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15 key ingredients for crafting a good automated test case

Date: Feb. 05, 2024

In the fast-paced world of software development, ensuring the quality of your product is paramount. Software testing is a critical phase in the development cycle, playing a pivotal role in identifying defects, validating functionality, and ensuring a positive user experience.

As technology continues to advance, the approach to testing also needs to evolve. This has led us to the era of test automation and automated testing. For the sake of simplicity, below we will refer to both as test automation.

While manual testing still plays an important role in the overall QA process, automation is the key to tackling the challenges of increased software complexity and faster release cycles. Automation increases testing efficiency, repeatability, and coverage while reducing human intervention and error. Software test automation leverages code and other tools to mimic user interactions with an application to validate software functionality.

Key considerations for building good test cases for automation

While best practices in software testing are always evolving, automating your testing includes some specific considerations. Below, you will find 15 essential aspects to consider in your test automation journey and, more specifically, when crafting test cases for automation.

  1. Identify and prioritize tests suitable for automation
    Not all tests are created equal and not all tests are suitable for automation. For instance, progression testing and most exploratory testing is usually manual, although some of it could potentially be automated, whereas most if not all regression testing can and should be automated. It is not worth automating tests that need to be done only once or where automation is too expensive in relation to the actual value it brings. You will need to be selective.
  2. Decide what to test and test based on business risk
    Continuing the theme above, not all automated tests are created equal either. As your test automation portfolio expands over time, you will reach a point when it is no longer efficient and effective to test everything, even with the most extreme automation.You should prioritize your testing on functionality that if not functioning would cause the most damage to your business. Here we recommend applying the 80/20 principle and testing the 20% of the functionality that exposes you to 80% of the risk.This, of course, is easier said than done and requires some upfront effort and analysis. To tackle this challenge, we have developed a comprehensive methodology that guides you through this prioritization process. Learn more about that with this comprehensive guide.
  3. Clarify objectives
    Clearly define the purpose and objectives of each test case, focusing on what you want to verify with your test. Include a clear description of what functionality or aspect of the software you are testing, and what the result of the test tells you when it fails or succeeds. Give your test cases good descriptive names to make it easier to understand what it is for. And finally, use full sentences in your descriptions, and remember to also describe things you consider obvious. What is evident to you may not be obvious to others who may need or want to use the same test case.
  4. Aim for self-contained test cases
    Create self-contained test cases that do not require other test cases to run first. Fully independent test cases let you test faster with more reliable results.Example: Imagine you are testing a login feature of a web application. A self-contained automated test case for the login feature of a web application would perform the following steps:a) Navigate to the login pageb) Input valid credentials to test successful login

    c) Check for the appearance of the user dashboard or a welcome message, thus validating a successful login

    d) Navigate to the login page

    e) Input invalid credentials to test unsuccessful login

    f) Check for the appearance of an error message, thus validating an unsuccessful login

    g) Check for the “Forgot Password” link, ensuring proper redirection to the password reset page

    A test case like this operates independently, without reliance on external dependencies or subsequent test cases, facilitating comprehensive validation of the login feature’s functionality and user experience.

    By crafting self-contained test cases whenever possible, you can run any test case at any time without having to worry about false positives, breaking other tests, or forgetting important connected flows. Remember to make sure that the end state of your application is the same as its start state after running your test case.

  5. Design for maintainability, repeatability, and reusability
    Good test cases should be easily maintainable in the long term. Meaning that they should be easy to read, understand, update, modify, and extend as the software evolves and as more applications get added to the testing mix.A scalable way to build and maintain test cases for long-term efficiency is by using tools with model-based testing capabilities. This approach breaks the system under test into reusable code-free blocks – or models – that you can mix and match to form end-to-end test flows. This also enables you to repeat and reuse your test cases across different test cycles or regression tests, saving a significant amount of time and effort in the long run.
  6. Make your test data consistent and predictable
    You need to set up test data or databases that are consistent and predictable. A sustainable approach to building effective test cases is the ability to use, upload, modify, and delete test data as needed for your end-to-end workflows.This should provide ways to lock specific test data when it is being consumed by members of your team. You should also be able to modify test data based on states such as “Open” and “Processed” to “Completed” as it passes from one business process to another. This enables clear and efficient end-to-end testing.
  7. Design your test cases with parametric data in mind
    Designing your test cases with parameters in mind and separating data from the test logic can increase your test coverage, simplify the maintenance of your tests, and help reduce repetition.Good test cases, therefore, should contain test data that can be parameterized. That’s a fancy way of saying that it is a good idea to replace the input values of a test case with parameters. These parameters can be substituted with different values during test execution, allowing the same test case to be run with various datasets without the need to modify the test case itself.For example, in an automated test case for an e-commerce website, the parametric data can include various product IDs, enabling the same test to run through the checkout process with different items and validate the system’s handling of diverse product categories and scenarios.
  8. Make your test cases traceable
    Test cases should be traceable to the requirements they are testing. This helps to ensure that all requirements have been tested and provides a clear understanding of the coverage of the testing process. This includes the ability to integrate test cases with Jira or other ALM solutions for requirement management, including the ability to integrate with several CI tools that automatically kick off tests after every sprint. A good test case should also have version control at each abstraction layer to enable efficient testing for Agile development.
  9. Mimic your production environment as closely as possible
    Ensuring that the test environment closely mirrors the production environment is vital. Any discrepancies can lead to inconsistent test results. This includes the same operating systems, browsers, hardware configurations, and network setups. Deviations between the test and production environments could lead to false positives or false negatives in test outcomes.Furthermore, Identifying and managing dependencies is critical. Automated tests often require external systems, databases, or APIs. Ensuring these dependencies are consistent and available during test execution is essential. Moreover, changes in these dependencies might necessitate modifications in the test cases. We’ll get into this more below.
  10. Utilize service virtualization to account for dependencies
    This goes hand in hand with the above point about mimicking the production environment as closely as possible. Many cloud-native applications today are built on microservice architectures. This requires testing the individual microservices themselves, as well as their interactions with other services.This involves testing each service in isolation to ensure that it functions correctly, as well as testing the integration between services to ensure that they work together as expected. By creating contracts that specify the expected behavior of each service, you can ensure that the services can interoperate and that changes to one service do not break other services.Some services, however, are usually not available during testing in the Agile process, as different Agile teams might be working at a different pace than others, for example. You can tackle this problem by taking advantage of service virtualization to simulate the behavior of needed components. Service virtualization allows for efficient microservice and contract testing that can be integrated into the CI/CD pipeline to ensure that changes to the code do not break the contracts between services. By catching issues early in the development process, you can avoid costly rework and delays.
  11. Add synchronization points and wait times to your tests
    Automation is lightning fast, and automated tests need to account for the varying response times of applications. Proceeding to the next test step before an application has had the chance to respond can break your tests. You need to add dynamic synchronization points and wait times into your test cases to handle slower application response times, or dependencies to ensure that your test runs do not break.
  12. Set up error handling
    Proper error-handling procedures can save you a lot of headaches during test execution, especially with large, complex test sets. They can compensate for issues in your application and get your test runs back on track even if your tests encounter issues. This way you can still get conclusive results without losing time or valuable testing resources on stopped or failed tests. Proper error-handling procedures also allow you to focus on fixing the things that are actually broken, instead of having to double-check the process and the test case manually.A good example of this is timeout handling. In case of a server error or a failed login attempt due to unexpected system behavior, the error handling mechanism should trigger predefined recovery actions. These actions might involve resetting the login environment, refreshing the page, or attempting a login with an alternative set of credentials to verify if the issue persists. If a persistent issue occurs, the test case could be programmed to halt the test, report the error, and notify the test engineer or developer about the failure.
  13. Review and validate your tests
    Reviewing and validating your test cases with peers and stakeholders is a good practice in ensuring the accuracy, completeness, and alignment of your tests with the project objectives. This is a collaborative effort that helps validate the technical and business aspects and ensures that your tests effectively mirror real-world scenarios and cover critical functionalities. Peer and stakeholder reviews also provide a fresh perspective and can uncover potential blind spots or oversights you might have missed. This process also enhances the overall quality and reliability of your automated test suite and instills broader confidence in the testing process.
  14. Test your test cases
    Before you start running your tests, we recommend that you first do some trial calibration runs in a private test environment of your automation tool. In Tosca, this can be done with a feature called ScratchBook. ScratchBook does not store results permanently, making it an excellent playground to find and fix instabilities in your tests. Find things like screen identification issues, missing wait times for dependent controls, or pop-up dialogs you did not consider when you designed your test flow. Private Agents allow for this same functionality in the SaaS version of Tricentis Tosca.Make sure that your test cases are stable and reliable before you run them in earnest. This saves you valuable time in figuring out whether a failed result is caused by your test case or the application under test.
  15. Choose the right tools for the job
    Not all testing tools are the same. For most functional UI testing and end-to-end testing, low-code or no-code testing tools are the best. We highly recommend Tricentis’ model-based testing tools like Tosca or the SaaS version of Tosca as the tools of choice.As more and more applications are built on the cloud, it makes sense to utilize cloud-based solutions for testing. Cloud-based tools offer several benefits, such as eliminating the need to maintain on-premises testing infrastructure, being able to share testing responsibilities and test results more easily, and utilizing the speed of cloud services for your test execution.Finally, as AI is becoming increasingly prominent, you should also think about how you can embed AI in your test strategy to drive efficiency and productivity. In Tosca, we already have AI-driven features like self-healing that help fix broken object identification and lower maintenance by healing broken test steps. Another feature, Vision AI, takes advantage of machine learning to automate applications based on what it sees on the user interface, and this way, widening the variety of applications that can be automated.To learn more about tools for automation check out our article on automated testing tools or on our cloud-based test automation tool.

In summary, to bask in the glory of your automation bliss, there are some specific considerations that you need to make when setting up your testing and crafting your test cases.

Automate what can be automated and prioritize your testing based on risk. Be precise with your testing objectives and design your test cases to be self-contained, easily maintainable, repeatable, and reusable. Make sure your test cases are traceable to the implementation requirements and design your test cases to utilize data parameters supported by consistent and predictable test data. Set up your test environment to resemble the production environment as closely as possible and take advantage of service virtualization when needed. Finally, increase the robustness of your test cases by setting up error-handling procedures and by adding synchronization points and wait times.

Remember, you are not alone. Collaborate with your peers and stakeholders to validate your test cases and to make sure you’re testing the right things in alignment with the requirements. Lastly, select the appropriate tools for the job and take advantage of all the great automation features available.

Happy Testing!

Date: Feb. 05, 2024