Manual vs. Automation Testing – Where Are We Heading?

Cognizant Softvision's resident QA/Testing enthusiast Elena Martin discusses whether or not automation will eliminate manual testing in software

We’re living through interesting changing times in the software world. In the last 20 years, the role of a QA in software development evolved a lot. While many years ago, the role of a QA was mainly oriented to write and run tests manually, nowadays, the QA role has become more strategic, closer to the client and the business needs.

 

Technological innovation is rapidly accelerating and the boundaries of what can be identified, interpreted, and automated are continuously being pushed. Automation is more present on the QA teams, and this is translated into more speed and more reliable test results. We live in the “automation assisted” era, where automation is used as an asset to improve testing. A few years ago, it took a great deal of time to design and write automation scripts to perform work. Nowadays, this is becoming faster and faster.

This, of course, also came with a lot of debates and questions around the same old story: will automation testing replace manual testing in the near future? Is this the case? Will manual testing go away and be replaced by automation testing in the future? Is automation along with manual testing the better way to go? Are there any benefits of automation testing over manual testing?

To answer these questions, we should learn a few basics about both Manual and Automation Testing first and then analyze them.

What is Manual testing?

Manual testing verifies a software product against functional and non-functional requirements manually executed by the QA team. It is performed to discover bugs in software under development.

What does this mean?

This means that the QA team will run the product under test on different test environments, precisely as the end users would, to find any deviations from the original software requirements before software deployment. In this process, the team will execute the test cases for checking all the features and possible user scenarios and generate the test reports without the help of any automation software testing tool.

Manual testing usually involves analyzing requirements, creating and executing Test Plan and Test Case, reporting bugs/defects/issues, and checking/ re-verification of fixes.

What is Automation testing?

Automation testing is the process of writing code/test scripts to automate the test execution faster, cheaper, and more efficiently. Appropriate automation tools to develop the test scripts and validate the software are used for comparing the actual results against the expected results.

What does this mean?

This means that the QA team will write code or scripts on different tools to run the test cases automatically. This will help the team to determine whether or not the application performs as expected. Even though all processes are performed automatically, automation requires some manual effort to create initial testing scripts.

Automation testing usually involves analysis of requirements, planning, design and development of test scripts and automation tests, execution of the automation test, reporting bugs/defects/issues, and checking/ re-verification of fixes by rerunning the tests.

What is the Difference Between Manual Testing and Automation Testing?

As we can see from here, the main difference between manual and automation testing comes from Who (or What) carries out the test cases.

In manual testing, the team will execute the tests individually to catch bugs and feature issues before deployment.

In automation testing, the tests will be executed simultaneously based on the test scripts run through automated testing tools. There are also other differences between manual and automation testing, but they will derive from the advantages and disadvantages of using one instead of the other.

When to use Manual testing and when to use Automation testing?

When we think of Manual Testing, we believe mainly in Exploratory testing, Usability testing, and Ad-hoc testing.

 

  • Exploratory testing is a hands-on approach in which testers are involved in minimum planning and maximum test execution. It requires the tester’s knowledge, experience, analytical or logical skills, creativity, and intuition and will allow you to take areas of the tested application and go back to uncovered things. This is when the bugs are found. Even if it enables you to ask questions like “What if I do this, instead?” which encourages creativity and intuition, it is not suitable for long execution time because it is constrained to the domain knowledge and the person’s skills involved in testing. It’s a little bit impossible to automate this critical part of the testing, but it will give an essential input on the automation side.

 

  • Usability testing needs to measure how user-friendly, effective, efficient, and enjoyable the software application is for the end-user. The usability testing goal is to reveal areas of confusion and uncover opportunities to improve the overall user experience. Frankly speaking, when it comes to first impressions, there’s no replacement for the human eye.

 

  • Ad-hoc testing is an unplanned testing method where the tester’s understanding and insight are the only important factor. Ad hoc Testing does not follow any structured way of testing, and it is randomly done on any part of an application. The target here is to find defects by random checking parts of functionality. 

There just isn’t a viable automated substitute for the intuition, impressions, demands, and reactions of human beings.

Manual testing offers the freedom to adapt to requirement changes instantly, which is essential in today’s agile environment, but it’s not accurate at all times due to human error. More on that, efforts invested in one round of manual testing won’t be reused further. The QA team has to provide the same efforts every time, and that might lead to errors and demotivation.

When we think of Automation Testing, we mainly think of Regression testing, Performance testing (Load and Stress Testing), Repeated executions, and Smoke testing.

  • Regression testing ensures that the new changes in the code should not have side effects on the existing functionalities. Automation testing is suitable here because of the frequent code changes and the ability to run the tests regressions quickly and repeatedly.

 

  • Performance testing is a software testing process used for testing the speed, response time, stability, reliability, scalability, and resource usage of a software application under a particular workload.  Testing, which involves the simulation of thousands of concurrent users, definitely requires automation. Load testing is used to determine how many users your system can handle and requires automation.  Stress testing measures software on its robustness and error handling capabilities under hefty load conditions. It ensures that software doesn’t crash in crunch situations. Traffic spikes can very easily simulate traffic spikes with automation tools. It is challenging to conduct performance (load and stress) testing manually, as it requires a significant number of users/testers and devices running the program simultaneously. Testing, which requires the repeated executions of a task, is also best to automate.

 

  • Smoke testing is a confirmation for the QA team to proceed with further software testing. It consists of a minimal set of tests run on each build to test software functionalities. Usually, it’s a mini and rapid regression test of major functionality to gain confidence in the system’s stability and conformance to requirements. The main purpose of smoke testing is to reject a software application with defects so that the QA team does not waste time testing broken software applications. With the help of automation tests, the builds are immediately checked, and the QA team knows if they can proceed with functional testing or not. The smoke tests can also be made manually, but this will require more time, and the accuracy of the tests will be lower. 

It is very well known that automated tests are not quite suitable for finding NEW defects or bugs, and they don’t. The purpose of their existence is to make sure that everything that worked before still does.

Automation requires more time and effort to create the proper framework. Still, once the framework is in place, automation is more cost-efficient and requires less time to develop new tests and run them repeatedly, as often as we need.

As you can see, there are many advantages and disadvantages to using manual and automation testing. The introduction of software automation in the software development life-cycle hasn’t solved everything. Automation is an incredibly valuable asset to QA, which empowers the present days of QA, but it’s far from solving all the problems. Currently, there are teams where the maintenance of the automation frameworks is still a problem. This will change shortly, and the automation frameworks will evolve faster and faster.

Does Automation Replace Manual Testing? Is automation & manual testing a better way to go?

You should consider many factors when choosing a testing strategy, and you must be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of using automation versus manual testing. No one can deny that there are benefits of automation testing over manual testing, especially when saving time and improving test accuracy. But currently, it’s simply not possible to have a robust QA process by relying solely on automation. There are QA testing elements that continue to be best handled by human engineers and manual testing, as we’ve seen up in here.

We live in a time when there is a place for both methods of testing. The right mix between automation and manual tests is essential for a successful QA team. It might also be suitable for a tester to switch between manual and automation testing from time to time. 

Automation will help the tester get outside the manual routine and develop their coding skills and the ones needed for manual testing.

Manual testing helps us understand the big picture and explore the other angles of tests with flexibility. Neither of the two can replace the other entirely. If you care about building good software, you should know that both manual and automation complement each other to perfection, and the team which will embrace both of them will be more efficient. 

The primary benefit of the integrated software testing approach is that it combines:

  • The flexibility and freedom of manual testing
  • The speed and improved coverage of automated tests

Does automation replace manual testing? My answer to this question is, “Definitely Not!”. At least, not yet. There is still room for manual testing.

How much more will it take? It’s hard to say precisely, but technology is rapidly evolving, and autonomousness has become more present in our lives. Therefore, the automation tools will evolve, and AI will play a significant role in the QA field. Five years ago, the part of Intelligent Automation did not exist. At the beginning of 2021, a simple search on LinkedIn for “Intelligent Automation” revealed about 164.000 profiles mentioning it in titles, roles, or job descriptions. It is impressive how quickly the world of services, consulting, and work have changed in the last few years. This, for sure, will have an impact on the QA field too. Imagine a QA world where the tools will learn from the failed tests and, based on that to make decisions on how to create new tests and how to execute new tests.

How does this sound to you? How soon do you think that such technology will have an impact on the QA field? Personally, I just can’t wait those days.

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