Are You an Automation Hoarder?

There’s a trend that I see with test automation on many QA teams. They have a large number of tests that all pass. Or some tests that flicker between pass and fail. Or some that fail all the time. But the biggest problem is that they rarely remove any tests. Some people fill their house with things they never get rid of. A team’s automated test suite can be the same, piling up with low value tests. I call this phenomenon, “Automation Hoarding,” and it can cause many teams’ effort to grind to a halt. Are you an automation hoarder? Here are the signs and solutions if you are:


Usability as a Service

When building automation frameworks or optimizing existing ones, I use the “Three Pillars”. These are three principles I’ve learned that great frameworks live by. The three principles are: Usability, maintainability and extendability.

When it comes to hoarding tests, I find it’s because of low usability. This shows up when it takes a lot of effort, or technical expertise, to build a test. Then, a mental block forms to deleting tests, and that’s understandable. Few people would drop tests that took them hours, days or weeks to construct. However, not dropping some tests leads to long-running test suites and high maintenance.

The product under test is always changing, so your tests should too! If they don’t, or can’t, there’s a good chance there are stale tests in your suite eating up time, energy, morale and money. If that’s where you are now, someone on your team may be an automation hoarder. It might even be you! But that’s ok, because there’s hope. Here’s how to break out of that mindset.


Breaking Out

The key to breaking out of this anti-pattern is to increase the usability of your automation. This can be done by decreasing two things:

  • The technical expertise required to write tests.
  • The tribal knowledge about the test framework.


Decreasing Technical Expertise

Many test frameworks need developer-level skills to write tests. Many testers aren’t developers, and that’s a big problem if your goal is to get good automated tests written. The very people who have the knowledge and strategy for that can’t do so, due to the technical hurdle.

To decrease that hurdle, reduce your suite’s complexity. If you’re writing code, or selecting tools, have testers be your target audience. Choose tools or patterns that get all the technical stuff out of the way, so that testers can get the most out of their own skill. Then, testers, developers and automation engineers will all have a better time. When tests are written using tools like this, they take much less time to build. Then, it’s easier to delete tests when they’re no longer useful.


Decreasing Tribal Knowledge

How many times have you worked on something, only to find out it was already done somewhere else? I know I’m not the only one. This is tribal knowledge—Someone, somewhere, knows this information, but we don’t have the time to ask everybody, or to ask about who knows about this. The result is duplicated effort of course, but it also causes hesitation: “Is this already written? What if I’m reinventing the wheel on this?”. That hesitation causes more time to be spent, which results in not wanting to delete the test later.

To prevent this, remove tribal knowledge entirely. Choose or build tools that let you write tests as close to your native language as possible. For example: With Web UI testing, reduce the test down to simple actions: Click a button, enter text into a field, validate a particular result, etc. Smaller parts are easier to remember. Make it obvious what the test is supposed to be doing, and it will take much less time to write it.


Moving Forward

If your automation effort is slowing to a crawl, it might be due to hoarding tests. If it is, then hopefully this article shows you how to get a handle on it. When you’re free to add or remove tests quickly, great things happen.

Happy automating! 😎  –Fritz

Please share in the comment section below your opinion on “automation hoarding”? Are you one of them?