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Manual Software Testing vs. Test Automation: Which Is More Efficient?

by René Ceelen, on June 30, 2020

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The emergence of the “Big Two” tech disruptors, Agile and DevOps, has propelled test case automation as a trendy means to promote speedier, smaller, and more frequent releases, even as many companies continue to find marked advantages to manual software testing. 

In fact, World Quality Report 2015-16 notes: “The average percentage of test case automation has increased from 28 to 45 percent year-on-year.”

Is test-case automation actually more efficient? Or, are there trade-offs to the speed and agility the process offers? Are there reasons to believe that manual software testing may prove more effective AND efficient over the long haul?

To understand the difference, let’s dive into the meaning of test case automation.

Robo-testing

Test automation deploys a software-based “robot” (really an AI module) to work within predefined values to test a specific system or subsystem. By relying on these predefined values, the auto-tester can work rapidly, comparing millions of lines of conversion data without making a mistake. The AI can run virtually unlimited regression testing sessions or installs—a definite time-saver compared to manual testing. However, the robot cannot stray off these single tracks easily and must be trained constantly to perform correct comparisons. The program will only produce effective results if given useful variables and instructions: “Garbage in, garbage out.”

However, test automation may be ideal for projects in which human reasoning and midcourse corrections are not necessary. Given the costly investments involved in software testing, it’s important to know when to depend on automation and when to rely on manual software testing.

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The Manual Certainty Factor

Often, a test management project ends up looking quite different by the end compared to how things seemed during the planning stages. Environmental, financial, and regulatory factors can cause a testing project to change direction at the whim of any number of abrupt disruptions. We’ve all seen how quickly our world economy and culture has unexpectedly shifted in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. One major paradigm shift can be game-changing.

As such, automated testing can be effective for the known, but manual software testing is fueled by human intuition and experience to deal with the unknown—providing a higher level of certainty that the testing project remains on course no matter what tides may shift on the world stage. New designs require new testing templates and new assumptions. Only manual testing can address such a tumultuous level of uncertainty, which is why the process requires more effort.

Scalable

As noted above, test automation is like a one-hit wonder song. The process is (more or less) perfect for a certain time, place, and application; but because it’s dependent on predefined values that it must “learn” every time, automation will quickly crash into scalability issues.  

Manual software testing management solutions, such as TestMonitor, automatically scale and adjust based on the device your tester is using for the best manual testing experience.

Agility

A comprehensive, dynamic test management tool is tasked with a lot of heavy lifting: requirement definitions, risk analysis, test case design, test-run plans, result analysis, and issues management.

Although test automation can save time and money within bulky, simplistic testing environments, manual testing can handle a variety of new functionalities and new interfaces because the human tester does not have to literally “reinvent the wheel” each time. Many integrated processes turn out to be immune to automation and require the human touch and human agility. Though time can be saved on mundane tasks, automation will only eat away more time in situations that are in constant states of flux, including ad hoc testing.

Efficient and Effective

Famed productivity guru Stephen R. Covey notes:

“Efficiency is getting more done in less time. It makes good sense. We get more done. We reduce or even eliminate waste. We’re streamlined. We’re faster. We’re leveraged. But the underlying assumption is that ‘more’ and ‘faster’ are better. Is that necessarily true? There is a vital difference between efficiency and effectiveness.”

He goes on to add that “Effectiveness is doing the right thing. Efficiency is doing things right.”

Test automation has its place and can leverage efficiency in data-intensive projects requiring a limited set of preconditions and assumptions. Manual software testing offers the best of both worlds: efficiency and effectiveness. Manual solutions offered by TestMonitor can be optimized for requirement and risk-based testing with advanced test case design that supports thousands of cases.

Robust planning tools offer: 

  • Multi-tester runs 
  • Milestone cloning
  • Comprehensive result tracking
  • Integrated issue management
  • Smart reporting, including filter and visualization options
  • Simplified user integration
  • Third-party integration for Jira, DevOps, and Slack

Our solutions can maximize effectiveness across the spectrum—whether you’re a quality assurance manager, test managerIT manager, or release manager. Start your organization’s fresh journey to efficient testing effectiveness by launching your free, 14-day trial today.

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