Are Ladders Useful?

On the watir-general email list, George Sanders recently wrote

“It seems that I’ve been encountering more people within my workplace (and, alas, even within my own QA team!) that are not sold on test automation. From what I’ve learned so far, there seems that automation will never cover 100% of what needs to be tested, but this doesn’t negate the need.

Another frustration is that I’ve been tasked to write automation scripts as part of my year-end goals. However, I haven’t been assigned hours in my work week to do them! All of my script development has been after-hours and weekends (notice I’m posting this on a Saturday!).

Has anyone else run into naysayers? How can I convince the decision-makers that this is a worthwhile effort?”

I responded on-list, but want to improve my answer (and change my analogy). This conversation tends to be quite unproductive when it becomes “Is or isn’t test automation useful?” It’s a lot like “Are ladders useful?” Ladders won’t solve any problems on their own. There are plenty of problems that ladders will not help with a bit. Problems that are helped by step-ladders may only be made worse by a 20 foot ladder. Yet there are some problems where the right ladder well used will add tremendous value.

Similarly with testing, I like to look at what are the problems that need to be solved. Then I like to think about each of them, and consider solutions. Is one of your problems basic functionality breaking when code is changed? Unit tests might be a great solution to your problem. Do you suspect intermittent production failures are the result of concurrency issues? Likewise, automation-assisted tests might really help in reproducing the problem in house.

I think discussing the relative costs/benefits of automated browser-based regression testing is a good idea, and getting real experience reports helps a lot. Within this realm in particular — depending on many contextual factors —  there may be some problems that’re helped through automated browser-based tests and others where the cost is too high. 

Note, for some concrete examples of problems where Watir has been useful for me, see my post about a few of the most compelling cases where I’ve used Watir over the past five years.

Getting time added into the schedule for test automation is a different question, but one that might become easier if you’re able to focus the conversation around solutions to particular problems. (On the other hand, there are a lot of reasons — sensible and not — why test automation might not get onto the schedule.) In any event, focussing the conversation on specific problems and potential solutions for them is likely to increase the odds of a productive conversation.


2 Responses to “Are Ladders Useful?”

  1. Adam Goucher Says:

    To follow the ladder analogy, it is often quite useful to have a multi-ladder which can act as a variety of types of fixed ladders. In software / testing terms, I would consider python / ruby / perl a multi-ladder.


  2. Jeff Fry Says:

    Hey Adam, I like where you’re going with languages. Perhaps — to keep extending the metaphor — a scripting language a tool set for building custom ladders.

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