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Why Continuous Integration isn’t Continuous without Test Automation

Maria Homann

Maria Homann

Becoming agile will take time and require commitment, but it is nonetheless vital for harnessing the forces that are accelerating innovation and digital transformation for organizations worldwide.

Building a continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline is a core endeavor for DevOps in organizations transitioning to agile.

In this blog post, we zoom in on continuous integration, and outline which steps are needed in order to build this part of the pipeline. We then highlight the role of automation, and specifically test automation, in continuous integration. Last, we address common barriers to success with test automation, including maintenance burdens and scaling challenges.

In sum, you’ll learn:

  • How to achieve continuous integration
  • Why test automation is key to continuous integration
  • How to overcome challenges in test automation

How to achieve continuous integration

Continuous software delivery has clear, measurable benefits. As McKinsey state: “Continuous software delivery can increase companies’ speed to market with high quality digital products and services.” The compare traditional software to continuous software delivery and highlight the difference in outcome for quality and testing:

Quality and testing

Manual testing of up to 50% of software releases performed by large teams

Automated testing with more than 80% coverage requires limited human intervention to validate

Source: McKinsey

To achieve continuous software delivery, a CI/CD pipeline must be in place. The continuous integration part of the CI/CD pipeline is made up of four core components:

  • Development and versioning: When you have multiple developers working on a product, they need to be able to submit their code simultaneously, without risk of muddling versions. A versioning tool that can manage several versions at a time is therefore essential.
  • Building: Once versions are submitted, merged and ready to be built, you need a tool that can handle this automatically, if you want continuous builds of those versions.
  • Testing: Once built, the version is ready to be tested. We’ll go further into detail with this in the next section.
  • Staging in environments: The last component that is critical for your continuous integration pipeline is your environments. You will need multiple environments, including a build environment, a testing environment, and a production environment.

Building a CI pipeline takes more than these tools, however. As with agile, it takes commitment and resources to truly adopt these tools, as well as a shift in mindset and cultural management to achieve measurable benefit from a CI pipeline.

Read more about this in our blog post A Guide to Achieving Continuous Integration in Agile.

But obstacles shouldn’t turn into objections. Next, we’ll dive deeper into automated testing - an area in which many teams experience obstacles to success - and address its importance as well as the paradoxes keeping teams from reaping its benefits.

Why test automation is key to continuous integration

The concept and benefits of failing fast are common knowledge in the software testing space by now. Failing fast goes hand in hand with shift-left testing and continuous testing; it’s about testing earlier and more frequently in the release cycle.

When bugs are found earlier, they are less costly to fix in terms of time and development resources. Traditional waterfall methods of development would only test at the very end of a release cycle, at which point software glitches could have incremental effects on the entire product. This is a risk that modern businesses simply cannot take.

Testing should instead occur at several stages of development: From unit tests, the initial testing of core components of the code, to API tests that test software ‘behind the scenes’, to functional tests that test the interfaces the users interact with (UI testing).

The notion of testing early shouldn’t be confused with only testing at the component level, and assuming that if the components work, the entire system will work too. That’s a bit like thinking a functioning steering wheel in a car also means that the car can drive.

Higher level testing that validates features and system-level integration is required. This can be done through end-to-end functional UI testing. Ideally, these types of tests should be run at every release. This is only possible if it is automated.

Does this mean that testers are replaced by automation robots? Absolutely not. By freeing testers from the drudgery of repetitive, mundane work, such as software regression testing, they can focus on test design and analysis, as well as exploratory testing. This is where true innovation in product quality happens.

How to overcome challenges in test automation

Test automation is without a doubt an investment. The benefits once implemented are great, but make no mistake, you will need to invest time and resources into finding the tool, implementing it, and onboarding team members.

After that comes using the tool to create tests, maintaining it, and scaling it to maximize the benefits of automation and achieve greater coverage - and this is where the real obstacles occur.

Teams that have worked with Selenium, or other code-based tools, will be familiar with the time and effort that goes into learning the tool, writing test scripts, and maintaining the code.

The sustainable solution to letting agile teams test continuously involves investing in a no-code test automation tool.

Codeless test automation for agile teams

Leapwork’s no-code test automation lets teams test continuously at high speed whilst minimizing the time spent on set-up and maintenance. The platform will integrate into your existing CI/CD pipeline for seamless operations and support collaboration across and within teams, due to its visual no-code language. What’s more, it will let you scale your automation, giving your business a greater return on investment, fast.

Learn more about Leapwork’s no-code platform for continuous testing in our webinar: Continuous Testing in Agile.

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