How to Build a Test Automation Strategy

Chris Schwartz

Automation Expert

Once the decision has been made to roll out test automation, the next question is: “How are you actually going to do this? What’s the plan?” In IT, you have two choices: skip a few days planning and deal with weeks of issues, or invest time building a solid strategy to save precious time during sprints and enhance long-term efforts.

This article explains how to create and implement a robust test automation strategy so that your QA team efforts are channeled in the right way. When integrated correctly, test automation enables you to fully optimize your product before it's in the hands of your customers.

Skip ahead to:

What are the benefits of developing a test automation strategy?
What can testing look like with an automated approach?
11 essential steps to building a robust strategy
Test automation strategy example: A Leapwork customer story
Test automation strategy FAQ

What is a test automation strategy?

A test automation strategy mirrors your broader testing strategy, applying similar techniques and data points to determine what to automate, how to do it, and which technology to use. Like any testing strategy, it defines key focus areas, including scope, goals, types of testing, tools, test environment, execution, and analysis, providing a unified approach. This guiding document ensures your automation efforts align with broader software development project goals and contribute to the project's success.

Access the Leapwork test automation strategy checklist

What are the benefits of developing a test automation strategy?

A well-crafted test automation strategy is a cornerstone of effective software testing. This strategic perspective not only streamlines the testing process but also fosters a culture of efficiency, quality, and adaptability in today's fast-paced software development landscape.

The 4 benefits of developing a test automation strategy

A clear plan of action

The main benefit of developing a test automation strategy is it provides a clear plan of action for implementing automation in a structured and effective way. This structured approach leads to several key advantages, including faster detection of bugs, improved collaboration, and shorter time to market. 

Faster detection of bugs

A well-defined test automation strategy ensures that testing processes are streamlined and automated. Automated tests can be executed more quickly than manual tests, allowing for the rapid identification of bugs and issues in the software.

Automation enables testing to occur continuously throughout the software development lifecycle, from the early stages of development to post-release. This early and consistent testing helps catch bugs at their inception, reducing the cost and effort required to fix them.

Better collaboration

An automation strategy establishes clear objectives and roles for team members involved in testing. It defines responsibilities, processes, and communication channels. This clarity fosters better collaboration among developers, testers, and other stakeholders.

Automated tests provide consistent and repeatable results, reducing the ambiguity and disputes that can arise from human interpretation. Team members then have complete trust in the test results and can focus on resolving identified issues.

A test automation strategy defines a process for communicating goals and plans to stakeholders. This sparks important discussions around new proofs-of-concept or technologies to implement within your organization.

Shorter time to market

Automated tests offer rapid feedback on the quality of the software, enabling timely adjustments and corrections. This leads to a more efficient development process with shorter feedback loops.

With automated testing, you can perform regression testing swiftly, ensuring that new features or changes don't introduce new defects. This accelerates the release cycle and allows for more frequent product releases.

Shortening the time to market is crucial in today's fast-paced software development landscape. Organizations that can release high-quality software faster gain a competitive edge and meet customer expectations more effectively.

Manual to automated: what happens if I don’t have an automated testing strategy?

Integrating automated test cases into your QA strategy has become vital, particularly in the context of today's emphasis on continuous integration and continuous testing.

The primary drivers for test automation include reducing risk, cutting costs, and enhancing execution. 

Automation minimizes the risk of error by executing tests consistently and thoroughly, enhancing test coverage, and enabling early bug detection. When software isn’t tested properly, it can lead to system failures, which have catastrophic consequences. Earlier this year, a technical issue caused the Bank of England payments system to fail for six hours. This disruption impacted millions of transactions and prevented homebuyers from finalizing property purchases, imposing additional administrative burdens on solicitors and conveyancers.

Automation boosts efficiency and reduces labor costs, resulting in lower overall testing expenditure. In the short term, investing in automation can help your organization operate more efficiently and with fewer overheads while making better use of your existing resources. In the long term, your organization will be better positioned for economic growth. 

Lastly, automation enables faster test execution, integration into CI/CD pipelines for continuous testing, and scalability to handle larger and more complex projects, expediting the software development process.

The three drivers for choosing test automation

Once you are sold on the benefits of test automation and want to start automating, the next step is to figure out how.

Challenges faced without a robust strategy

During the automation adoption phase, challenges are common in different testing stages, so having a strategy in place is essential. Transitioning from manual testing to automated testing without a clear strategy can result in potential issues for your software development and testing process. Here are some of the consequences and challenges you might encounter without an automated testing strategy:

  • Lack of test coverage: Without a plan for which tests to automate, you may not achieve the desired test coverage, potentially leaving critical test scenarios untested or under-automated.
  • Integration challenges: Integrating automated tests into your CI/CD pipeline or development process can be challenging without a strategy, leading to delays in providing developer feedback.
  • High maintenance burden: Without a strategy, you may end up with a disorganized and unmanageable suite of automated tests. This results in a high test maintenance overhead, making it challenging to keep the automated tests up to date as the application evolves.
  • Demotivated team: Frustration can set in among the QA and development teams if the automation process is disorganized, leading to demotivated team members and resistance to automation efforts.
  • Unclear business value: It becomes challenging to measure the ROI of test automation when you don't have a strategy in place, making it unclear whether automation is providing value. No organization supports something that doesn’t get business value
  • Increased risk of abandonment: Without a well-defined strategy, your organization is more likely to abandon the automation effort due to the difficulties and lack of visible progress.

What can testing look like with an automated approach?

Testing with an automated approach is more efficient, consistent, and comprehensive. It provides rapid feedback, facilitates integration with development and deployment processes, and helps identify and address issues early in the software development lifecycle. While manual testing still plays a role in exploratory testing and usability testing, automation significantly enhances the testing process.

The test automation life cycle is a structured process that outlines the stages and steps involved in planning, designing, developing, and maintaining automated tests. It provides a roadmap for creating and managing automated test suites.

The test automation life cycle consists of six stages, including determining the scope of test automation, selecting the right tool, creating a test plan and strategy, setting up the test environment, developing and executing automation test scripts, and generating and analyzing test results.

test automation life cycle

  • Automation feasibility analysis: In this phase, you assess the feasibility of automation. This includes shortlisting the test cases for automation and setting the requirements for a tool.
  • Test strategy: In the test strategy phase, you choose a test automation framework/tool, create a test plan, and develop a test automation suite within your test management tool.
  • Environment setup: This phase involves configuring the testing environment and acquiring the necessary hardware and software for automated test execution.
  • Test case development: Here, you create automation test scripts/flows, ensuring they are reusable, well-structured, and well-documented.
  • Test case execution: In this phase, you execute your test scripts/flows and monitor their performance.
  • Test result generation and analysis: The final phase involves analyzing test case output and sharing reports with relevant stakeholders to demonstrate value and discover areas for optimization.

In most cases, automation will encompass various application types, including web-based, desktop-based, and mobile. Ensure you select a test automation tool that meets all your automation requirements.

You should also outline which kinds of tests you’re looking to automate. Unit and integration testing are usually an integrated part of development practices and happen earlier than other testing practices. Still, there is a long list of other test activities that are ripe for automation.

The most suitable test types for automation are:

  • Functional tests: Testing feature by feature through the UI
  • Performance testing: Testing the application under load
  • Regression testing: Making sure all existing features continue to function when new features are introduced
  • Cross-browser testing: Validating the same web-based application across different browsers.

most suitable test types for automation

Automation Testing Checklist: 11 essential steps to building a robust strategy

We have compiled a checklist of eleven areas to focus on when initiating automation or optimizing the current automation process.

This checklist presents a comprehensive approach to creating a test automation strategy, outlining key phases in the automation test life cycle and essential considerations for successful implementation.

Access the Leapwork test automation strategy checklist

  1. Testing tools

Selecting the right tool defines the success of your test automation strategy and will make or break your test automation project. For this reason, it’s the first step in this checklist.

Every organization is unique, with varying people, processes, and technologies. Each QA team faces different challenges while working with various applications in diverse environments. Therefore, aligning tool requirements with these setups is crucial.

Consider costs, application support, and usability when determining the right tool. Shortlist tools that meet your specific requirements.

  1. Scope

Defining a project’s scope from an automation perspective involves setting timelines and milestones for each project sprint. 

In this stage, you clearly define which tests to automate and which to keep doing manually. Not all test cases can or should be automated. Utilize the 80/20 rule to prioritize tests, concentrating on repetitive and mission-critical scenarios.

  1. Test automation approach

When choosing a test automation approach, consider three areas: Processes, technology, and roles. 

Define structured processes for developing automated test cases, maintaining them, and analyzing their results. Select appropriate tools and technologies that align with the applications being automated.

Identify the types of tests suitable for automation, encompassing functional, performance, regression, and cross-browser testing. Define the roles and responsibilities of team members, designating roles like Automation Lead, Automation Engineer, and Automation Architect.

  1. Objectives

To measure the success of test automation, you should set clear objectives that align with your business goals. These objectives should be ambitious but realistic.

Common objectives in test automation are:

  • Reducing execution time
  • Increasing throughput
  • Improving test coverage
  • Reducing bugs that reach production
  • Improving customer satisfaction
  • Increasing ROI
  1. Risk analysis

Risk analysis is an essential aspect of project planning, particularly within automation.

This analysis involves creating a list of identifiable risks with the following details:

  • Description and relevant metadata
  • Severity: What will happen if the risk becomes a reality? How hard will it hit the project?
  • Probability: What is the likelihood of this happening?
  • Mitigation: What can be done to minimize the risk?
  • Cost estimate: What is the cost of mitigating the risk, and what is the cost of not doing it?
  1. Test automation environment

A stable and predictable test environment is essential for generating reliable automation results. This environment should closely replicate production environments to reflect what end users will experience.

Consider the following aspects related to test environments:

  • Where will you store the test data?
  • Can a copy of production data be used? This is necessary in some industries
  • Can production data be masked?
  • Should test cases clean up data after use?
  1. Execution plan

An execution plan should outline the day-to-day tasks and procedures related to automation.

Select test cases for automation based on the criteria defined in part 2 of this checklist.  Before any automated test cases are added to your regression suite, they should be run and verified multiple times to ensure they run as expected. False failures are time-consuming, so test cases must be robust and reliable.

  1. Test naming convention

A consistent test naming convention is a simple yet impactful way to create an effective testing framework.

Here’s what a test naming convention should contain:

  • Test case no/ID
  • Feature/Module
  • A brief description of what the test case verifies
  1. Release control

In a release pipeline, regardless of its complexity and maturity, there is a point when a team needs to decide whether to release a build or not.

Parts of this decision-making can be automated, while others require a human touch, so the final release decision will often be based on a combination of computed results and manual inspection.

Establish clear criteria for passing, such as ensuring that all automated regression tests pass and evaluating application test logs. Whatever the criteria look like in your business, it needs to be clearly defined.

  1. Failure analysis

Having a plan for analyzing failing test cases and taking necessary actions is a crucial, yet sometimes overlooked, part of a test automation strategy.

The time it takes from when a tester is notified of a failing test case until the fix is described, understood, and accepted in the development backlog, is usually much longer than teams anticipate. Having a well-defined process for this can save a lot of time and frustration for a development team.

  1. Review and feedback

Finally, once you’ve made a draft of a test automation strategy, make sure to have it reviewed and approved by all members of the involved development team.

Foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement by embracing feedback from stakeholders, peers, and team members. Lessons learned during software automation should be captured and documented for future reference. Continuously enhance your test automation strategy based on these insights.

Access the Leapwork test automation strategy checklist

For a more in-depth strategic document, download our Ultimate Strategy Checklist for Test Automation in 2024. This guide delves deep into critical aspects such as testing tools, automation approach, risk analysis, and execution planning. It also has live examples and worksheets so you can create an actionable plan with your team for improving QA through test automation in 2024. 

Test automation strategy example: A Leapwork customer story

Investec, a specialist bank and wealth manager, faced challenges in its complex IT landscape, including legacy systems and web-based technologies, which made test coverage resource-intensive and time-consuming. Manual testing was taking 3-4 weeks for every feature release, hindering business agility.

By implementing test automation through a comprehensive test automation strategy, Investec automated tests for various technologies, including the core mortgages platform and web-based applications. Integration of Leapwork's test automation platform into their CI/CD pipeline allowed for faster and 24/7 test execution, enhancing productivity and reducing risk.

With the regression suite fully automated, Investec experienced a 3-4 times faster time to market.

Key achievements:

  • 95% automated regression tests
  • Tests execution 20% quicker and run 24/7 
  • Achieved a 3-4 times faster time to market.

Test automation strategy FAQ

What is the purpose of a test automation strategy?

The purpose of a test automation strategy is to provide a structured and well-defined plan for implementing automation in your software testing process. It outlines the goals, scope, processes, and approach for automation, ensuring it aligns with the overall objectives of the software development project.

What is a benefit of developing a test automation strategy?

The primary benefit of developing a test automation strategy is that it provides a roadmap for implementing automation in a structured and effective way. This leads to several business benefits, including improved efficiency, cost savings, and higher software quality. 

How do I go from manual to automated testing?

Begin with an assessment to evaluate the feasibility of automation based on test cases and requirements. Then, define a clear automation strategy, choose suitable tools, set up an accurate test environment, create and integrate automated test scripts into your CI/CD pipeline, and maintain and update them as the application evolves. Analyze results, ensure team training, and continuously improve the automation strategy in response to feedback and evolving project needs.

Manual and automated testing should complement rather than replace each other. To increase the chances of success with automation, familiarize yourself with the strengths and weaknesses of manual testing and test automation.

Access the Leapwork test automation strategy checklist