Monday, May 23, 2016

Post #6 of 6: For Effective Quality Automation, Know the Limits

One of the very basic values of MetaAutomation is to know what the manual testing role is good at, and is, in fact, indispensable.

By “manual testing role” I mean any person on the team who ever does anything with the software system under test (SUT) and is in a position to notice something awry, some issue where the software behavior (or even non-functional quality issue) does not meet the requirements or somebody’s expectations, and can characterize and record the issue (i.e., “bug” it) for the team so the issue can be considered for a potential action item to fix it. So, this does not necessarily require a person who is full-time committed to a test role or a manual test role.

People are smart. People are clever, innovative, flexible and observant. People notice stuff and can communicate it to other people (or, record it for their own records). Quality automation, or the automation that makes and communicates quality measurements, is very good and powerful at measuring and reporting on performance and steps in driving the product, and regressing functional requirements, but there’s a lot of stuff that it can’t see at all because it’s difficult, risky, or impossible to measure many things about the SUT.

For example, a web page layout: is the page attractive, readable, and usable? Quality automation won’t tell you. One needs the manual test role to follow up. Fortunately, you’re doing this anyway, even if nobody on the team thinks of him or herself as a “tester,” assuming somebody on the team checks over the product before it goes live.

Poor understanding of the boundary between what manual test is better suited for, and what quality automation should be written to do, is expensive in terms of product cost and risk.

For example, I’ve seen too much put inappropriately on the manual testing role; on a credit union web app, giving manual testers ownership to verify correct bank balances is very expensive and risky because that aspect of the product is very high priority but it might not get verified reliably by manual testers for any number of reasons, and in any case, it’s slow to do that manually. The result is extra cost and risk.

I’ve also seen too much put on quality automation: trying to verify many low-priority and relatively superficial aspects with quality automation can be tricky to write and maintain and flaky to run. For example, is a control on the screen the correct color? Unless there’s a high-priority functional requirement there, it’s better to skip that with quality automation. Checking such properties with quality automation can make checks that are too complicated, slow or flaky, or too many checks run to verify low-priority aspects of product quality.

Quality automation and manual testing have (or should have) a relationship: quality automation checks these things, and manual testing verifies the rest, notices odd stuff, and does exploratory testing. The relationship depends on knowing where the team has decided the boundaries and limits are; if the manual testing role doesn’t know what has already been checked, for a given product version and build, there will be missed stuff and duplicated work.

Keep checks simple and well-documented so what is verified is clearly understood. The Atomic Check pattern of MetaAutomation describes how to make checks “atomic,” indivisible really, so that they can’t be simplified by breaking up the check into smaller checks.

Documentation is good but can be expensive and risks falling out of date due to minor changes. Atomic Check describes the ideal solution here: self-documentation of the checks! Even better, naturally hierarchical check steps enable self-documentation of the business-facing logic of the check, easily displayed, and the atomic technology-facing check steps at the same time.

How does that work?

Download and run one or both samples on to see this in action. Step through the code, make changes, and even implement your own atomic checks with hierarchical self-documenting steps.

If that is too much change for your team right now, here’s a take-away you can use immediately: knowing the boundary between quality automation and manual test reduces risk and effort, and ensures that no aspect of product quality is unintentionally missed.

This page is #6 in a series of six, with the original post here.


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  2. Very well written article. I really enjoy reading your blog. Thank you for sharing productive content with us.

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