When (and when not) to Automate Application Test Cases

When software bugs cause your applications to fail, the productivity of your internal teams suffers, and customers take their business elsewhere. The key, of course, is to eliminate software bugs. And that usually depends on your application testing capabilities.

In the testing realm, the decision of whether or not to automate will have a major impact on your development team’s ability to find bugs before applications go into production. In comparison to manual methods, automation helps your software teams increase their output by delivering test feedback faster, and with more precise results and better overall coverage of your applications—so you know you haven’t missed anything.

The automation methodology does not replace manual testing. Both approaches must be part of a higher-level software testing strategy so you will need to apply these methods depending on the circumstances of each application your team develops. The key is to formulate a plan so both forms of testing turn into valuable assets for your software team and help you increase the quality of the final deliverables.

Signs Telling You It’s Time to Automate

Here’s a quick rundown of the primary use-cases where automation makes sense:

  • Repetitive Tests—for any test that will run frequently, automation will save you valuable time for each instance in which you run the test. You will also generate more accurate results.
  • High-Risk Cases—the level of risk for an application test is based on the likelihood of human error occurring during the test and the potential consequences to the business if the test fails to identify application issues.
  • Critical Components—you may not need to automate the testing of an entire application; instead, you can automate only the vital components for any test cases that impact the entire application.
  • Complex Tests—tests with intricate business logic and those that require you to input large data sets can be time-consuming if handled manually; the manual approach also means mistakes are more likely to occur.
  • Long Duration Testing—if a test requires an overnight run, it can be a daunting challenge to monitor the test manually; give your team a break and automate so they can go home!
  • Cross-Platform Testing—applications that run on multiple operating systems and in multiple browsers can be a bear to test, particularly if the number of test case iterations is not known.

Common types of tests that usually contain these attributes are load and stress tests. Others for which automation is usually best include regression, smoke and sanity tests—particularly when each build and release of an application requires testing.

Signs Telling You Manual Testing Is the Way to Go

There are a few specific use-cases where manual testing will be your best option, and they usually involve specific functions within an application. These include functions that require subjective validation by humans, such as end-user usability testing.

Another use-case that calls for manual testing is an application function that’s in the process of being developed or which changes frequently. The test will also likely change, so automated scripts could be a waste of time. Another case to turn to for manual testing is a strategic function that you want testers to pay close attention to.

As you evaluate which tests to automate, consider the time to automate the process versus the manual approach. If automating the process takes longer than running manual testing, stick with your manual process, especially if the test is non-repetitive. It may also make sense to go the manual route if you have a test case that is not yet fully developed, which can lead to generating false positives.

But always strive to automate time-consuming and repetitive tests as well as those that are difficult to execute manually or carry a lot of risk if the tests are not run properly. Taking this approach will help you save time by automating the tests you can, and then focusing your efforts on test cases that should be done manually.

Upfront Investment Generates a Higher Return

As you go through the process to automate application testing, it will require a higher upfront investment in tools and resource time. But over the long run, automation will yield a higher ROI than manual testing. You can streamline the process by giving your team the training they need to acquire automated testing skills. They will greatly appreciate having an additional testing methodology in their back pocket!


If you have any comments about automated vs. manual testing, I welcome the opportunity to hear about your experiences. I’m also glad to answer any questions you have about turning your automated and manual testing processes into true assets for your software development team. Feel free to contact me at mcampuzano@tiempodevelopment.com.