Managers do care about money, don’t get me wrong. But choosing a tool based on cost alone is foolish, and I believe that most managers will recognise this.
Instead of making cost the primary decision making attribute, where possible defer the question of cost until you’re asking for investment. Your role as the testing expert in a conversation about choosing a tool is to advocate for the other aspects of the tool, beyond cost, that are important to consider.
SupportYou want to choose a tool that is well supported so that you know help is available if you encounter problems.
If you’re purchasing a tool from a vendor, is it formally supported? Will your organisation have a contractual arrangement with the tool vendor in the event that something goes wrong? What type of response time can you expect when you encounter issues, or have questions? Is the support offered within your time zone? In New Zealand, there is rarely support offered within our working hours, which makes every issue an overnight feedback loop. This has a big impact in a fast-paced delivery environment.
If it’s an open source tool, or a popular vendor tool, how is it supported by documentation and the user community? When you search for information about the tool online, do you see a lot of posts? Are they from people across the world? Are their posts in your language? Have questions posted in forums or discussion groups been responded to? Does the provided documentation look useful? Can you gauge whether there are people operating at an expert level within the toolset, or is everything you see online about people experimenting or encountering problems at an entry level?
The other aspect of support is to consider how often you’ll need it. If the tool is well designed, hopefully it’s relatively intuitive to use. A lack of online community may mean that the tool itself is of a quality where people don’t need to seek assistance beyond it. They know what to do. They can reach an expert level using the resources provided with the tool.
Longevity is not just about the first release, but how the tool has been maintained and updated. How often is the tool itself changing? When did the last update occur? Is it still under active development? As a general rule, you probably don’t want to pick a tool that isn’t evolving to test a technology that is.
IntegrationIntegration is a broad term and there are different things to consider here.
How does the tool integrate with the other parts of your technology? Depending on what you’re going to test, this may or may not be important. In my organisation, our web services automation usually sits in a separate code base to our web applications, but our selenium-based browser tests sit in the same code base as the product. This means that it doesn’t really matter what technology our web services automation uses, but the implementation of our selenium-based suite must remain compatible with the decisions and direction of developers and architects.
What skills are required to use the tool and do they align with the skills in your organisation? If you have existing frameworks for the same type of testing that use a different tool, consider whether a divergent solution really makes sense. Pause to evaluate how the tool might integrate with the people in your organisation, including training and the impact of shifting expectations, before you look further afield.
Integration is also about whether the test tool will integrate with the development environment or software development process that the team use. If you want the developers in your team to get involved in your test automation, then this is a really important factor to consider when choosing a tool. The smaller the context switch for them to contribute to test code, the better. If they can use the same code repository, the same IDE development environment on their machine, and their existing skills in a particular coding language, then you’re much more likely to succeed in getting them active in your solution. Similarly, if the tool can support multiple people working on tests at the same time, do clean merging from multiple authors, offer a mechanism for review or feedback, these are all useful points to consider related to integration of the tool to your team.
AnalyseIn a conversation with management about choosing a tool, your success comes from your ability to articulate why a particular tool is better than another, not just in it’s technical solution. Demonstrate that you’ve thought broadly about the implications of your choice, and how it will impact on your organisation now and in the future.
It’s worth spending time to prepare for a conversation about tools. Look at all the options available in the bucket of possible tools and evaluate them broadly. Make cost the lesser concern, by speaking passionately about the benefits of your chosen solution in terms of support, longevity and integration, along with any other aspects that may be a consideration in your environment.
You may not always get the tool that you’d like, but a decision that has been made by a manager based on information you’ve shared, that has come from a well-thought through analysis of the options available, is a lot easier to accept than a decision made blindly or solely based on cost.