Manual vs Automated Tests: Identifying the right balance for your project

Airnauts
7 min readMar 31, 2023
Text by Adam Stolarski, visuals by Aleksandra Wiśniewska & Nikita Sergushkin

These days, AI tools and automation are often hailed as the way of the future. It seems that everyone is seeking to streamline their workflows, practices, and tools through automation. However, real-life circumstances can often bring this approach into question.

In the context of test management, it is not always beneficial to automate everything. In fact, there may be certain project scenarios where it is more advantageous to rely on manual testing to ensure that all aspects of the project are thoroughly evaluated, especially if certain areas have not been adequately covered.

Given these considerations, a key question arises:

  • Which method will best suit my current project? 🧐

In this article, we will explore approaches to finding the optimal balance

between automated and manual testing methods for quality assurance teams based on the project needs. However, before we answer this question let’s briefly take a look at manual and automated QA, along with their respective pros and cons.

Manual vs Automated QA: Which is better? 🤖 vs 🤚

In all likelihood, one would expect a simple answer: “Automation”. However, practice tells us a more nuanced story. Both approaches to testing have their use in a test management and product development cycle. First, let’s take a closer look at what is manual, and what is automated testing:

🖐️Manual testing -> is the process in which the QA tester is planning, designing, and executing tests one by one. The goal of MQA is to identify and report bugs/defects/errors before the software is released. Manual Testers validate and verify

key components of the application along with edge cases and scenarios that can never happen in real-life usage. Additionally, testers often engage in ad hoc testing, which can be an effective method for discovering new bugs and issues during regression testing. MQA does not require any special tools, frameworks, etc.

🤖QA Automation -> is the process of leveraging software tools and frameworks to execute test cases and scenarios. Automation allows more tests to be executed in less time, which shortens the feedback cycle for software issues and health. Automated testing is a great choice for regression and for confirming the software in question functions as expected. For example, it is a great way to ensure that a production application is fully functional after small changes to the code are released without involving any testers.

In conclusion, testing manually is time-consuming and tedious. However, by testing manually we can better handle complex scenarios regardless of the complexity of the software and without any additional technical efforts. Automation, on the other hand, requires coding and maintenance. But it will significantly improve time consumption on testing regression or on repetitive tasks that must be done before each release/build.

In Comparison 🔍

Let’s use a simple table to compare Automation and Manual testing to get a clearer view. We will compare the two approaches using four different aspects: Test Coverage / Regression, Test Execution, Test Efficiency, and Types of Tasks:

Finding the Perfect Balance ☯️

Now that we have a brief overview of both testing methods, how do we know which method we should choose? Keep in mind that it’s best to have both testing methods on board, and the primary question should be: “which method is better suited to meet the project requirements?”

MANUAL TESTING 🖐️

Here are a few examples of instances where Manual testing is preferred over automation:

  • ⚡ When the project’s designs/logic, etc. are frequently changing and we need more flexibility.

We must point out that manual testing is not always as precise as automation testing. However, this approach allows testers to have more flexibility while testing new features/components, etc. Let’s remember that with manual testing, a tester can provide quick and easy test results and feedback regarding a new feature of a chosen aspect of the software. By contrast, Automation requires time upfront for setup, framework testing, writing scripts, testing those scripts to ensure they work as expected, and confirming every assertion is well written. Automation does not allow the team to test ideas quickly and easily as opposed to manual testing, where a tester can use ad-hoc techniques while checking critical paths and other additional parts of the code.

  • 📅 When the project is defined as a “short-term”

Automation, as we mentioned earlier, requires a lot of resources to set up, test the framework, plan, code, test the code, and maintain -> all of this requires time and effort from all team members which may be redundant for a short-term project. One more thing that should be pointed out is that in short-term projects, automation can be expensive with relatively little reward. The upfront cost of automation may outweigh the return on investment and the value that the completed project offers. In this case, manual QA would likely be a more cost-effective and beneficial option overall for the bottom line.

  • ⚙️In Highly complex user scenarios or Test Scenarios that are not validated repeatedly

While test frameworks have improved significantly in recent years, they can still be vulnerable when it comes to handling complex user scenarios. In some cases, manual testing may be the most efficient option for saving time. Additionally, manual testing can help reduce the risk of false negatives.

  • 🤗 UX and exploratory testing, and User Acceptance Testing

Test Frameworks and computers do not have original thought — they simply run code to determine whether designed test cases will pass or fail according to implemented assertions. Automation will not provide you or your clients with a business analysis or feedback that a manual tester would give while using the product. Exploratory testing and usability testing need human eyes and thoughts, robots are good with repetitive tasks, but ineffective at exploring and following intuition.

The points above should help identify scenarios where manual QA should be prioritized over automation. This approach can yield significant benefits, including improved productivity and better overall product quality. By carefully considering when to use manual testing, teams can optimize their testing processes and achieve better outcomes.

QA Automation 🤖

Based on what we have discussed thus far we can distinguish 5 main types of testing where the use of automation is most beneficial for the project:

  • 📑Regression Testing

Automating regression testing can help teams quickly test applications and products to ensure that critical paths are working as expected after each update. By creating a list of necessary checks, teams can efficiently confirm any areas of the product that may be vulnerable to the latest changes, all while significantly reducing the time needed for regression testing.

  • ⏱️Load Testing

It’s highly recommended for every WEB application to plan and implement load testing which can find critical bottlenecks under peak and normal conditions. It is preferred to use special load-testing frameworks or plugins.

  • 🏃Performance Testing

This type of testing does not have a manual counterpart. Machines can simulate hundreds or even thousands of users at the same time, which can provide quick and reliable feedback on the application’s performance.

  • ♾️Repetitive tasks

Tasks that require testing an integration or other parts of an application on a frequent basis, such as daily or hourly, are often better suited for automation. By using scripts to automate these tests, teams can save time and resources that would otherwise be spent on manual testing. Not only does this help teams optimize their testing processes, but it can also lead to cost savings.

  • 🎨Advanced GUI Testing

In cases where the graphical interface is a critical aspect of the application, automating GUI testing can be a valuable time- and cost-saving strategy. These tests are designed to detect and track differences in the application pixel by pixel after each build, using either a snapshot method or real-time comparison. Additionally, GUI tests can be run simultaneously on different browsers, operating systems, and devices, allowing teams to ensure consistency and functionality across a wide range of platforms.

The biggest advantage of automation in QA is that it allows teams to do much more testing in significantly less time. It has a huge positive influence on team productivity and expands the test coverage far beyond what could be accomplished with Manual testing in a given amount of time.

Wrapping It Up…

When considering the merits of manual versus automation testing, it’s clear that both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. While automation is ideal for simpler, repetitive tasks, manual testing is better suited for more complex test cases and usability testing. However, this doesn’t mean that one approach should replace the other. Instead, the most effective testing strategies will often involve a combination of both manual and automation testing.

In other words, manual testing is still important and will remain so in the future (at least until AI is able to improvise and provide end-user feedback much as a human would) 😅 However, we need to keep in mind that automated testing makes manual testing much more efficient!

In order to achieve the best results in software testing, it’s important to strike a balance between manual and automated approaches. Rather than relying solely on one method or the other, teams should aim to utilize each approach according to the situation at hand. By carefully considering which tasks are best suited for automation, and which require manual testing, teams can optimize their processes, save time and resources, and avoid unnecessary problems and headaches. 😵 💫

We have seen that both testing types have strong pros but also, somewhat aggravating cons.

When you analyze your future project to determine a testing strategy, keep these bullet points in mind:

  • No matter how many plugins you use and which advanced test framework you choose -> Automating everything is impossible!
  • Manual testing plays an important role in SDLC and is a best practice whenever the process is not suitable for automation
  • Manual testing & Automation testing are best buddies 🤝

Do you have any queries or require assistance with QA? Get in touch with us at hello@airnauts.com today! Our team of experts specializes in all aspects of technology, design, and digital strategy and is always available to support you. Let’s collaborate and shape the future together.

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