What are the risks associated with automated testing?

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Randall Hendricks Randall Hendricks

In the modern era, automated software testing is recognized as a critical component in software development, providing extensive benefits such as efficiency, coverage, and repeatability to improve product and service quality. As software development has evolved from the traditional waterfall model to Agile methodologies and continuous integration practices, the need for automated testing has emerged due to shorter release cycles and the rapid release of features.

Manual vs. Automated Testing

Manual Testing

In manual testing, test engineers used to perform glass box testing to scout out bugs in internal structures. Improper test responses were logged in defect management systems such as Bugzilla, Jira, Kualitee, etc., and periodic bug reports were produced for key stakeholders. These reports were then prioritized at engineering meetings based on business value and impact.

Automated Testing in Agile SCRUM

With the advent of Agile SCRUM, software releases have become rapid, requiring test engineers and developers to work hand-in-hand to fix issues urgently, often matching or exceeding the pace of development. This need for speed has led to the evolution of software test automation.

Some of the most well-known and powerful automated testing frameworks available in the IT industry today include Selenium WebDriver, Appium, Cypress, Robot, Cucumber, Playwright, TestNG, JUnit, Pytest, and Katalon. These frameworks help execute repetitive tasks swiftly and accurately, allowing human testers to focus more on exploratory tests and other complex aspects of testing to ensure the success and reliability of software projects.

While there are remarkable benefits, it is imperative to discern the associated risks within an automated testing framework.

Risks of Automated Testing

High Initial Investment and Maintenance Costs

The initial setting up of a productive automated testing suite involves a high initial investment for tools, infrastructure, and training. Developing and configuring automated test cases is also quite a complex task that demands a specific specialized skill set that can be expensive.

False Reassurance of Security

The use of automated tests can create a false reassurance of security by leading the development teams to consider their software much more robust compared to its actual state. This is a risk when the test scripts are poorly designed or maintained and are used excessively. If the tests are not extensive, significant bugs may go undiscovered, potentially causing critical failures in production.

Complexity, Troubleshooting Challenges, and the Fragility of Test Scripts

Writing and maintaining automated tests can be a complex task, and troubleshooting failing tests can be particularly challenging. The common issues of false positives and negatives can undermine your confidence in the automated test suite’s results.

Valuable developer time can be wasted by a false positive test failure that doesn’t actually occur because of a bug in the software.

A false negative, where a test passes despite the presence of a bug, can lead to defects being missed and reaching production.

Though test scripts can be generated effortlessly using test frameworks, they should undergo continuous and rigorous maintenance and be updated frequently to reflect changes in the codebase as the software evolves. This can be tedious and excessive, especially if the tests are unstable and vulnerable to minor changes in the codebase.

Over-Reliance on Automated Testing Tools

It is obvious that automated testing tools/frameworks are highly prevalent and can work wonders with scripting using well-maintained scripts. This does not imply that they are flawless and might not detect issues related to user experience, visual inconsistencies, or specific circumstantial problems that a human tester might catch.

Furthermore, different tools have different strengths and weaknesses, and relying solely on one tool can cause inconsistencies in the testing process.

Inadequate Test Coverage

Automated testing often focuses on ensuring that software meets specified criteria, mostly through unit tests, integration tests, and functional tests. Nevertheless, it may not adequately encompass other important aspects, such as performance, security, and usability testing.

The software can be vulnerable to performance bottlenecks, security breaches, and poor user experience due to inadequate test coverage.

Inadequate Test Coverage
Source: https://www.smartesting.com/en/state-of-test-automation-2023-keeping-our-e2e-test-suites-lean-and-valuable/

Mitigating Risks in Automated Software Testing

Test automation is invaluable in the context of software testing, and implementing a few simple guidelines can help facilitate the boost required by the QA process in an organization.

Management Buy-in

Ensure that management approves test automation as a planned process effort with an adequate budget.

Select the correct Automated Test Tools and Frameworks

Before selecting a test automation framework, it is advised to keep in mind the specific requirements of your project, the type of application used to test the preferred languages, and your team’s coding expertise.

Once the facts above are considered, evaluate the framework’s testing capabilities, its level of community support, and how it supports different versions of applications and environments.

Flexibility and depth of functionality are essential in the testing framework to stimulate the system under test and accurately record the results that are expected.

Be prepared to spend money for staff training on the automation tools, as it will pay off many times over.

Determine the Tests to Automate

Focus on not attempting to replace all the manual tests with automation, as this may lead to costly failures. Determine which tests should be automated because they are repetitive and can benefit from test automation.

Automation viability can be characterized by a simple spectrum as shown below:
Determine the Tests to Automate


Software test automation may have significant advantages in terms of efficiency and consistency, but it also comes with risks. Organizations must take a thoughtful approach that involves thorough initial analysis, careful planning, and ongoing management and funding to mitigate these risks.