Software Testing Series: Organizing a Test Suite with Tags Part Two

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Organizing a test suite with tags (part 2)

This is the second in a three-part post about using tags as a means to organize an automated test suite.

Part 2 of this post can be read as a standalone article. If it were, it would be titled Top five problems with test automation suites. If you’re only reading this post and not parts 1 and 3, pretend that this is the title.

  • In part one of this post we developed an understanding of tagging as a technology, including it’s pros and cons.
  • In part two of this post we will define the top five opportunities and problems inherent in the organization of automated test suites.
  • In part three of this post we will explore an approach to combining tagging with test suite organization.

What are the problem areas inherent in managing automated tests?

We start with identification of the problems or opportunities, before defining what the requirements will be. This is the same process we discussed in From MRD to PRD, applied to the test-automation space. The following are the top five problem areas we can identify about test automation suites.

  1. Maintaining the suite becomes too expensive. Once we have a suite in place, we have to maintain it. As the size of the suite grows, the amount of maintenance of existing test grows. It grows in proportion to the number of tests in the suite and the rate of change of the underlying software being tested. As the amount of maintenance grows, so does its expense.
  2. Developers will never start using the suite. Change is bad. Well, for many people it is. Asking someone with a full time, salaried job to take on additional responsibilities has to be done correctly. There is absolutely a risk that people won’t start using the suite. Since this project is focusing on iterative development of an already deployed tool, already in use, this problem really doesn’t apply.
  3. Developers will stop using the suite. Developers avoid tedium. They’re smart. They want to avoid unneccesary work, menial work, and irrelevant work. If the developers perceive the test suite in any of these ways, we’re doomed – they will stop using it.
  4. Not testing the right stuff. A test suite that doesn’t test the right areas of the software is worse than not having one at all – because it gives you a false sense of confidence.
  5. Test suite becomes less effective over time. An initially effective suite can grow less effective over time as the underlying software changes. Individual tests become irrelevant as they become impossible to reproduce with the application – perhaps the user interface has changed. If test design was linked to the heaviest usage patterns, and those patterns change, then coverage of the new heavy usage parts of the suite will be reduced – and the effectiveness of the suite will be reduced.

Which problems should we address with software?

With limited resources, we need to make sure that we focus our software efforts on those problems where software can have the most impact on solving the problem. We’ll start by identifying

  1. Maintaining the suite becomes too expensive. There are three approaches to solving this problem – reduce the required maintenance, make the required maintenance more efficient, and reduce the cost of the labor that maintains the solution. Labor cost reductions may very well be the most effective general way to solve this problem, but given the real world project constraints for the project behind this post, we aren’t exploring that option. This is a candidate for the software solution.
  2. Developers will never start using the suite. Make them want to use it, or make them use it. We believe you want to make them want to use it – both by evangelizing the benefits and by quickly crossing the suck threshold so that users get positive feedback. For this project, we have taken that approach, although it’s true that there is also a mandate from the dev team’s managers that we must make sure they use it. With process and education approaches that have proven effective, this is not a target of the current software solution.
  3. Developers will stop using the suite. The looming mandate will assure that developers won’t go AWOL on the suite. But if they can present a compelling reason to their managers, there is a risk that they will decide to stop using it. This is a candidate for the software solution.
  4. Not testing the right stuff. Test suite planning is a science unto itself. We will keep in mind “ways to make test suite planning easier” as a candidate for the software solution, but we aren’t otherwise targeting this for the current software solution.
  5. Test suite becomes less effective over time. Tests can grow irrelevant over time when the software they test is constantly changing (as in this project). This problem has been addressed to a large extent by using whitebox unit tests in the test suite. We are not targeting this as part of the current software solution.

Reminder

  • In part one of this post we developed an understanding of tagging as a technology, including it’s pros and cons.
  • In part two of this post we defined the top five opportunities and problems inherent in the organization of automated test suites.
  • In part three of this post we will explore an approach to combining tagging with test suite organization.

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Check out the index of software testing series posts for more articles.

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