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Analyzing and Selecting the Right Software Automation Tool

By Nadine Parmelee, Senior Quality Assurance Engineer

Nadine-Parmelee1-bWith all the tool choices available today, selecting an automation tool is a project all on its own. There are a number of variables to consider when selecting an automation tool, as the upfront cost of the tool is not the only consideration. There are potential costs in tool configuration requirements as well as resource training. Next you have to identify the resources you need and how long they will be needed for your project. Taking the time to do the research for selecting the right tool is essential for both tactical and strategic success. Below is a list of elements to take into consideration when researching automation tools:

  • Is this tool recommended for the programming language used for your product?
  • Initial cost per user of the tool – Is it a “per seat” cost or is there a “site” cost available?
  • What are the maintenance costs of the tool?
  • What are the configuration costs to interact with defect and manual test case tools?
  • How many systems the tool can be utilized on?
  • Are there any training costs?
  • Is customer support provided by the tool vendor?
  • What is the expandability for the future for platforms and environments?
  • What expectations should the tool fulfill for test coverage?

We have helped a number of clients with their tool analysis and have seen firsthand how there is no single solution available for everyone. In some cases clients have wanted to use tools they already had purchased corporate licenses for, and we suggested a different tool because of application compatibility or the amount of time that would be involved to create workarounds to best fit the tool for their situation. Some clients look for “free” open source tools thinking their return on investment will be greater, yet they neglect to account for configuration costs and the costs of training involved in getting the resources up to speed. Moreover, there is the need to provide back to the open source community any changes made with the code that might help others; again a time-consuming effort to comply with while still getting the product tested.

To ensure that your team selects the right tool, make sure they are asking the questions that are most relevant and essential to your requirements. This will advance the effort forward without losing non-essential time exploring too many options. I’d recommend that a BRD (business requirements document) for the tool evaluation effort be created up front. This doesn’t necessarily need to be overkill, but collectively focusing stakeholders on requirements is worth the effort in order to keep the business and technical team in sync with expectations. Having a clear understanding of your automation project needs defined and understood is always a best practice. I also recommend that the selection process include obtaining evaluation copies of the potential tools and give your team time to evaluate them. Some tools might be eliminated from consideration quickly while others may necessarily require more time to evaluate.

In my opinion, one of the best tool evaluation methods is to take one of the most complex tests expected for the automation project and try to create those automated scripts with the evaluation packages. Make sure your project team keeps the primary automation project goals in focus; if data creation is the goal of the automation project, an automation tool that doesn’t work with a specific GUI screen or control may not be out of the running. If user interaction is the primary concern, a tool that works great with the GUI but not so great with your database structure may still be a viable candidate. It is important to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the tools against your project needs and pick the one that will be the most efficient for your situation. Your automation project requirements may get adjusted along with the tool evaluation process as your team evaluates both together.

Test Automation is essentially a strategy that provides acceleration to market with confidence, if well executed. Taking the time to plan well and select the right tool or tools is critical for that confidence. Remember, once you take steps toward test automation, you should consider this effort as part of your ongoing quality assurance ecosystem. You will want to ensure you keep your automation scripts up to date as your product changes over time.


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Top 5 Ways Software Quality Assurance Supports the Development Team

by Chris Durand, CTO

ChrisDurand-B360Are you thinking Development and Quality Assurance are separate, independent activities? Think again. Development and QA go hand in hand, and the better (and earlier) both teams are engaged in solid quality processes, the stronger your software will be. Here are five ways software quality supports your development team.

1. Software Quality Reduces the Cost of Fixing Bugs

At the risk of beating a dead horse, if you are not familiar with the cost of fixing a bug at various stages in the software lifecycle, this graph is crucial:

Adding more to my investment

As you can see, the later in the development cycle a bug is discovered, the more it costs to fix. If you find a problem in the requirements analysis phase, you simply change the requirements document to fix it. If you don’t discover that same issue until you are testing your beta release, you have to change the requirements document and rewrite code and retest. A good QA process will find defects earlier in the development process and reduce the cost of fixing those defects.

2. Software Quality Improves Requirements

Doing requirements well is hard without a strong software quality process in place. In many projects, testing begins too late since testers don’t start writing test cases until they have (hopefully) working code in their hands to break. If this is your process, you are missing out on the benefits of having the QA team engaged early on in the process. Strong QA professionals have an eye for detail and ensure your requirements are clear and testable. If your QA team cannot start writing test cases based on requirements, it is likely you have insufficient detail in your requirements documentation. This means you are leaving it up to a developer to self-determine many details of how your application should work instead of building a customer-driven application. So if your QA team says they cannot start writing test cases until they have a working application to reference, get them involved early and shore up those requirements.

3. Software Quality Improves Predictability of Releases

Predicting time to completion is challenging on poor quality projects with loose processes and parameters. Again, testing early is key. Feature development has a finite list of things to do, but the number of bugs in an application is unknown until you start testing. A strong QA process tests early and often, so at all stages in the development process you have an idea of where you stand. A weak QA process tests too late or not very thoroughly, and you find your dates slipping because you are still finding more and more bugs with no end in sight. High quality software also has fewer customer support issues and therefore your team can stay focused on new features instead of getting randomly pulled off to deal with the latest customer crisis and torpedoing your release schedule.

4. Software Quality Allows You to Refactor with Confidence

Writing software is a lot like gardening. Old plants must be removed, new plants added, existing plants trimmed and dead growth removed. Failing to keep your software well-groomed results in buggy software that is difficult to understand and expensive to maintain. You find you can’t easily add a simple feature because it breaks something elsewhere. To avoid this you must constantly keep your software pruned, and restructure parts that no longer make sense. Strong software quality allows you to do this with confidence since you know how the software was supposed to work before you made changes, and you can verify the software still works after your changes. If you have an automated unit or functional test infrastructure in place, that’s even better.

5. Software Quality Improves Team Morale

No one likes working on projects that have a bad reputation within the company or with customers.  High quality software improves the morale of everyone from the sales team to the support team. The sales team has confidence that the product won’t blow up in their faces during a demo and that they won’t be damaging future sales opportunities by selling the customer a “lemon”. Developers feel more pride in their work and perform better since they want to maintain the good reputation for the project or team. The support team does not dread yet another call from an upset customer due to issues that clearly should have been caught during the development process.

In summary, if you don’t have strong quality practices in place, your development team (and the rest of the company) is missing out! Get your QA team involved early and often in your development process and watch your development costs shrink, schedules become shorter and more predictable, and customer satisfaction soar. Happy testing!