Automation has certainly become a contentious talking point across multiple industries. Will it reduce costs and increase productivity? What about its impact on the workforce?
One factor that must be considered in answering these questions and others is reliability. Is automation accurate and reliable enough to replace human agents? And in the case with software development, can automated testing completely replace manual testing?
At this point, the answer is no. The likelihood of catching and identifying software defects is simply higher with a mix of manual testing and automation, rather than automation alone. One reason for this is that automation is scripted with regression in mind. There are simply defects that can be missed by tools, but are more likely to be unearthed by humans.
But let’s dive further into the matter and look closer at the key differences between manual and automated testing, along with the pros and cons of each approach.
What is Manual Testing
Manual testing is human driven. Developers, users, and QA testers create and run tests without the assistance of tools to automate the processes. They compare expected results with actual results, identifying trouble spots along the way. According to Sauce Labs survey, 42% of respondents state that their testing efforts are “mostly” or “entirely” manual.
The idea behind manual testing is largely to behave in ways that users are likely to behave. It often involves creating various ‘real life’ scenarios that may be in play as the software, app, or website is being used. This approach is called exploratory testing and can only be performed manually.
Exploratory testing is important as it:
- Helps determine if the product will function in a way that a user wants
- Has no boundaries and allows testers to explore the developed app in depth
- Enables you to continuously gauge feedback and use it to further refine your testing approaches.
What is Automated Testing
Automated testing assumes the use of tools to run tests. It often involves repetitive actions with results being analyzed to determine whether or not the tested module performs as expected. While there is some human intervention in the initial stages to set up test cases and develop respective scripts, the vast majority of the testing done is executed by tools.
The Advantages of Manual Testing
Human intervention in testing can lead to improved user experience. There are also things that automated testing software simply can’t see. For example, a person conducting tests is better able to judge whether or not a display is visually pleasing, or easy enough to use on various screens. They can determine whether or not color schemes, fonts, and other elements contribute to usability or detract from it.
Manual testing gives room for testers to pivot when new information is revealed. Manual testing is also flexible. While automated testing relies on scripts that are created ahead of time, manual testing doesn’t. As a result, a user conducting tests can try out a new series of actions, often ‘on the fly’, as they identify possible scenarios.
The Advantages of Automated Testing
Of course, it would be unfair and inaccurate to claim that automated testing doesn’t have its place. It absolutely does. In fact, there are projects that would simply never progress in a timely manner without it. Simply put, there are things that a machine can ‘see’ with more accuracy and work it can do more efficiently than even the most detail-oriented person.
While quality software products require manual testing to ensure the best user experience, and to identify opportunities to improve processes, some use of automation may be helpful. Specifically:
Automated testing is transparent and supports objectivity. First, with automated testing, all stakeholders can access the results. If they have access to the testing software, they can sign in and evaluate the test results.
Automation leads to increased efficiency. Automated testing is often the more efficient option. After the initial tests are created and implemented, the software takes over and executes tests quickly.
Disadvantages of Automated Testing
Automation often has two selling points. It’s efficient. It’s less expensive. These things aren’t entirely untrue. There’s plenty of evidence of processes being improved by the addition of automation. Still, companies that produce software and apps shouldn’t be too quick to jump on the bandwagon.
Going with a fully automated approach to testing can be short-sighted and costly. Here are some disadvantages to consider.
The Time Savings May Not be Worth It
With automated testing, the time you save may not offer significant ROI. First, you may not save that much time after you have created the test scripts up front. This is especially true with unique projects that may not be repeated. The same goes for smaller applications where reusability won’t be a factor in future testing.
Tools Can be Expensive
Testing tools have an upfront cost. That’s not an issue if the tool meets your need, and you are able to use it successfully in multiple projects. Things can become problematic though, if you discover the product doesn’t meet your needs, or your users simply hate it.
They Can’t Detect Branding or Aesthetics
Automated testing software can’t determine whether or not the look and feel of a particular screen enhances the user experience. It can’t tell that the verbiage used on a particular screen fits the desired branding, or if it is relatable to the target customer.
Manual Testing: A Key Part of Any Development Project
There are clearly benefits to both automated and manual testing. Most businesses would be foolish to dismiss either without some real consideration. Which is best really depends on the nature of the project, and the resources that are available. It’s important to remember that people use software. In order for it to be successful, it needs to be pleasing to users. It also needs to line up with your brand and desired messaging. As long as this is the case, apps, websites, and software are going to need manual testing.