What is Test Maintenance?

Anna Thorsen

Automation Expert

Test maintenance. It’s a tedious and time-consuming task. But without it, you’re opening your business up to major risk. And with it, your test automation costs skyrocket. Especially if you’re using code to build the automation that tests your graphical user interface (GUI). 

However, there still seems to be confusion as to what this term means. We’ll explain what test maintenance is below. And, we’ll detail the challenges you should expect when you’re maintaining your tests. 

What you can find in this post? 

What is test maintenance?
What are the challenges of test maintenance? 

What is test maintenance?

If you introduce any change to the software, even if it’s a minor change like a browser update, it can cause tests to break. Test maintenance ensures this doesn’t happen. 

So when you build an automated test for your application under test, it’s not always a one-time job. Sometimes the tests break.  

I know. It’s ironic. 

The very tests you built to check for errors break themselves.


The thing is, GUI tests are fragile because of how often a GUI changes. And this creates an expensive maintenance burden. But there is a way to keep these costs low for an ROI of test automation.

What are the main challenges of test maintenance? 

Well, there’s a few:

  • The system under test can be complex
  • Not all testing tools are able to identify objects on a GUI
  • The skills required to maintain and build certain test automation are not always available (here’s a post where you can read more about the skills gap issue)
  • The effort it takes to maintain test automation can often outweigh the benefit. Here’s why:

If you’re managing a small number of automated test cases, the maintenance costs may not be large. 

But if you’re managing a big test suite spanning different technologies, this work quickly becomes unmanageable.

Let’s say the manual maintenance of every code-based automated test case of a GUI takes 10 minutes. If you have 300 test cases, that’s 50 hours (6.5 working days) of test maintenance per regression cycle. 

That’s what the image below illustrates. The time you save building automation doesn’t always save you time or money compared to the maintenance costs. 


To avoid this happening, you have to reevaluate the tools and practices you carry out for building test automation. 

In our next post, we write about this in more detail. We explain the four best practices for keeping test maintenance low

If you want to learn more about building maintainable and scalable test automation, download our guide. 

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