Automation Testing Strategy: Designing A Test Automation Approach That Works

Inna M. by Inna M. on 02/2/2023

Automation Testing Strategy: Designing A Test Automation Approach That Works

Testing automation is by no means a new trend: for as long as software testing has existed, QA engineers have been looking for ways to optimize and improve the process. The topic of automation testing has been likely discussed by most, if not all, software companies in the world. 

But there is one thing, besides a highly experienced team, an automation testing project can hardly do without, and it’s an automated testing strategy. Join us as we discuss the benefits of having an automation testing strategy, steps for creating one, top frameworks to consider, and how to know if your strategy is working.

Why do we automate software testing and who can benefit the most from it?

A lot has been said about the benefits of automation testing — specifically, in our own blog articles, such as this one. In short, testing automation helps increase test coverage, optimize the use of the company’s resources, vastly improve the quality of the application, and shorten the breaks between the releases thanks to the QA team being able to do more tests in less time.

But is automation suitable for every software project? A few exceptions aside, it definitely is! Sure, when dealing with testing a one-page landing website, there may not be much to automate in the first place. However, the absolute majority of software products on the market today would definitely benefit from testing automation. The only condition is a well-designed test automation strategy that takes into account every single parameter of the project. This is exactly what we’ll focus on in this article.

Automation Testing Strategy

What is an automation testing strategy?

The importance of testing automation barely requires an explanation to anyone who has worked with automation at any point in their lives and has seen what it can do. But before we talk about the importance of having an automation testing strategy and go over the steps the team needs to take to design a working plan, let’s define the concept of an automated testing strategy.

A test automation strategy is a document that outlines the automation testing approach the team will use in the upcoming project. This document specifies the most important parameters of an automation project, including:

  • The scope of tests that need to be automated
  • The testing environment
  • The framework and tools to be used
  • The size and composition of the automation QA team
  • The timeframe and milestones
  • The goals of the project
  • The possible risks and how to mitigate them

In addition to helping the team plan the work on a QA project better, a solid strategy also allows them to analyze the results of the project, find out what worked and what didn’t, and learn some valuable lessons to be used on the next projects.

“A test automation strategy is a high-level document that outlines the key events, focus areas, and roles on an automation QA project. Unlike a test plan, which deals with highly specific details of the project, the strategy has more to do with the big picture. It allows formalizing the most important aspects of an automation venture in a document that is accessible to every participant at every stage of the project.”

Taras Oleksyn, Head of AQA, TestFort

Why does a test automation strategy matter?

To someone who has not been involved in creating an automated testing strategy, the need to get one may seem like an optional extra step. However, the experience of hundreds of companies, including ours, proves that this step is not optional at all, and a well-thought-out automation testing strategy can prevent many of the issues such projects often face, helping make the whole endeavor more effective. 

Here are just a few of the many things a QA team can do with an automation strategy in place:

  • Focus on what matters the most. Even for a long-term and large-scale project, automating every single manual test is not only unneeded, but also impractical and excessive. Taking the time to set the focus for an automation project helps minimize unnecessary resource spending and direct the team’s efforts to where they’re needed.
  • Ensure the anticipated result. A well-designed strategy will serve as an automation testing roadmap with a clear representation of the starting point, the end goal, and the milestones that need to be passed on the road to completion. That way, the team will be able to plan their work better, not miss anything important, and get the desired outcome.
  • Choose the right tools for the job. An integral part of creating a test automation strategy is selecting the framework and the tools needed to complete the task. The proper choice of tools ensures meeting the goals of the project with the most optimal use of resources and helps match the personnel to the framework and tool set.
  • Enhance the use of automation. At first glance, there are only so many things you can do with the help of automation on a typical QA project. However, since creating a strategy means dealing with the big picture, the automation team can find more uses for testing automation and make various operations more efficient.
  • Increase the ROI of testing. The fact that testing automation helps increase the ROI of the QA project is pretty much common knowledge. However, that is only true when the automation testing strategy is finely tailored to the specifics and needs of the project. Only then can the company expect maximum profit with minimal use of resources, which is exactly how good ROI is achieved.

What to consider when forming your automation testing approach

The main purpose of a good automated testing strategy is to outline the automation testing approach that will shape the company’s automated testing efforts in the near future. To make sure the strategy fully meets the needs and expectations of the stakeholders, here are a few things to consider:

  • Duration of the project. It’s possible to automate even a short-term project, but automation delivers the best results on medium and long-term testing projects.

“In my experience, automation works best when the QA project is at least 6 months long, although a year or more is the preferred duration. It can take the manual QA team up to 3 months just to prepare the test cases, and if a custom framework is needed, developing it can take another month or two. So a total project duration of 6 months leaves the automation team just enough time to do a good job.”

Maksym Khymii, Automation QA Lead, TestFort
  • Development model. Testing automation can deliver the most impressive results when the company follows the iterative and incremental development model. Under this model, the product is updated with every iteration, which means the automation team’s scope of work is also updated dynamically and includes all the aspects of the app that need to be tested.
  • Prevalent types of testing. An experienced automation QA needs to evaluate the areas that need to be automated and whether everything can be automated at all. For example, automation is not always the most appropriate solution for projects that heavily rely on the human experience with the product, such as usability and accessibility testing. As of now, there are some automation tools for these purposes, but they are not yet able to fully replace a human manual QA.
  • Stage of the project. There are situations where testing automation makes perfect sense at the beginning of the project, but those situations are rare. When automation is introduced too early, the automation QA team often has trouble keeping up with the development team, as software products usually change a lot in their initial development stages.

“I’ve found that testing automation reaches its peak efficiency when it is introduced after 60% to 80% of the product’s functionality is already covered by manual testing. That way, the automation QA team can both see the big picture and take care of the everyday tasks, which is a combination that works for every automation testing project.”

Taras Oleksyn, Head of AQA, TestFort
  • Team’s skills and experience. As we’ve mentioned in our recent longread on testing automation, automation QA is much more demanding than manual testing in terms of the person’s knowledge and experience. This is even more true for the team members who will automate the project from the ground up. Overseeing this process and managing it day-to-day is not a job for a complete automation QA novice or someone who has recently switched from a related field, such as software development.

Features of a successful automated testing strategy

Test automation strategies are created, approved, and launched every day, but not all of them end up meeting the expectations of the parties involved. At least in part, this can be attributed to insufficient planning. Here are the features that are typically present in a winning test automation strategy:

  • Spotlight on the end goal. The process of creating an automation strategy usually starts with defining what the company wants to achieve, and this is the right way to do it. An ambitious yet realistic goal will allow the team to outline the most effective journey to reach it.
  • Well-designed suite. One of the core tasks in front of the automation QA team is to select the cases that need to be automated, as it’s not feasible to automate them all. A thoroughly selected test suite helps the team further focus on what’s important and remove distractions along the way.
  • Clearly defined approach. A testing automation approach deals with much more than just the suite of tests that need to be automated. It also defines everything from the criteria for selecting the cases to the tools that will be used. Including all of that in the strategy document helps avoid possible misunderstandings in the future.
  • Size and composition of the team. Automation testing famously helps make QA projects leaner by lowering the need for manual testing. However, for the project to run smoothly, both manual and automated QAs need to work together towards the same goal. The size, composition, and seniority level of the team are decided based on the project’s needs and both long-term and short-term plans.
  • Budget. Companies introduce testing automation for several reasons, such as to increase the efficiency of QA and to speed up the release cycle. However, they also do it to cut costs. This is why automation QA projects need to operate on a budget. The company’s budget can impact the scope of testing, the hiring decisions, the duration of the project, and more.
Automation Testing Strategy

How to create a test automation strategy: Step by step

Whether you are planning a startup or an enterprise test automation strategy, the whole process will be broken down into pretty similar stages. These are the steps necessary for developing a solid automation testing strategy.

1. Scope and goals definition

The first step in the process of creating a strategy is deciding what exactly the stakeholders want to achieve as the result of the project and which areas of the project the automation strategy will cover. The team can discuss both short and long-term goals, although the latter will understandably have a bigger impact on how the project unfolds.

“What can you automate in the first place? My first pick is regression testing, as there is no point in having ten manual QAs doing the same amount of work that can be done by two manual QAs in the same amount of time or less. Other types of testing that can be successfully automated, in my experience, include smoke testing, end-to-end testing, performance testing, and security testing — at least partially.”

Maksym Khymii, Automation QA Lead, TestFort

2. Assembling the team

Although testing automation heavily relies on software (and often hardware), it’s the humans that will set up the whole process, operate the hardware and software, and process the results. An automation QA team needs a QA Lead or Key AQA, who will make executive decisions concerning the project, and at least one Automation QA to perform daily tasks.

3. Gathering the requirements

Before the team can make any QA-related decisions, they need to know what they are working on. In other words, they need to get a complete picture of the project in front of them. This can include the specifics, what has already been done, and what is in the pipeline for the near future.

4. Identifying the risks

Like any new endeavor, introducing automation to a QA project comes with its own risks, so the job of the team at this stage is to identify those risks and propose solutions to mitigate them. For example, incorrect estimation of time and personnel needed to complete a project is one of the common risks, and one of the ways to mitigate it is to make the goals and estimations more realistic with the help of valuable prior experience and best practices.

5. Selecting cases for automation

This is an integral step of designing an automation strategy because it determines the scope of work for the automation team in the upcoming months. When selecting the test cases, it’s important to strike a balance between the desire to automate everything and the need to spend the available resources wisely. An experienced Automation QA will be able to easily choose the most appropriate cases for automation.

6. Choosing the framework and tools

The automation testing framework and tools will directly impact the efficiency of the team’s efforts and whether the project ends up meeting the goals set in the beginning. When choosing the tools and the framework, it’s necessary to take into account not just the needs and specifics of the project, but also the familiarity of the team members with the necessary technologies.

7. Setting up the environment

The test data and test environment are two aspects of an automation QA project that can make it efficient or slow it down in case wrong choices are made. This step typically includes setting up the equipment and preparing the software, establishing the schedules, and appointing the person who will be responsible for maintaining the test environment on a daily basis.

8. Writing the scripts

A group of well-written test scripts can give the project a sense of direction and help the team utilize the available resources and app functionality to the fullest extent. When writing test scripts, it’s best to break down complex scenarios into single-purpose tests and only then combine them into larger blocks if necessary. It’s also important to prioritize the scenarios, so that the most crucial elements of the application get the most attention.

9. Monitoring the results

After the start of the automation QA project, the team’s efforts should also be directed at monitoring the progress, analyzing the results, and finding room for improvement with the use of correct tools and metrics. This is done to prevent wasting valuable resources on tests that have little to no impact on improving the quality of the application being tested.

10. Maintaining the test suite

This is the part of the process that is sometimes overlooked by automation QA teams, usually to a detrimental effect. Neglecting to maintain the existing test suite results in the tests becoming outdated, far less effective, and wasteful of the company’s resources.

Popular frameworks for designing an automation testing strategy

The choice of the framework for an automation testing strategy is one of the most crucial ones to make, on par with the choice of tools and the composition of the team. Generally speaking, the choice of a framework depends on the specifics and end goals of the project. Other factors influencing the decision include:

  • Basic functionality offered by the framework
  • Availability of advanced features specific to the project, such as reporting, logging, debugging, and so on
  • Types and levels of testing the framework can cover
  • Familiarity of the team members with the framework
  • Whether the framework is distributed for free or on a paid basis
  • Whether the team has the skills and resources to modify the framework to fit the needs of the project
  • How well the framework can be incorporated into the CI/CD pipeline

In many cases, QA teams prefer to create their own frameworks or adjust their previously developed frameworks to better fit the current project. However, there are also several popular frameworks that offer ready-made solutions for automating tests. Here are a few of such frameworks to consider.

Behavior driven framework

The behavior driven framework for testing automation will consist of a large number of feature files that contain scenarios based on the gherkin model (given/when/then) that are written in plain English. The key benefits of this framework are that the findings will be easy to understand even for non-technical users and that there are plenty of ways to reuse the code. The downside is that preparing the feature files takes a significant amount of time, and so does maintaining the cases.

Data driven framework

The key concept of the data driven framework is separating the data from the actual tests, so that they two could exist and be interacted with separately. This is a particularly suitable framework for projects where data is frequently changing — that way, the team can run the same tests with different sets of data. The downside of this approach is that collecting and classifying data takes time, while code reusability is not very high.

Modular driven framework

Under the modular driven framework, the entire test case will be divided into smaller modules, where each module includes a different set of features or other elements of the solution. The test case is then created for each module separately, and several test cases can be combined into a larger test suite. The modular driven framework allows the team to work in small increments and create test cases that are easily maintained. At the same time, breaking down the application into modules and creating separate test cases is a time-consuming and resource-intensive process.

Hybrid framework

The hybrid automation testing framework can be a combination of any two or more models described above. Companies often go for hybrid frameworks when dealing with unique features and requirements of a testing automation project. The decision to use a combination of several frameworks can provide additional flexibility, increase code reusability, and make room for more efficient reporting and analysis. The downside of a hybrid framework is that it can only be developed and used by high-skilled QA professionals, while a poorly designed framework can hurt the project in the long run.

Best practices of test automation strategy creation

An automation testing approach depends on many factors, from the specifics of the project to the client’s preferred framework and toolset. However, certain things are universal for every test automation strategy regardless of the project, and best practices are among them. Here are the best practices of test automation strategy creation to follow:

  1. Have clear goals. Before you can take active steps to create an automated testing strategy, you need to know why you are doing it at all. Is the goal to minimize the use of manual testing, speed up the releases, increase the ROI of testing, or all of the above? A set of clearly defined goals will help the team focus on what’s actually important.
  2. Plan your automation testing approach. Once you know what matters the most in the upcoming automated testing project, you can prioritize the test cases and test level to make sure your resources are spent in the wisest way possible and you have accounted for every potential development in the project.
  3. Make sure your tools and personnel are a match. The choice of tools for an automation test plan has to match not only the project requirements, but also the skill set of the people working on the project. At the very least, it’s important to give the team members time to familiarize themselves with new tools in case you’re determined to use them.
  4. Avoid the desire to automate everything. Automation testing has a lot of benefits for most QA projects, but even the most advanced automation tools still cannot fully imitate human eyes. This is why, especially if your solution heavily relies on a good UI or adequate accessibility, some things should be left for the manual QA team to deal with.
  5. Consider the risks. Even with the most careful planning, a testing automation project faces certain risks. The risks can range from underestimating the input of manual testers and therefore missing out on important data to security risks linked to the incorrect choice of testing environments. These risks need to be calculated and accounted for in any test automation strategy.

How to know your automated testing strategy is good (and what to do if it’s not)

After an automation testing strategy has been put in motion, the next important step is to assess its effectiveness. Depending on the duration of the project, this can be done after several weeks to several months. The most direct way to do it is through a set of metrics. 

The exact metrics to be used on the project revolves around its exact parameters and specifics. Naturally, the desired value of those metrics doesn’t come out of the blue — while working on the automation strategy, the team will set not only the final goals of the project, but also the interim checkpoints for measuring the effectiveness of the strategy. 

A great solution for managing the expectations of the team and the stakeholders is to plan three different outcomes: a realistic, pessimistic, and optimistic one. This helps further visualize and adjust the goals. The metrics to compare before and after the introduction of automation can include:

  • Number of test cases
  • Number of bugs that make it to production
  • Time it takes the team to perform a certain task, such as complete regression testing
  • Release frequency
  • User satisfaction

Checking these metrics regularly, or even analyzing them automatically with the help of a custom-made dashboard, and comparing them to the previous value, as well as the goals stipulated in the strategy, is exactly what allows the team to make sure that the strategy is working. 

Another important metric is ROI, or Return On Investment. This metric refers to the financial efficiency of testing automation, or whether the company breaks even or saves money by introducing automation. ROI is not the metric you can calculate shortly after launching the automation project, but it’s one of the key ones to measure its success.

So what if the current automation testing strategy is underperforming and the team is barely meeting the objectives outlined in the worst-case scenario, or not meeting them at all? This can happen due to various reasons, from an incorrect estimation of the resources needed to reach the project goals to a less-than-perfect match between the team and the suggested tools and frameworks.

The good news is that a test automation strategy is not set in stone and can be changed or updated when the project is already ongoing. In fact, flexibility is one of the most desirable qualities in an automation QA team. Being able to quickly pivot if necessary without losing any of the efficiency is a sign of an experienced, mature team that can handle even the most challenging tasks.

Final thoughts

In 2023, with the current state of technology and the highly demanding nature of the software market, it’s not a question of whether you should automate testing — it’s a question of how to do it the right way and ensure the most benefits to the company. And a solid automation testing strategy is definitely a good place to start. 

Make sure your testing project reaches maximum efficiency and avoids the common roadblocks with the help of a good strategy and a top-notch automation testing team.

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Written by
Inna M., Technical Writer

Inna is a content writer with close to 10 years of experience in creating content for various local and international companies. She is passionate about all things information technology and enjoys making complex concepts easy to understand regardless of the reader’s tech background. In her free time, Inna loves baking, knitting, and taking long walks.


What is an automation testing strategy?

A test automation strategy is a document or a series of documents that details the company’s approach to automating software testing on a specific project. It typically contains a description of steps that need to be taken, as well as lists the tests that need to be automated, tools that are going to be used, and other features that have to do with the process.

Why is an automated testing strategy necessary?

Performing automated tests without an effective strategy in place has several potential drawbacks. Most importantly, the team won’t be able to fully focus on the most crucial issues in front of them. Moreover, the lack of a strategy prevents the team from choosing the most appropriate tools and tests to automate. Finally, the ROI of an automation testing project without a strategy will likely fail to meet the stakeholders’ expectations.

How do you develop an automation strategy?

The first step in creating a test automation strategy that benefits your software project is to define the goals of automation. You should also define the scope of tests to be automated, select the framework, allocate resources, and prepare a suitable tool roster. Other steps include defining the testing environment, ensuring that all tests are properly tagged, and finding ways to save time and effort on similar tests.

What are the best practices for test automation?

To make sure that your automation testing strategy delivers the best results, it’s a good idea to follow some common best practices. These include thoroughly planning the whole process, precisely estimating the risks, choosing the correct framework and tools, setting realistic goals, measuring the potential risks, and evaluating the effectiveness of the strategy as you go.

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