Building confidence with automation

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shallow focus of lovelocks

To build peoples confidence with automation you first need to understand why you’re doing it. 

Why do we automate things?

If you look at automation in general the reason to do it is because we have some sort of repetitive manual task that we want to be able to do automatically. By doing so you would remove any inconsistency that could occur from doing it manually. This would also make the output of the process reliable and repeatable as and when you need it. In short automation can make processes consistent, reliable and repeatable. 

This usually leads to other benefits too such as the ability to scale up the automated process in terms of frequency and speed all while reducing costs in some scenarios. Essentially you can take advantage of economies of scale

The benefits of consistency, reliability, repeatability and scalability is that this helps the people associated with that process to have confidence in the output of that automaton. They can either see the process happening again and again or can inspect the output to validate their confidence in the process. You could even take it step further and automate the inspection too. 

But what about test automation? 

The above works well for say automating a physical process such as making a glass bottle. You can either see how the bottle is made or inspect the end product. But when it comes to test automation you can’t “see” the test occurring (or any software process for that matter) and the only output is likely to be a result: pass or fail. 

The only way to gain confidence in the automation is to either inspect the code (process) or your confidence is based more on the person doing the automation. You trust that they wouldn’t fake it or maliciously do anything wrong. 

If that confidence is lacking then the only way to feel confident that the system being tested works is to test the system again. Therefore any of the benefits gained from automation have been lost as you are now duplicating the effort. The biggest loss being the economies of scale.

This is by far one of the biggest reasons why tester in teams have very little confidence in the automation. They don’t know what is covers, how it works or even if it’s being done to a high standard. If your job is to understand and raise risks within the team then this almost leaves them with no choice but to test it again. 

Building confidence 

If you’re a developer or automation specialist then you have two options in improving peoples confidence in the output of the automation. Help them “see” the process or build their trust with you. Both of which will go some way to improving their confidence with the process.

Better yet, help them understand the principles behind the automation which if done with humility and compassion is naturally going to lead to those people trusting you as well. By helping them understand the principles behind the automation you enable them to work out for themselves what is and isn’t being automated but also to what standard it is happening to. This then lets them see where the gaps are in the process which they can raise as risks or work to plug them up. 

I’ve written about building a team understanding of unit testing which details how you can document your principles in a way that is accessible. You can use this method to document any team principle not just unit testing.  

Want to read more about automation than check out my previous posts on UI Automation what exactly is it good for and the unintended consequences of UI automation.

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