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Interview with a CTO: Where to Begin Your Regulated Test Automation Journey, Part 1 of 2

Automation has long been the white whale for many testing teams, but as Ahab showed us, reckless and single-minded pursuit at the expense of reason and structured strategy can lead to less than ideal results.  Automation is not the magic answer to everything and even organizations that make their name and keep their shareholders happy by pushing automation tools will tell you that not everything should be automated.  Effective, precise automation is more important and useful than blanket automation.

Recently, on the heels of the Tricentis Accelerate conference in Vienna, I was able to grab some time with Tx3’s very own CTO, Henry Farris.  Test automation wasn’t the sole topic of our conversation, but given that we were at a Tricentis event, it certainly came up since much of what was presented and discussed over the course of the conference was focused around test automation, process automation, test management automation, etc. 

As the conversation worked its way into the world of testing, I wanted to get into some of the strategies for adopting and implementing effective automation strategies within Life Sciences organizations, but before we got into that industry specifically, Henry brought up a common issue and a great starting point that stems back to the days when test automation was a fairly new concept.

“The ‘automation first’ syndrome is not unique to Life Sciences”.

So why not begin there?  As with many things, we start with a fairly general issue or misconception, but as we begin to work through that we start to identify how the nuances might affect different industries a bit more uniquely. 

In the realm of testing, we have seen many organizations across numerous industries over the years attempt to lead their efforts by bringing a test automation tool in house as they feel that’s where they are really going to start yielding some great returns.  While test automation can certainly achieve a lot of gains in efficiency across the board, when applied blindly, or with a blanket strategy as the first phase of test process overhaul, it’s not likely to have the effects one hopes.

Leading with automation, regardless of industry, is not a magic bullet.  It is largely made ineffective without proper planning and without appropriate complementary processes and solutions.

In the case of Life Sciences teams, we have seen this “automate first” approach become especially ineffectual.  Imagine the conflicting contrast of a team that is attempting to automate their testing, but that also still uses paper to manage their validation activities and handles their test management with Word or Excel documents in a very manual, rudimentary fashion.  Does it seem to you that automating tests as the starting point is really the best place to begin given these other two factors?  Henry feels that there is a much better place to start in this scenario, and that’s with test management.

“The reason why we start with test management is if you are working with paper, you have very little visibility.  You have no timely visibility with what’s going on in your organization.”

As I mentioned above, simply interjecting test automation into the midst of other, very manual or paper-based processes, is going to leave teams with drastically bridled results from the automation solution they intended to bring into the fold to drive efficiency gains.  As Henry also mentions, the other issue comes around visibility. Without having a test management solution in place to lead the charge, it becomes much more difficult to define and develop an effective test automation strategy.

“Having an automated test management process is something that’s key.  Something where you can actually capture those metrics (test data), use analytics and make educated decisions around where to start (automating).”

Gather the data, do some analysis, find out your heavily repeated tasks, find out your high-risk areas, look at change impact, etc.  All of this should be reviewed and evaluated before test automation comes into the picture and certainly before large investments are made in often expensive test automation tools.

“When you just buy a tool and you don’t have any of that analysis to support that tool, you’re really going to be in a gray area of the value that you are going to get out of your automation.”

This is crucial.  Teams shouldn’t expect an automation tool alone to bring them high yield results of time, effort, resource and cost savings.  Teams that do expect that will wind up sorely disappointed.  Instead, set up a tool that will gather the metrics needed to make an informed decision on where those high yield areas will likely be derived, and then move into implementing your automation.

However, once there, there are still effective strategies to be thought out and put into practice.  In Life Sciences, we sometimes get caught in a trap of testing and heavily documenting everything, but this is a burden that we put on ourselves.  Granted, it can’t be 100% alleviated and additional burdens do have to be carried due to the nature of industry regulations, but what does Henry feel is a good way to go about addressing this and at least making the burden more bearable and more effectively managed?

More to come in Part 2 of “Interview with a CTO”.


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