Why Test Automation Fails? Top Reasons (+ Solutions)

Posted by Himanshu Sheth | November 9, 2020
Automation •

78910 Views | 19 Min Read

Why Test Automation Fails

We all know that test automation can work wonders for our business. It can help us reduce cost, save time and effort, get quicker feedback, etc. thereby directly contributing to increased productivity and maximization of profits. But to get good results from automation testing, you need to avoid mistakes as they can result in wastage of automation efforts.

Now, you can learn from your own mistakes or learn from others’ mistakes and avoid making them. As best-selling author Roy H. Williams says, that’s the difference between being smart and being wise. To help you be wiser, we have enlisted a few mistakes that led to test automation failure and tips to overcome them.

Some Facts & Figures

According to the World Quality Report, only 14~18% of organizations have basic test automation tools in place. Choosing the right test automation tool is of utmost importance to reap long-term benefits from automation testing. The test automation strategy should be built in a scalable manner, and the ROI should not be judged from short-term success.

During the start of the testing phase, the tests being executed might look promising. Still, the scenario would change 6~12 months down the line as the tests may no longer be relevant, or the execution may take longer than expected, or the results might turn out to be flaky. A more worrisome factor would be switching to a new test infrastructure or test automation tool due to incorrect analysis of the tool currently in use.

To make your test automation strategy successful, you have to avoid some common pitfalls & failures. With that in mind, here’re some of the common problems with automation testing that you need to avoid to build a long-term successful test automation strategy.

Keeping Focus On User-Interface Testing, Only

No matter what type of product you have, it will evolve with time. New features will be added in an incremental phase; some of these features might also require changes in the User Interface (UI). Now, the user interface is the only way through which the user will interact with the website/web application, but the product is much more than what the user sees or interacts with! Multiple operations might occur in the background when the user clicks on a particular button, and it is essential to test each of those scenarios.

While choosing a web automation tool, you mustn’t focus solely on user interface testing. The test process might be slow, and any change in the UI would involve significant changes in the test code and could lead to automation testing failure. Selenium automation testing can be used along with programming languages like Python, C#, Ruby on Rails, etc. to automate UI tests. The test code might involve significant changes to accommodate testing on outdated browsers like Internet Explorer (IE) since many features might not work on such browsers.

Every change in the test code involves a cost, and the problems multiply if there are major changes in the UI. If you intend to test your product’s internal functionalities, opt for web testing on headless browsers. Headless browsers are web browsers without a graphical user interface. Since product development and testing phases are executed in parallel, it is essential to focus on both GUI tests and functional tests (that do not only have any GUI). Also, lack of proper communication between the web product stakeholders, e.g., planning team, development team, test team, etc. can cause a major disaster to the timeline of the product release. Hence, it is vital to keep all the stakeholders in the loop about the overall development progress.

Lack Of Domain Expertise

Regardless of the type of test automation tool being used, your team would still require some coding proficiency. The majority of the test automation tools support popular test automation frameworks like Cucumber, Selenium, Robot, etc. Your team needs to make the correct choice of test framework to get the best results from automation. For example, a test case that involves testing against a range of input values can be better developed & performed using the Hypothesis framework than other frameworks. Hence, you & your team should know the pros & cons of each test framework.

Selenium test automation is very popular since it can be used with most of the popular programming languages. In case your team does not have adequate domain expertise or coding experience, it becomes essential to hire experienced test automation experts to groom the other team members. Otherwise, you will likely end up with a major automation testing failure. You would want to use the test code developed at the start of the testing phase during the later stage. Hence, the test code’s long-term maintainability and portability are extremely important to avoid automated testing problems. Only an experienced developer/tester can come up with such a clean, maintainable code.

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Inadequate Infrastructure

This is one of the major factors for automation testing failure. Whether you are developing web products for the end-consumers or enterprise, it would involve interaction with the web browsers. During the early stages of product testing, your team might be using a manual testing approach, which has many limitations. You cannot attain good test coverage since the number of tests may be limited or may not challenge the test infrastructure.

Take the case of cross browser testing; your team can verify your product against limited combinations of web browsers, operating systems, and devices. You can test on browsers installed on your system or machines connected to the network, but you can still not cover the entire spectrum of web browsers (and their different versions). The scenario will change when you shift the focus to automation testing or automated cross browser testing. Using manual testing, your test team can execute tests a few times in a day, i.e., as long as the tester performing the test is in office, you are neither challenging nor utilizing the complete test infrastructure.

When you shift to Selenium test automation or automation testing in general, the number of tests being executed will increase significantly. To get the most out of automation, the test infrastructure on which the tests are executed should be responsive but having a responsive test infrastructure comes at a cost. The cost will rise as the product development & test phase progresses; not investing in the infrastructure will hamper the throughput of testing, leading to automation testing failure. Your team should take a conscious decision on whether to have a local test infrastructure or shift to a cloud-based testing where you can leverage the advantages of parallel testing for improved test efficiency. It is recommended that you factor in local infrastructure costs and create a plan to shift to a more scalable approach to avoid the most common problems with automated testing.

Ridiculous Deadlines And Expectations

Depending on your test team’s expertise, you should decide whether you want to develop an in-house automation tool or opt for a third-party automation tool. Irrespective of the organization’s size, it makes little sense to build everything in-house since those skills may not be primary to your organization. Even if your team decides to come up with a tool, there is a high probability that it would be developed with short-sighted goals and would lack the robustness that is required in an automation tool. The question that you need to ask is, “Do I develop a tool for long-term usage or to meet my short-term requirements”?

Most of the available automation tools might be following a freemium pricing strategy; hence you need to evaluate them from multiple angles before zeroing down on one tool. Whether it is about assessing an automation tool or developing a minimalistic version of an in-house tool, ensure that enough time is given to the team to put their points forward. Do not expect overnight miracles from your development & test team since unwanted pressure might push them to make incorrect decisions and, thus, automation testing failures.

Automation is not rocket science but an on-going process. The questions that you need to ask are:

  • At what stage of product development should automation be introduced and deployed?
  • What are the primary expectations from automation?
  • What is the short-term and long-term ROI (Return on Investment) of using the automation tool?
  • What are the key criteria for measuring the success of automation?
  • How many resources should be deployed for the automation task?
  • What is the fallback plan in case your plan ‘A’ fails?
  • Do you have other projects where automation tools are deployed, and can your team learn something from them?
  • Can you use Selenium test automation or some other widely accepted test frameworks for automating the tests?

It would be catastrophic to have unrealistic expectations from automation tests since 100% automation is ideally not possible! Deadlines and Expectations are two sides of the same coin, and it is of utmost importance that there is a balance between the two of them.

Test Automation In Silos

It is a wrong notion that testing is a separate task. On the contrary, testing and development should be done hand-in-hand. It should be a part of the development cycle and continuous integration process, i.e., Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery pipeline. One of the major reasons for an automation testing failure is that the test teams work in silos and have little or no interaction with the other teams in the project.

Wouldn’t it be a disaster if significant changes happen in the product’s UX when the test team is simultaneously testing that particular product flow?☹ It will eventually end up in duplication of work and cause an immense amount of frustration within the test team.

Selenium test automation or test automation should be a part of the build-test-deploy pipeline. Whether your project uses the traditional water-flow model or CI/CD for product development & testing, automation testing should be considered a part of the development. Automation tests should be integrated into the continuous delivery pipeline, and tests should be executed regularly. Another cause for an automation testing failure is that automation tests are considered necessary during the later stage of product development. Doing so would lead to the discovery of critical bugs (functional, non-functional, performance, etc.) at a later point in time. This can delay the product release, which can eventually hurt the business of your organization. Test more; test often is the key for generating the best results out of test automation.

Automate, Automate, And Automate

It’s necessary to understand that not every aspect of testing can be automated. There are always going to be some aspects of testing that should be done manually. Sometimes, automating those tests drive minimal returns, or human intervention is required to execute those tests. Automating everything can also lead to a major automation testing failure.

As far as test automation is concerned, there are several ways of achieving automation. You could use Selenium automation testing for cross browser testing & testing functionalities involving any browser interaction. If your team is not skilled with test frameworks like Selenium, Robot, etc., you can even opt for Play & Record testing to achieve some automation level. As we mentioned earlier, automation scripts should be triggered on different machines/devices to achieve parallelism, and maintaining that infrastructure can be costly. Do not run behind your experienced tester to automate all the test cases since it makes no sense to develop automation test cases to verify the same set of functionalities or business logic.

Test automation is an incremental step, and going big from the beginning is not recommended. It would help if you asked the following questions to yourself and your team before moving to test automation:

  • What pain points encountered in manual testing does test automation solve?
  • What kind of tests should be automated (Regression, Sanity, Functional, etc.)?
  • Should an in-house tool be developed, or a powerful third-party tool should be procured?
  • What is the test automation team’s skill-set, and is there any ramp-up time required before they jump on the test automation bandwagon?
  • How do you avoid automation of test cases that test overlapping business logic?
  • Which type of tests should be part of the CI/CD pipeline?

Just automating all manual test cases is one of the major reasons for automation testing failures since that task is ideally not achievable!

Non-Modular Test Case Implementation

You are about to leave for home, and suddenly, your manager asks, ‘Develop automation scripts for testing an XYZ functionality?’ You cannot deny him because who wants a bad rating because of one task, right? So, you hastily use Selenium or some other testing framework to come up with the test suite implementation. You inform the manager and get an instant appreciation for delivering on tight timelines! Guess what? The test automation script/code you implemented in no time will be used & scaled by other test team members. Everything looks good as long as the UI/UX is not changed, or there are no significant business logic changes.

Such quick hacks in the test code will fetch you appreciation but scaling & maintaining the code will be a herculean task. The code might not be modular; the variable declaration might not be in place, web locators might be declared multiple times; there will be hardcoded values, etc. This makes the code less modular and scalable, which results in increased maintenance effort. After certain reviews, your peers may recommend restructuring the entire code since that would involve less effort than changing the existing test code. Modularity and Maintainability of test code/test suite are critical, and ignoring those signs may result in an automation testing failure.

Page model implementation is an ideal approach to avoid such problems with automated testing. It can be used in Selenium test automation with Python, C#, Java, etc. As it is rightly said, ‘Beautiful piece of code is an art’ and you need to be a master at that art☺.

Insufficient Test Data Set

In many scenarios, test automation will be used on systems where manual testing is already taking place. This is definitely a good start to test automation, but to increase the throughput of test automation, you may sooner or later move to an advanced infrastructure where tests can be executed in parallel. This also means that the minimal data set that your test team used for manual testing should be enhanced so that different aspects of product implementation can be tested. You do not want to miss verifying a corner test scenario and receive flak from your customers! Negative ratings from your customers can damage the product’s brand value.

Instead of refreshing all the test data that your team accumulated during manual testing, it is recommended to scale the test data set. For example, for a simple login screen, the test data set can be combined with different types & sizes of user-name/password combination. You need to build the test data from an end-consumer/customer’s mindset. A test automation scenario that might look trivial to you may turn out to be an important one!

There are frameworks like Hypothesis that can provide you a range of test values to verify your test cases/test suites. Such kind of frameworks can be used in conjunction with Selenium test automation or any other test automation framework of your choice. A minimal test data set would mean less stress on the test automation tool/test automation system, resulting in less ROI from test automation. Usage of in-house or cloud-based test automation infrastructure comes at a cost. Getting minimal ROI due to less use of that infrastructure will definitely result in automation testing failures.

Keeping Data Sets And Test Suit Separate

We stressed the importance of modular & maintainable test suite/test code to avoid automated testing problems in one of the earlier points. A website/web application will have a user interface through which the users will use different features on the website/application. The end-user is not even slightly bothered about what lies under the hood since the only thing exposed to them is the user interface.

Whether your product is in the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) phase or an advanced phase, it would definitely involve exponential user interface changes. These changes would be to improve the overall user experience. What if the test code is tightly coupled with the web element locators? What if there is a change in the name of the web element? Such design change can either create havoc within the test automation team or accept the change calmly. It all depends on the test code’s overall structure; this also includes the directory structure where the test suite file is located.

The development of test cases should not be kept separate from actual product development. The product development team needs to have regular communication with the test team. Developers can even participate in code reviews so that the overall quality of the test code is improved. Changes in elementIDs (XPath, link text, link-id, etc.) should not significantly impact the test code. The only possible scenario for this is if there is a clear bifurcation between the test data, web element locators, and test suite. Selenium automation testing is viral for test automation; choosing the right framework can ease out that process.

If web element locators are maintained in a separate file, any UI changes will only involve changes in that file without any change in the test suite/test code. Following such a modular approach will reduce the code maintainability time, thereby freeing critical resources to take up some other vital tasks.

Flawed Planning And Execution

Shifting gears to test automation involves careful planning and sound execution. You need to have a test plan in place. The test plan should highlight what you plan to achieve through test automation and expected test coverage. There might be other projects in your organization where test automation tools were used. While it is important to understand & document those learnings, you cannot follow a one size fits all approach. What worked for their project might not work for your project! The scale and scope of the project also matter a lot.

There are many open-source tools, and you might be tempted to use those tools since there is no cost factor involved. Before choosing any open-source tool, you need to look at the tool development history, feedback from existing users, and the current state of development. There is no point in using a deprecated tool since the tool will become unusable one fine day, and your team members will be in a difficult situation. You should carefully study your product’s market and the type of devices, web browsers, etc. being used in the target market. For example, the test automation code will be used for testing on (Firefox + Windows), but the target market users might be majorly using (Internet Explorer + Windows).

Since web browsers are an integral part of any website/web application, you should choose a cloud-based cross browser testing platform like LambdaTest. Having an in-house infrastructure for cross browser testing is neither economical nor scalable. Above all, rigorous testing on the wrong combination of Web browser + Operating system + Devices can delay product development & testing. Choosing the right automation tool is the key to test automation. You do not want to regret choosing the wrong or inefficient tool during later stages of product testing. Below are some of the things that need to be kept in mind while selecting the automation tool/automation enabler.

  • How much load can the automation tool handle when Selenium test automation is used for testing?
  • What is the kind of throughput when multiple tests are executed in parallel?
  • Does the automation tool support popular code tracking & bug tracking tools like Asana, Jira, GitHub, Slack, GitLab, etc.?
  • Are the capabilities of the tool available as popular extensions like Chrome extension or Firefox extension?
  • How simple is it to integrate the tool in the CI/CD pipeline?
  • What frameworks and programming languages are supported by the tool?
  • How simple/difficult is it to port a local test framework (Selenium, Cucumber, etc.) implementation to the tool’s remote Selenium Grid?
  • What are reporting mechanisms supported by the automation tool and the usefulness of the report’s information?
  • What sort of tests need to be automated?
  • What kind of web browsers, operating systems, and devices would be crucial for test automation?
  • What is the responsibility of every engineer involved in test automation, and what is the kind of skill set required for test suite development?
  • What programming language and test framework will be used mainly for enabling test automation?
  • What key advantages does the cloud-based test automation platform offer when compared to its competitors?
  • How long should you wait before shifting automation testing to a cloud-based infrastructure?
  • What is the key focus of test automation, i.e., GUI testing, functional testing, Stress testing, etc.?
  • What kind of test metrics are used to compare the efficiency of automated tests?
  • What is the capability of a test automation tool to handle large data sets?
  • What kind of CI tools are used for the execution of the builds?
  • What kind of freemium plans does the cloud-based test automation provider offer to its customers, and how seamless is it to switch between different plans?
  • How will you handle multi-site dependencies? This is a vital point, as there are distributed teams involved in development and testing.
  • What are the target test coverage and some blueprints/plan to attain the test coverage requirements?
  • What is the TAT (turn-around time) of the customer support team as far as the test automation tool company is concerned?

There are many other points that need to be considered, but those will depend on your project’s nature & scale. Once you have the answer to the questions above, you might be able to solve 90% of the problems with automated testing.

Conclusion

Test automation is not rocket science, and the success will largely depend on the test plan’s planning & execution. It would be best to avoid automation testing failures discussed above since overlooking these points can result in the loss of the entire test automation task. Also, while selecting the test automation tool, you should ensure that it supports popular test frameworks like Selenium, Cucumber, Robot, etc. Selenium is widely used across all the industries wherever software automation is required. Lastly, avoiding an automation testing failure is more of an art that involves the right mindset needed for project planning, development, and testing – the key pillars of any software product☺.

Happy testing!

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