Software QA FYI - SQAFYI

Test Automation Frameworks

By: Carl Nagle

"When developing our test strategy, we must minimize the impact caused by changes in the applications we are testing, and changes in the tools we use to test them."

--Carl J. Nagle

1.1 Thinking Past "The Project"

In todayís environment of plummeting cycle times, test automation becomes an increasingly critical and strategic necessity. Assuming the level of testing in the past was sufficient (which is rarely the case), how do we possibly keep up with this new explosive pace of web-enabled deployment while retaining satisfactory test coverage and reducing risk? The answer is either more people for manual testing, or a greater level of test automation. After all, a reduction in project cycle times generally correlates to a reduction of time for test.

With the onset and demand for rapidly developed and deployed web clients test automation is even more crucial. Add to this the cold, hard reality that we are often facing more than one active project at a time. For example, perhaps the team is finishing up Version 1.0, adding the needed new features to Version 1.1, and prototyping some new technologies for Version 2.0!

Better still; maybe our test team is actually a pool of testers supporting many diverse applications completely unrelated to each other. If each project implements a unique test strategy, then testers moving among different projects can potentially be more a hindrance rather than a help. The time needed for the tester to become productive in the new environment just may not be there. And, it may surely detract from the productivity of those bringing the new tester up to speed.

To handle this chaos we have to think past the project. We cannot afford to engineer or reengineer automation frameworks for each and every new application that comes along. We must strive to develop a single framework that will grow and continuously improve with each application and every diverse project that challenges us. We will see the advantages and disadvantages of these different approaches in Section 1.2

1.1.1 Problems with Test Automation

Historically, test automation has not met with the level of success that it could. Time and again test automation efforts are born, stumble, and die. Most often this is the result of misconceived perceptions of the effort and resources necessary to implement a successful, long-lasting automation framework. Why is this, we might ask? Well, there are several reasons.

Foremost among this list is that automation tool vendors do not provide completely forthright demonstrations when showcasing the "simplicity" of their tools. We have seen the vendorís sample applications. We have seen the tools play nice with those applications. And we try to get the tools to play nice with our applications just as fluently. Inherently, project after project, we do not achieve the same level of success.

This usually boils down to the fact that our applications most often contain elements that are not compatible with the tools we use to test them. Consequently, we must often mastermind technically creative solutions to make these automation tools work with our applications. Yet, this is rarely ever mentioned in the literature or the sales pitch.

The commercial automation tools have been chiefly marketed for use as solutions for testing an application. They should instead be sought as the cornerstone for an enterprise-wide test automation framework. And, while virtually all of the automation tools contain some scripting language allowing us to get past each toolís failings, testers have typically neither held the development experience nor received the training necessary to exploit these programming environments.

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Test Automation Frameworks