Manual QA vs. Automation QA Testing

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Have you ever been faced with the choice between manual and automation testing? This decision goes far beyond just picking a separate testing method or evaluating what each option brings to your project individually. In most cases, it’s not about choosing one over the other; it’s about using both to the fullest and finding a middle ground between them. And today, we’re going to talk about this middle ground.

Striking an ideal balance between these two key aspects of quality management can significantly influence the outcome of your entire project. However, to find such a balance, you need to understand both manual testing and automation testing perfectly. Here, we will answer some of the most frequent questions regarding each testing approach and how you can use both in the most efficient way. So, without further ado, let’s go!

What is manual testing?

Manual testing is the alpha and omega of any quality assurance services. This process involves direct human interaction with the software to uncover defects and ensure functionality meets the intended project requirements. Unlike automated testing, which relies on pre-written scripts to execute tests, manual testing involves QA professionals and developers manually executing test cases without the aid of special automation tools. This hands-on approach enables the tester to experience the application from the end-user perspective, providing unique insights into user experience, interface design, accessibility, and overall usability.

Manual testing is particularly suited for scenarios where human intuition and interaction play a critical role, such as exploratory testing, usability testing, and the initial development stages where the software is still evolving. Critical assessment of the product may be especially useful at the initial stages when a seasoned QA specialist can provide the development team with invaluable advice about what will work and what will not from his practice. 

A big part of the importance of quality assurance is hidden in assessing user experience, where automation is practically impossible. You still need a human to understand how an actual human actually perceives the user journey. 

What is Manual QA?

In this case, the general rule is that manual testing is preferred when testing requires complex setup conditions that are difficult to replicate with automated scripts or when the project scope is too small to justify the investment in automation setup.

What is automation testing?

Automation testing is a lot like manual testing (as it is also testing eventually), but automation leverages software tools and scripts to execute a wide array of tests automatically. Contrary to manual testing, which requires a hands-on approach to identify bugs and assess the quality of certain aspects of the product, automation uses pre-defined test cases to systematically verify the software’s performance, security, and other “stable” functionality elements. This approach can be used for rapid testing on many devices and settings at once, potentially increasing testing coverage and making it very efficient when it comes to the scale effect.

Comparing automation testing vs. manual testing, it’s clear that automation is an ideal solution for repetitive tasks, such as regression testing, where the same set of operations needs to be validated after each particular update to ensure the new changes haven’t introduced any new errors. From this perspective, automated testing can be easily integrated into the continuous integration and delivery pipeline, allowing for continuous testing throughout the software development lifecycle. This ensures that issues are identified and addressed early, improving the overall software quality metrics. Additionally, automation testing not only saves time and resources but also provides a level of precision and reliability that is hard to achieve with manual testing alone.

What is Automation QA?

In the case of automation testing, the general rule is to opt for automation testing when the project demands frequent testing over a wide range of scenarios or when the tests need to be executed repeatedly over a long period. 

When to use automated vs. manual testing?

To find an answer to this question, we should, first of all, define which type of testing can be automated and which cannot.

What should be automated in most cases?

  • Regression testing: Due to their inherent repetitive nature, automating these tests ensures that new changes do not break existing functionalities, saving time and resources.
  • Load testing: This kind of testing can be automated to assess how the system performs under heavy loads, which is a repetitive process and, therefore, doesn’t require specific human interactions with software.
  • API testing: Since APIs are the backbone of application communication, automating these tests efficiently verifies interaction reliability, functionality, and security. Automation of this test can help with the development and deployment speed.
  • Unit testing: Unit testing is a routine and repetitive task usually done by software engineers. It allows developers to check if individual units of code work independently quickly. Although such a low-level test automation is quite easy, it will enable developers to significantly facilitate bug detention anyway.
  • Performance testing: Performance testing provides insights into the application’s responsiveness and stability while not typically requiring too much human attention. In this way, it’s another testing type that is worth to be automated in most cases.
  • Integration testing: By automating, you verify the seamless operation of combined units or services in a faster and more reliable way. Automation, in this case, is particularly beneficial for complex systems.

Which tests can be automated depending on the situation?

  • Sanity testing: Automating testing processes, in this case, may be a good idea for ensuring that a specific set of functionalities remains unaffected after minor code changes. However, it’s not the best idea when changes are significant and could benefit from the nuanced understanding and flexibility of manual testing to explore unforeseen impacts.
  • Security testing: Automation is beneficial for regular scanning and identifying known vulnerabilities across the application, making it an essential component of a proactive security posture. Yet, sophisticated security threats often require the depth of analysis only manual testers can offer (especially when working with sensitive data).
  • Cross-browser testing: Automation shines when you need to quickly verify that an application’s critical paths work across multiple browser environments, saving significant time and resources. However, it’s less effective considering the full user journey or specific rendering issues within browsers, where only manual testing can provide a full assessment.
  • GUI testing: Automating GUI testing is beneficial for consistently checking basic interface elements and functionality across different screen sizes and resolutions. However, it’s still questionable in the scenario when the focus is on the finer aspects of design, user interaction, and overall aesthetic appeal, as these still require the discerning eye of a human tester.
What types of testing can be automated?

Which tests are not worth automating and should remain manual?

  • Exploratory testing: This approach to testing leverages human testers and their creativity to uncover unexpected issues. It is typically used in scenarios where structured testing falls short.
  • Usability testing: Direct user feedback on the application’s ease of use and appeal is best captured through manual effort. Also, in this vein, automation testing cannot provide valuable insights into user experience and user journey.
  • Ad-hoc testing: The spontaneous nature of ad-hoc testing relies only on human insight to identify unique bugs, something automation cannot replicate.
  • Visual UI testing: Manual tests are crucial for assessing any kind of visual aspects and ensuring the application’s visual appeal meets user expectations. Basically, automated tests aren’t a suitable solution for visual testing, as they can’t perceive subtleties.

Differential analysis: Manual QA vs. Automation QA testing 

Comparing manual vs. automation testing, though, it is not only the scope of use that can be helpful. Here, we provided further information regarding both manual and automation testing, highlighting key differences between them.

Differential factorManual QA testingAutomation QA testing
Scope of testing:Ideal for exploratory, usability, and ad-hoc testingBest for regression, load, performance, and any repeated testing
Time efficiency:Time-consuming, slower processes due to manual executionFaster, can run tests repeatedly and quickly without significant human intervention
Cost initial and long-term:Lower initial cost, higher long-term due to ongoing human effortHigher initial investment, lower long-term due to automation. Also, take note that the salaries of QA automation specialists are, on average, 30-50% higher than manual testers.
Test execution:Prone to errors/fatigue because performed by human testersConsistent and reliable as performed by tools and scripts. Mistakes are possible mostly in the interpretation stage.
Test environment suitability:Flexible, can adapt to changes and undefined scenarios.Requires a stable environment and well-defined scenarios.
Skill requirements:Requires testers’ intuition, understanding, and adaptability.Requires programming skills and particular technology knowledge for script creation and maintenance.
Feedback and insights:Good for qualitative feedback and understanding of user experience.Good for quantitative data, detailed logs, and error reports.
ScalabilityLimited by human resources, not easily scalable.Highly scalable, can handle thousands of test cases.

Manual testing vs. Automation testing: Choosing the optimal approach

Choosing the optimal approach in manual QA vs. automation QA testing begins with a thorough understanding of your project’s needs, complexities, and the specific types of testing it demands. This accession is essential to ensure that your testing strategy corresponds to the real product and its requirements.

Basically, the general rule looks as follows: For projects in their initial stages or those with complex features requiring detailed evaluation of technical nuances and user experience, manual testing should be your primary choice. Also, it should be said that almost any kind of collaboration with quality assurance specialists should be started with a manual testing process. As the project matures and reaches stability, automation testing becomes an invaluable asset. Automation is designed for efficiency, helping to manage repetitive tests, such as regression and load testing, thereby saving time and resources.

In practical terms, integrating manual and automation testing often starts with manual exploration to comprehensively map out the application and its user interface. As the project evolves, testers begin to create automation test scripts for areas that have become stable, including regular regression and load testing. This combination supports continuous integration and delivery paradigm by enabling automated tests to frequently identify any issues early on, while manual testing is reserved for examining new or intricate features needing a closer look. As the project advances and more features solidify, there’s a natural shift towards more automation, which allows testers to allocate more time to exploratory testing, usability, and other aspects where automation is impossible. This balanced and constantly evolving approach proves to be effective for a wide range of digital products, ensuring thorough coverage and high-quality outcomes.

The cost of testing over time

Manual QA vs. Automation QA: When should tests be automated?

Let’s consider a hypothetical situation with a web-based e-commerce application that is scheduled for multiple releases over the next year, each introducing new features and improvements. The application has a global user base, requiring it to function seamlessly across a broad range of browsers, devices, and operating systems. With each new release, you should ensure that new changes do not break existing functionalities. Automating regression tests, in this case, allows testing of all critical pathways every time the codebase is updated. The same applies to load testing, which is used to simulate thousands of users accessing the site simultaneously. Load tests can identify how the system behaves under peak stress conditions, and that’s also a repetitive task; therefore, in both cases, you should automate testing as soon as possible.

However, manual testing still remains vital for assessing user experience, conducting final reviews before launch, or ensuring accessibility. In this case (just like in most cases), a balanced approach when both automation and manual testing are used is a good solution. It will involve integrating manual testing from the start, scaling up the manual testing team as development progresses, and introducing automation for efficiency as soon as your team faces the first repetitive tasks. By aligning the strengths of both manual and automation testing, our hypothetical e-commerce platform can receive invaluable human insight into usability and user satisfaction combined with the efficiency and coverage of automation. It’s how it usually works.

Manual and automation testing: To wrap things up

As can be seen from the aforementioned, both software testing manual and automation approaches play indispensable roles in the development lifecycle, each bringing a unique set of pros and cons to the table. Manual testing cannot be replaced by any tool or mechanism due to its ability to provide a human perspective on user experience and visual appeal. Manual testers explore the software in a way that mimics real-world user interactions, offering feedback that can be a real key to success. On the other hand, automation testing excels in efficiency, consistency, and the ability to perform extensive routine testing tasks across multiple platforms and environments swiftly. It is a key to making repetitive testing processes easier. 

In most cases, you are not choosing one approach but choosing the way to combine them to fit your specific project requirements perfectly. It definitely shouldn’t be seen as an either/or proposition but as the strategic blend of the human eye with well-optimized automated scripts that will take the burden of the routine task off human testers. If you have any further questions regarding quality management, don’t hesitate to give us a call. At ELITEX, we specialize in both manual and automated QA, boasting a team of seasoned experts ready to consult and define your bespoke QA strategy perfectly suited for your unique business needs. Interested in learning more? Contact ELITEX today to schedule a free consultation that will make a difference.

Why should you choose ELITEX?

Manual QA vs. Automation QA testing FAQ

What is the difference between manual QA vs. automation QA testing?

The main difference between manual and automation testing is in the way how the tests are executed. In the case of manual testing, human testers don’t use automation tools and execute tests manually, focusing on exploratory and user experience testing. Automation QA testing uses software tools to run test cases automatically, which is ideal for repetitive tasks and regression testing.

In what scenarios is manual testing preferred over automation testing?

Manual testing is preferred for exploratory, usability, and ad-hoc testing scenarios where human judgment and intuition are crucial for assessing user interface, user experience, and overall software quality.

What is more expensive, manual vs. automation testing?

Initially, automation testing is more expensive due to the costs associated with setting up the automation framework and developing test scripts. However, over time, it can become cost-effective for repetitive testing, while manual testing costs remain consistent due to the continuous need for human resources.

What is the impact of manual vs. automated testing on the overall time-to-market for a new software product?

When comparing manual vs. automation testing, it’s important to understand that both don’t impact development speed significantly, as the biggest part of the work is parallel to coding. For sure, manual testing is inherently slower than automation. Also, it is worth mentioning that such things as pre-release testing may slow down the release for a bit in case significant bugs are detected. In this vein, automating as many testing processes as you can has a positive effect on time-to-market.

What role does manual testing play in ensuring software quality compared to automated testing?

If we are talking about a well-organized development process, manual testing provides insights into user experience, usability, and visual appeal, which automated testing cannot fully assess. At the same time, automation specialists should automatize everything can be automated (repetitive testing tasks), such as regression and load testing. Here, manual testing should complement automated testing by covering areas that require human judgment and intuition.

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