When to Use Manual Testing vs. Automation Testing

Jun 10, 2024 | Test Automation Insights

Woman at assembly line performing quality analysis

Can automation replicate the quality assurance that human user testing provides? Technology’s ability to optimize test runs has come a long way. Because of this, many software developers have been researching the validity of automation testing and considering implementing it in their work. 

Deciding on an approach to software testing is a pivotal moment in the development process. Manual and automated testing are both valid methods of software testing and knowing the strengths and limitations of each is important. So let’s check out the difference between manual and automation testing and learn what automated software testing tools can do for your deployment timeline. 

What Is Manual Testing?

Manual testing involves human testers manually executing test cases without the use of automation tools. This method requires a tester to play the role of an end user and use most of the application’s features to ensure correct behavior.

The Benefits of Manual Testing

Highly-Involved Process

Some companies prefer manual software testing because it is a very hands-on process. Analysts and QA engineers are highly involved and play a large role in observing and tweaking test scenarios. This slow, focused attention is sometimes better for complex testing scenarios because there is more room for nuance with manual test execution. There are manual software testing tools available that can keep the process organized and running smoothly.   

Less Programming Knowledge Required

A major benefit of manual testing is that less knowledge of programming languages is required, allowing non-technical members of development teams to participate. However, Ranorex allows users to conduct automated test scenarios without any complex programming languages. Tests made with Gherkin, a plain English testing language, enable those without a background in coding to have an input in testing scenarios. 

Flexibility

Because members of a testing team can be adaptable, minor changes to a test script aren’t greatly disruptive in the manual testing process. Making changes may be more complex in automated testing scenarios. However, using a system with automated testing tools like Ranorex that has built-in intelligence allows you to keep working even with slight changes in your UI. 

What Is Automation Testing?

Automation testing uses specialized tools to execute pre-scripted tests on a software application before it is released into production. It compares actual outcomes with predicted outcomes.

The Benefits of Automation Testing

More Test Cases

Because automation testing can be completed so quickly, software testing teams can conduct more test runs in a smaller amount of time. It also covers more permutations and variations, implementing broader test scenarios. For large-scale projects, the benefits of automation testing are significant and necessary when dealing with time constraints. However, both large and small companies alike find the convenience of automated software testing to be a useful tool for success. 

Less Busywork

Automated test runs do require maintenance, but that’s a small output of labor in comparison to the labor manual software testers need to do daily. Software test automation results in the majority of test work being automated, leaving fewer unnecessary manual tasks for the people on software development and testing teams. 

Continuous Testing

Some software testers have used automation testing to implement continuous testing. As the name implies, continuous testing happens repeatedly and for a long period. This protects a software development company’s reputation and ensures that things are running smoothly on any given day. Engaging in continuous testing with a team of manual software testers would be an expensive endeavor that wastes time and resources.

Parallel Execution

Parallel test execution is the ultimate result of efficiency and technological optimization. With automated software testing tools, users can run multiple test scenarios at once. To achieve this same result with manual software testing, companies would need to pay more for an increased number of workers. The limitations of human labor aren’t a significant barrier to software test automation, making it a great choice for small and large companies alike. 

When to Use Each

Understanding when to use manual vs automation testing can significantly impact your project’s success.

Automated Testing

Repetitive Tests

Automation is ideal for repetitive tests that need to be run frequently. This includes tests that are executed with each new release or build, such as smoke tests and sanity tests. Automation ensures consistency and speed in execution which reduces the time and effort required by human testers. By automating repetitive tasks, teams can focus on more complex testing scenarios and improve overall productivity and test coverage.

Regression Testing

Regression testing is another area where automation testing shines. In regression testing, previously developed and tested software is retested after changes to ensure that new code has not adversely affected existing functionality. Automated regression tests can be run quickly and frequently, providing immediate feedback to developers. This is important in Agile and DevOps environments, where continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) require rapid validation of code changes. Automated regression tests help maintain software quality and reduce the risk of defects reaching production.

Load and Performance Testing

Automated tools can simulate thousands or even millions of users to test the load capacity and performance of an application. This is something manual testing cannot achieve efficiently. Performance testing tools like JMeter, LoadRunner, and Gatling can measure response times, throughput, and resource utilization under varying loads. Automation allows for the creation of complex performance test scenarios that mimic real-world usage to identify potential bottlenecks and ensure that applications can scale to meet user demands.

Data-Driven Tests

Extensive data-driven testing, where the same sequence of actions is tested with a variety of inputs, is a great opportunity for automated testing. Data-driven testing frameworks enable testers to use external data sources such as CSV files, databases, and spreadsheets to drive test cases. This approach increases test coverage by validating application behavior across a wide range of data sets. Automated data-driven tests are particularly useful for verifying business logic, form validations, and calculations.

Parallel Testing

Automated testing can run multiple test cases in parallel, saving time and providing faster feedback. Parallel execution leverages the power of modern multi-core processors and cloud-based testing environments to run tests concurrently across different browsers, devices, and configurations. This approach significantly reduces the overall test execution time and accelerates the delivery pipeline. Tools like Selenium Grid, testing platforms like Ranorex support parallel test execution which enables teams to achieve comprehensive test coverage efficiently.

Consistency

Automated tests perform precisely the same operations every time they are run, eliminating human error and increasing reliability. Consistency is a key advantage of automation, as it ensures that tests are executed in a uniform manner, reducing the risk of false positives and false negatives. Automated tests can be version-controlled, ensuring that any changes to test scripts are tracked and audited. This repeatability is essential for maintaining test accuracy and reliability over time, particularly in large and complex projects.

Manual Testing

Exploratory Testing

Manual testing is great for exploratory testing, where testers explore the application without predefined test cases to discover defects. Exploratory testing relies on the tester’s creativity, intuition, and experience to identify issues that may not be covered by automated tests. This approach is particularly effective in uncovering usability issues, edge cases, and unexpected behaviors. Exploratory testing is often used in the early stages of development, during user acceptance testing (UAT), and for verifying complex user interactions.

Usability Testing

Human testers are needed to assess the user-friendliness and overall user experience of an application. Usability testing involves real users interacting with the application to identify issues related to navigation, layout, and overall user satisfaction. Testers observe users as they perform tasks, gather feedback, and identify areas for improvement. This type of testing is important for verifying that the application meets the needs and expectations of its target audience.

Ad-Hoc Testing

Ad-hoc testing is unstructured and is performed without planning and documentation. It relies on the tester’s intuition and experience. This type of testing is often used when there is limited time or resources available. Ad-hoc testing can be particularly effective in identifying obvious and critical issues quickly. It is also useful for verifying fixes and changes in a flexible and informal manner. Despite its unstructured nature, ad-hoc testing can provide valuable insights and catch defects that might be missed by more formal testing approaches.

Initial Testing

Manual testing is often used in the initial stages of testing to get a feel for the application and identify any obvious issues. Initial testing involves basic checks to ensure that the core functionality of the application is working as expected. This includes verifying installation processes, basic navigation, and critical features. Manual initial testing helps establish a baseline for further automated and manual tests to make sure that the application is stable and ready for more in-depth testing.

User Interaction

Manual testing is necessary when simulating user interactions, especially in complex scenarios that require human intuition. This includes testing features that involve multiple steps, complex workflows, and dynamic interactions. Human testers can adapt to changes in the application’s behavior, explore different paths, and identify issues related to user interactions. Manual testing is also essential for validating accessibility features.

User Experience Testing

Human judgment is crucial in testing how real users interact with the application, identifying issues that automated tests might miss. User experience testing involves evaluating the overall feel of the application, including its aesthetics, responsiveness, and ease of use. Testers assess whether the application provides a seamless and enjoyable experience for users, identifying areas for improvement. This type of testing is particularly important for consumer-facing applications where user satisfaction is a key factor in success.

Best Practices for Manual Testing

Clear Test Cases

Define clear and detailed test cases to ensure all functionalities are covered. Each test case should include specific inputs, expected results, and step-by-step instructions for execution. Detailed test cases help ensure that every aspect of the application is tested thoroughly and consistently. This clarity also aids in reproducing defects and verifying fixes.

Experienced Testers

Use skilled testers who can apply their knowledge and intuition to uncover hidden issues. Experienced testers bring valuable insights and a deep understanding of the application, allowing them to identify potential problem areas that automated tests might miss. Their ability to think creatively and critically is essential for discovering edge cases and nuanced defects.

Regular Reviews

Conduct regular reviews and updates of test cases based on new learnings and feedback. As the application evolves, so should the test cases. Regular reviews ensure that test cases remain relevant and comprehensive, incorporating any new features, changes, or bug fixes. Involving the development team in these reviews can also provide additional perspectives and improve the overall quality of the tests.

Exploratory Testing

Allocate time for exploratory testing to identify defects that might not be caught with predefined tests. Exploratory testing allows testers to investigate the application freely, using their intuition and experience to uncover unexpected issues. This approach is particularly effective for finding usability problems, workflow inconsistencies, and other defects that structured testing might overlook.

Best Practices for Automated Testing

Choose the Right Tools

Select automation tools that fit your project needs and integrate well with your development environment. The right tools should support the technologies and platforms used in your application, offer robust reporting and debugging features, and be scalable to accommodate future growth.

Maintain Test Scripts

Regularly update and maintain your test scripts to accommodate changes in the application. As the application evolves, automated test scripts need to be revised to reflect new functionalities, UI changes, and bug fixes. Implementing a version control system for test scripts can help track changes and ensure consistency.

Start Small

Begin with automating high-priority test cases and gradually expand. Focus on automating tests that provide the most value, such as regression tests, smoke tests, and critical business workflows. Starting small allows you to build a solid foundation for your automation efforts and identify any challenges early on.

Continuous Integration

Integrate automated tests into your continuous integration (CI) pipeline to catch issues early. Automated tests should run as part of the CI process, providing immediate feedback on code changes and ensuring that new builds meet quality standards. Popular CI tools include Jenkins, GitLab CI, and CircleCI.

Start a Free Trial of Ranorex

Experience the benefits of both manual and automated testing with Ranorex. Start your free trial today and take the first step towards more efficient and effective testing.

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