenge 2: Lack of expertise among team members 

The expertise of team members is one of the most common test automation challenges. While this concern cannot be resolved without gaining significant expertise and experience, some hacks can make the transition smoother and easier. For example, the testing frameworks can be leveraged that allow the team members to utilize their preferred programming language. A good example of a testing framework is Selenium. Selenium essentially automates the browsers while binding multiple languages. If an organization uses JavaScript, its team can use JavaScript to write test scripts. It can be initially challenging for the team to determine which test scripts need to be automated. But a proper training program on this topic will allow the team to identify the right components and decide the priority of test automation.

Challenge 3: Lack of adequate test infrastructure

Another key test automation challenge is the lack of infrastructure to provide required test coverage and ensure adequate execution speed. Consider the situation where an application needs to be tested against different operating system and browser combinations. To run tests against multiple configurations in a reasonable time, it is important to run the test scripts in parallel. And to make that happen, the testing infrastructure has to be very strong to support the parallelization strategy.

While an organization that gets started with test automation may not be well prepared to build a testing infrastructure of this nature internally, there are other options like cloud-based test infrastructure. Working with cloud-based infrastructure solutions allows you to access a testing environment with all the necessary configurations. This will help you to lead to a higher level of efficiency and test coverage while eliminating the additional cost that comes with building and maintaining the test environments. 

Challenge 4: Incorrect testing approach

So, let us consider that you already have the right tools and expertise to start test automation. But what do you automate and what is the process of automation? Unfortunately, the tools do not tell you what to automate. Will you raise a set of excellent automated tests or will they turn out to be unmanageable? Of course, you would hope for the former. The fact is that you cannot automate everything and need to be strategic. And for this purpose, you can use two approaches: automation pyramid and risk-based testing.

  • Risk-based testing provides a higher priority to test the elements that are at high risk of failing and also carries great negative consequences if the test is failed. Here, it is important to consider the financial impact of potential errors, service level agreements, and the probability of failure. This provides a baseline to prioritize which test cases should be automated.

  • Test automation pyramid is another recommended approach to address the test automation challenge. Here is a quick overview of the automation pyramid.

As the first pyramid indicates, the ice cream cone is tempting but it can spoil the automation appetite. Following this approach will result in high frustration levels as it emphasizes automation on the user interface level and employs the tests that can break easily. Whereas, if you focus on automated unit tests, you can prevent the bugs at an early stage and eliminate them immediately as you go through the lifecycle of software development. 

Challenge 5: High upfront investment cost

Automated regression testing is considered the most useful and crucial method in most agile situations. But the cost can be a major concern here. As a matter of fact, the initial stage of test automation is the most expensive. It is important to analyze, design, and build the test automation framework, reusable functions, or libraries, etc. In many cases, it is crucial to consider licensing costs, operating costs including hardware and software costs.

Even though there are free open-source tools that can reduce the cost of licensing, the team can spend some effort on learning, maintaining, and training them. Furthermore, the hidden costs should like meeting, communication, and collaborating also be taken into consideration. Although there is a huge payoff after running regression testing cycles in the long run, to have a consensus about this investment is a major challenge. Due to budget constraints, many organizations give up the idea of test automation even though they have a higher return on investment.

Challenge 6: Data dependency problems

Test data management can be a primary test automation challenge. When the test script is run, it requires the data to be in a certain state otherwise, it can create major problems in different scenarios. For example, what happens if the test script is being run in multiple test environments and configurations at the same time? Will it fail in different instances of the script that utilizes the same data? Any modification of the data in one instance of test execution can cause another instance to fail. Or what happens where the data of a script is set up through another test script execution?

The most effective way to manage these data management issues is to develop self-contained and independent test scripts. All the test scripts should be developed to create and clean all the data required for successful execution. In this context, the team needs to remove the test failure possibilities due to data-related issues. 

Challenge 7: Test automation in silos

It is a wrong notion that testing is an individual task. On the contrary, software development and testing should be done hand-in-hand. Testing should be a part of the development cycle and continuous integration process. One of the key reasons for the test automation failure is that testing teams work in silos without any interaction with other project teams. 

Would it not be a disaster if there are significant changes in the user experience of the product when the test team is simultaneously testing that product? It will eventually end up in the repetition of the work and cause a lot of frustration within the test team. Test automation should be a part of the overall development process. Whether the project uses conventional a water flow model or CI/CD for product development and testing, automated testing should be considered as an integral part of development. Another test automation challenge is that automation tests are considered to be important during the last stage of product development. In this case, the critical bugs (functional, performance, non-functional, etc.) are discovered at a later point in time. It can also delay the release of the product, which can eventually hurt the business. It is always recommended to test often and test more to generate the best test automation results.

Challenge 8: Setting realistic expectations of automation

No matter how great your testing processes and tools you have, it is always important to remember that testing is never complete. The automation of tests is not a panacea for bug-laden systems and should not be used in place of non-automated tests. But it is recommended to use test automation in conjunction with manual testing processes. Initially, test automation seems to be a permanent fix but it is important to set appropriate expectations for an automated testing strategy and include other forms of testing as and when required. Even though automating tests will catch more bugs during the development phase, some errors can still make it into production. It can be due to scaling issues or oversight of automated script, etc. The lesson here is that testing is a continuous process and should exist at all stages – including production. Also, it is important to ensure that your team and management agree on the desired outcomes from the test automation plan so that everyone is on the same page.

Your next step: Win the test automation strategy with QAonCloud

Now when you know the test automation challenges and the ways to overcome them, it is time to prepare for all the hurdles and mitigate the risks of test automation failure. Well, test automation is not a rocket science and its success depends largely on the planning and execution of the test strategy. It is the best way to avoid automation testing failures since overlooking these points can result in the loss of test automation tasks. Here, the key is to tackle all the testing challenges and bottlenecks effectively to bring the best results.  

Instead of rushing through the testing process, it is crucial to identify the roadblocks, analyze the project needs, skills, and experience of the team, available time and budget, before adopting a test automation approach to reap maximum benefits. Even if you had an epic failure or mixed failures with test automation in the past, it should not prevent you from trying it again. Take a look at your earlier mistakes, and use the recommendations to deliver a winning project