The best software applications are designed with the user in mind. They provide a clean and responsive user interface (UI), deliver a great user experience (UX), and keep users safe from cyber threats. But such great software is not created by accident. It requires systematic planning, dedicated development, and thorough Quality Assurance (QA) manual testing during the software development lifecycle (SDLC).
Over the years, numerous automated QA testing tools have emerged. However, automation cannot replace human testers or replicate the value they bring to the testing process. Let’s take a look at manual testing and automated testing to discover why.
Software testing, or QA testing, is a quality control method to ensure that the final application conforms to desired quality standards and delivers the best possible UI and UX to the end user. It does this through standardized procedures and by checking that the end result conforms to specific quality benchmarks.
The practices of Quality Assurance have evolved over the years. With the traditional Waterfall model, QA testing happened late in the software development life cycle (SDLC). The QA team would provide feedback to the development team at the end of a given development cycle, and the development team would then fix as many bugs as they could.
Today, most teams have adopted Agile and DevOps principles, so the development and QA teams work collaboratively throughout the SDLC. With these methodologies in place, as the teams collaborate, they are able to keep the user in mind and incorporate the user’s needs into the end product, rather than simply looking for and fixing errors. Moreover, continuous collaboration enables them to find errors as they occur, which can potentially prevent issues down the line, and allows for improvements to be made immediately, which can drastically improve the quality of the end product and reduce the need for costly and time-consuming rework. The shorter development cycle and smaller iterations mean that quality assurance can take a more granular approach, and make sure each feature is functional, rather than looking at the product as a whole.
Quality Assurance plays an important role in the SDLC since it generates useful insights that can determine the quality of the final application. It is a proactive and preventative process designed to fix problems early before they can affect the quality of the final product. Its members carry out numerous process-oriented activities that are crucial for an effective SDLC and a high-quality product. These include:
The QA team also enables the Quality Control (QC) team to detect and resolve technical issues. These teams work together to maintain (or improve) both the quality of the end product and the quality of the processes used to create that product.
Traditionally, there are two schools of QA testing: manual testing and automated testing. Manual QA testing, or manual software testing, refers to the process of a human manually reviewing a software product for issues. Usually, manual scenarios are created, documented, and repeated for new iterations of a software project. Manual testing remains a vital part of the QA process.
Automated testing, on the other hand, refers to the creation of a software testing suite that can automatically check for issues. In the case of QA testing, automated testing usually refers to UI testing or end-to-end testing, a type of software test that mimics a user using an application. Both manual testing and automated QA testing have their own advantages. However, automated testing is no substitute for having a person use and review a piece of software to ensure that it functions to specifications. Let’s take a look at manual QA testing and automated QA testing.
Test automation eases the burden of managing the various parts of the testing process. It enables the QA team to use their time to create effective test cases. If used effectively, test automation can provide enhanced test coverage and reduce errors. The automated testing process is repeatable and scalable to multiple test cases, which can be a big advantage for complex software architectures.
That said, automated testing is not without its challenges. Automated tests can go wrong if they are not coded correctly. Some automation tools require testers to have strong programming skills and advanced expertise to apply the solution to the SDLC. It can also be difficult to identify the “right” automated tool, that is, a tool that does not create technical or learning challenges for developers. Some QA testers write automated tests themselves, but the fact is that automated end-to-end tests are challenging even for software developers to get right due to complexities that can rival the coding of the application itself.
Another challenge is that effective automation requires a robust strategy, stable systems, and relevant frameworks and processes. Implementation of a strong automated testing solution requires detailed knowledge and the input of talented test automation architects and engineers. These resources can not only configure a robust solution but determine which areas of testing can benefit most from automation, such as stress testing, functional testing, structural testing, and more. Such expert resources are not always easy to find.
Next, automated tests with large coverage can be effort-intensive and time-consuming, so it’s vital to simplify the complexity and set the correct priorities for testing. This too is not easy to do, especially for smaller teams who are new to QA automation. In general, automated end-to-end tests are expensive, slow, and inconsistent unless well-maintained and well-written.
All of these challenges explain why one survey from the International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ITSQB) discovered that test automation is the #1 challenge for teams working on Agile projects. Another survey uncovered many of the primary problems that teams face when applying test automation, such as:
There are many pros and cons to automated testing, but ultimately creating stable software necessitates both automated and manual quality assurance testing. Teams should strive to capitalize on human knowledge as well as computer automation in order to take advantage of the features that each bring to the table. To develop and deliver high-quality applications, it’s important not to rely on automated testing alone. The most effective testing approaches combine manual and automation testing. Automation can reveal issues that may not be visible during manual testing. It can also be scaled as the product grows. Unit testing, integration testing, end-to-end testing, regression testing, stress testing, load testing, and performance testing are just some of the software tests that are typically automated.
Automated tests cannot compare to attentive, detail-oriented human eyes carefully checking the application for discrepancies or bugs. One reason is that human testers can test the features and functions that automated tests cannot accurately emulate. These include aspects like UI, UX, and application usability.
Human testers can better understand how the software will feel to the end user. Things like expected behavior and intuitive UI/UX design require human input because the end users are human too. Moreover, because manual testers spend a lot of time testing the product and understanding its features, they are able to emulate the UX and provide valuable insights to improve the UI and UX. Automated tools can almost never tick these boxes.
Manual testing can also find coding errors that automated tests cannot. Human intelligence, judgment, and deductive reasoning are crucial to detect and resolve complex defects and bugs – because automation cannot. For example, automated testing might test that the result of a calculation is correct and that it is presented at an appropriate location within the app, but it might not be able to determine that it is off-center or that the field it is presented within is not large enough. To find such issues, exploratory testing, and usability testing is an absolute requirements.
Computer intelligence is not at the point where it can replace a human’s knowledge of a software project. A QA tester can sit in meetings, learn about the software the team is building, learn about requirements, and use human judgment to ensure that functionality is to spec. A QA tester can even remember details about software that a developer might forget to implement, whereas automated testing is bound by the tests that a software developer writes.
Other huge advantages of manual software testing are:
Automated testing can bring several advantages to the QA process and indeed, to the SDLC. Additionally, automated tests bring advantages to a codebase that manual QA testing cannot, such as code confidence and maintainability. However, automated testing cannot replace human cognitive abilities, especially for emulating UX, detecting bugs related to UI and UX, understanding user behavior, and identifying non-coding errors. Manual testing, including exploratory testing and usability testing, is vital in the software development life cycle. And development teams would do well to keep this golden rule in mind. To create stable software, teams should look to both manual testing and automated testing and make each one a core part of their SDLC.
QA testing, both manual and automated, is embedded into the DNA of the Flatirons Development team and woven throughout our Agile and DevOps development processes. Our quality assurance resources stand ready to ensure a successful project, whether we are building your solution, filling a gap on your team, or lending your organization one of our talented product squads. Contact us to learn how we create unique and memorable development experiences and UX.