Testing in automation development serves as the safety net that catches errors, ensures quality, and maintains the integrity of automated systems. It's a critical factor that separates successful automation projects from failed ones.
But the approach to testing can vary across different phases of development. In this blog post, we'll explore why an organized approach to development and testing is so crucial for your automation program and how it should be approached from the start phase leading into the accelerate phase.
Let’s dive in.
Why Testing is Mission Critical in Automations
Testing in automation is akin to a health check for new software – it diagnoses problems before they become critical. In the world of automation, where processes, automations, and solutions are expected to run smoothly and efficiently, testing ensures that automations not only perform their intended tasks but also handle errors gracefully and adapt to unforeseen situations.
Start Phase: All About Reducing Risk
Effective testing from the start phase of automation development is key to reducing risk and ensuring the success of automation projects. Proper planning, documentation, and establishing good testing habits early are crucial components of this process.
Here are some guidelines for testing in the start phase:
- Plan early and document everything.
Proper planning and documentation of tests should be considered from the start, not as an afterthought. This includes outlining what the automation should and should not do, and considering negative test cases and different error scenarios.
- Begin identifying and documenting best practices.
Explore, learn about and being documenting best practices for automation various applications and processes. Your team can further refine these best practice drafts as you move into creating things like bot templates and reusable assets.
- Test for different scenarios.
It's important to test automations in various scenarios, including when certain dependencies (like a file in a directory) are not met, and to plan for appropriate responses in such cases (e.g., notifications).
- Establish testing standards early.
Setting up testing standards early in the development process is important for consistency, especially as the development team grows or changes. This helps maintain quality as more developers, citizen developers, or partners get involved in automation development.
- Test based on solution patterns.
The type of solution pattern chosen for automation affects the testing process. Different patterns, like workload management or document automation, require different test scenarios.
- Document positive and negative test cases.
Both positive and negative test cases should be documented. This ensures that automations are tested for both expected outcomes and potential failures or errors.
- Utilize Generative AI for test plans.
Generative AI, like ChatGPT, can be used to create initial versions of test plans, offering a helpful starting point for developing comprehensive testing strategies. Consider creating the documentation for your automation, then feeding that documentation to a large language model asking it to generate a test plan based off of your documentation. This is a low-lift way to start integrating generative AI into your processes - even if only for a developer-support related function.
Accelerate Phase: Time to Optimize and Scale
During the accelerate phase, it’s important to establish development and testing standards, maintain consistency, leverage reusable assets, and organize these assets effectively for scalability and efficiency. Below are some ways to accomplish this.
- Establish standards for automation development.
Use templates, bot shells, or frameworks to ensure a repeatable pattern for essential tasks like logging and log management — which becomes increasingly important as teams scale and more people contribute to the automation program. Not only does this streamline your development process, but it should make testing, debugging, and supporting your automations much more straightforward.
- Maintain consistency for scalability.
As the number of automations increases, maintaining consistency is vital. Often, the person supporting or maintaining an automation may not be its original developer, making it essential to have established standards for naming assets, organizing folders, coding standards, and commenting code.
- Create reusable assets.
Reusable assets are key to scaling development efforts. Effective delivery of automations includes not only quality but also velocity — the speed at which automations can be delivered. Avoid reinventing the wheel and utilize existing solutions to accelerate development. A simple tip for getting started with reusable assets is to create a specific folder in the root of your Bots directory to share and scale those subtasks/assets you plan to use over and over again. Organizing these assets by application or function can make them more accessible and manageable.
- Assign a reusable assets champion.
Within the Center of Excellence (CoE), we recommend assigning a specific role responsible for developing and managing reusable assets. This involves setting documentation standards, communicating available assets, and ensuring collaboration among developers to avoid duplication of efforts. In a federated development model, this CoE role can help inform teams as well as take contributions to your library of reusable code. In a centralized model, this role helps to create, evangelize, and maintain those reusable tasks/subtasks and make sure they are being used where appropriate.
- Set up a storage and organization system.
Implement a structured system for storing reusable assets. Create a dedicated folder in the Bots directory of your Control Room, like '/reusable' or '/library', organized further by application or function, to help in efficiently managing these assets.
- Continue to improve your testing practices.
Look for opportunities to streamline testing, which may mean using a dedicated testing environment, leveraging a dedicated QA team, and/or establishing metrics (like how many bugs made it into production) to help your team measure and achieve better test cases.
By establishing these practices in the accelerate phase, organizations can ensure that their automation development is not only efficient but also scalable and sustainable in the long run.
The Bottom Line
From the initial start phase, focused on risk reduction and setting solid foundations, to the accelerate phase, where scalability and efficiency become paramount, testing remains indispensable in the journey of automation development. By embracing a comprehensive and flexible approach to testing and development, organizations can not only mitigate risks but also enhance the overall quality and effectiveness of their automations. This journey, while challenging, is a rewarding one, leading to automations that are not just functional but also resilient and adaptable.