The Role of Automation in Functional Testing

By Aarti Sharma July 18, 2017 Blog

Functional Test Automation“Testing has to be an integral part of developing software and not a separate phase. When this approach is taken, product quality is owned by everyone on the team.” - James Sivak

A few years ago, Knight Capital Group, trading on an average 3.3 billion shares a day, incurred a trading loss of $440 million because of an incorrect software update! In today’s digital economy, the importance of thorough testing of the software before it goes live cannot be emphasized more. Any failure on this part can not only result in losses but also could severely damage a company's reputation, brand, and business. Such negative image could also cause user migration. It has, therefore, become all the more important to strictly follow the approach of "test early, test often".

What is Functional Testing?
According to a research report titled ‘Set Your Sights On the Six Software Testing Targets’ by Info-Tech Research Group, to ensure the quality of end product, six types of tests can be used. Functional testing is a form of testing which tests the functionality of the application. It tests how the application executes various functions vis-à-vis the functional requirements and user expectations. These functions include various user actions, searches, user screens, data operations, business processes, and integrations. Functional testing is done based on the requirements, user stories, and acceptance criteria.

Automated Functional Testing– Benefits and Ensuring Success
In simple terms, automation testing is a technique which automates the testing process using scripts and suitable software. Once the scripts are ready, those are used to execute the test cases automatically to improve the overall test coverage and efficiency.

Businesses looking to expand their test coverage, save time and costs, and retain the knowledgebase, and aim for productivity improvement in testing opt for automation testing. While automated testing is not a magic wand which could completely replace the manual testing efforts. However, automated functional testing can dramatically improve the turnaround time, quality and stability of the application.

To ensure that their functional test automation initiatives are successful, businesses need to ensure the following –

- Understanding of the Application: Organizations need to ensure that the automation experts and the product experts or manual testing experts work very closely while automating the test cases – this is important because, to be able to create a robust test automation suite, the automation team needs to have a deep knowledge of the application functionality and understanding of its testing. In an ideal scenario, the manual testers or the product experts should be able to automate the test cases.
-Know what to automate: 100% automation is practically impossible to achieve. It is important to choose the right test cases for automation with an aim to automate the critical functionality.
- Test automation during the development: To get the true RoI from automated functional testing automation, businesses should ensure that the test automation is done while the application is being developed and it is not an afterthought after the application release. Having a strong test automation strategy early in the project lifecycle ensures faster time to market, better application stability, and more test coverage.

The Building Blocks of Functional Testing Automation Strategy

Following are the important building blocks of a successful functional test automation strategy –

- Right mix of skills in the team: To ensure the success of your test automation strategy, you need the right expertise in the team including the people who understand test automation, have an in-depth understanding of testing, the product experts, and the stakeholders who can drive the strategy to align with the business goals.
- Selection of the test automation tool: While no tool will ensure the success of your test automation strategy on its own, selection of the right tool is one of the key decisions to make in the overall process. The next section describes more on how to select the right test automation tool.
- Selection of the right test cases: As mentioned earlier, one cannot aim for 100% test automation. The key lies in selecting the right test cases for automation. The ideal ones for automation are - the business critical test cases and hence should pass in every build, the test cases which are executed repeatedly, the test cases which are too tedious to execute manually, and the ones which are time-consuming.
- Setting up of the test environment: Ensure that you set up the test environment which is as close a replica of the production environment as possible including the hardware and software configuration.
- Execution of test cases: The strategy should define the execution process of the test cases. After execution, each test case should be assigned a status of ‘Pass or Fail or Not Executed’ which defines the success criteria for the test case.
- Maintenance of test suite: As new functionalities are added to the application; the automation test scripts need to be modified or new scripts need to be added. With each release, the test suite also needs to be upgraded. In order to improve the effectiveness of the automation, it should be easy to maintain the test suite.

Criteria for Selecting the Right Functional Test Automation Tools

While selecting the right test automation tool, businesses should consider the following critical aspects -

- Availability of the Skillset: Test automation is a specialist job and most of the test automation tools require programming expertise. If your testing team has a majority of manual testing experts with no programming knowledge, you need to select scriptless test automation platforms.
- Ease of Use: User-friendliness should be one of the key criteria to consider during the evaluation of the test automation tool. It should be easy to create test scripts, test data, and re-usable components.
- Automation Speed: The test automation tool should facilitate rapid test script development and allow the automation of test cases with complex workflows. It should also facilitate speedy execution of test suite. Accurate reporting and logging of the test execution play an important role in ensuring the success.
- Technology Support: The automation testing tool should be able to support all the technologies used in the application under test – whether those include thick client applications, web-based user interface, web services, mobile Applications, databases, file handling (like word, PDF, xls, text, xml) etc.
- DevOps: If you are moving towards Continuous Delivery and hence towards Continuous Testing, then you need to ensure that the test automation tool which you select is able to seamlessly integrate with your Continuous Integration tools and infrastructure.
- Reusability and Maintainability: The automation tool should support modularity and easy traceability of changes, which, in turn, ensures high maintainability of the test suite.
- Collaboration: In today’s age of multi-location teams, it is important to ensure that your test automation tool supports real-time collaboration and helps in productivity improvement in testing.
- Cross-platform Support: The automation tool which you select should be able to execute the test suit across multiple platforms, operating systems, browsers, and localization environments.
- Tight Integration with Development Ecosystem: To be able to really make an impact, the test automation tool should be completely integrated with the management, test management, defect management, continuous integration etc.
- Powerful Reporting: The tool you select should provide robust reporting – it should be able to provide reports for every execution cycle for every suite and every test case, across multiple execution cycles and across multiple builds. The reports should capture exact state of the software under test, during every stage of the execution. The right and clear reports help the stakeholders in making the right decisions.

The key to the success of functional test automation lies in selecting and implementing the right test automation solution, honing the skill-sets of the testers, defining the scope accurately, and continuously enhancing the test suite.