Sunday 23 July 2017

Exploring the top of the testing pyramid: End-to-end and user interface testing

A few weeks ago I found myself in a circular conversation about end-to-end testing. I felt like I was at odds with my colleague, but couldn't figure out why. Eventually we realised that we each had a different understanding of what end-to-end meant in the testing that we were discussing.

That conversation lead to this poll on Twitter:

The poll results show that roughly a quarter of respondents considered end-to-end testing to be primarily about the infrastructure stack, while the remaining majority considered it from the perspective of their customer workflow. Odds are that this ratio means I'm not the only person who has experienced a confusing conversation about end-to-end tests.

I started to think about the complexity that is hidden at the top of the testing pyramid. The model states that the smallest number of tests to automate are those at the peak, labelled as end-to-end (E2E) or user interface (UI) tests.

Testing Pyramid by Mike Cohn

These labels are used in the test pyramid interchangeably, but end-to-end and user interface testing are not synonymous. I can think of seven different types of automation that might be labelled by one or either of those two terms:

Seven example of user interface and/or end-to-end testing

The table above might be confusing without examples, so here are a few from my own experience.

1. User interface; Not full infrastructure stack; Not entire workflow

In my current organisation we have a single page JavaScript application that allows the user to perform complex interactions through modal overlays. We run targeted tests against this application, through the browser, using static responses in place of our real middleware and mainframe systems. 

This suite is not end-to-end in any sense. We focus on the front-end of our infrastructure and test pieces of our customer workflows. We could call this suite user interface testing.

2. User interface; Full infrastructure stack; Not entire workflow

I previously worked with an application that was consuming data feeds from a third party provider. We were writing a user interface that displayed the results of calculations that relied on these feeds as input. We had a suite of tests that ran through the user interface to test each result in isolation.

Multiple calculations made up a workflow, so the tests did not cover an entire customer journey. However they did rely on the third-party feed being available to return test data to our application, so they were end-to-end from an infrastructure perspective. In this team we used the terms user interface tests and end-to-end tests interchangeably when talking about this suite.

3. User interface; Not full infrastructure stack; Entire workflow

In my current organisation we have an online banking application written largely in Java. Different steps of a workflow, such as making a payment, each display separately on a dedicated page. We have a suite of tests that run through the common workflows to test that everything is connected correctly.

This suite executes tests through the browser against the deployed web application, but uses mocked responses instead of calling the back-end systems. It is a suite that targets workflows. We could call this a user interface or end-to-end suite.

4. User interface; Full infrastructure stack; Entire workflow

In the same product as the first example, there is another suite of automation that runs through the user interface against the full infrastructure stack to test the entire customer workflow. We interact with the application using test data that is provisioned across all the dependent systems and the tests perform all the steps in a customer journey. We could call this suite user interface or end-to-end testing.

5. No user interface; Full infrastructure stack; Not entire workflow

In my current organisation we have a team working on development of open APIs. There is no user interface for the API as a product. The team have a test suite that interacts with their APIs and relies on the supporting systems to be active: databases, middleware, mainframe, and dependencies to other APIs.

These tests are end-to-end from an infrastructure perspective, but their test scope is narrow. They interrogate successful and failing responses for individual requests, rather than looking at the sequence of activities that would be performed by a customer.

6. No user interface; Not full infrastructure stack; Entire workflow

Earlier in my career I worked in telecommunications. I used to install, configure, and test the call control and charging software within cellphone networks. We had an in-house test tool that we could use to trigger scripted traffic through our software. This meant that we could bypass the radio network and use scripts to test that a call would be processed correctly, from when a person dialed the number to when they ended the call, without needing to use a mobile device.

These automated tests were end-to-end tests from a workflow perspective, even though there was no user interface and we weren't using the entire network infrastructure.

7. No user interface, Full infrastructure stack; Entire workflow

The API team in the fifth example have a second automated suite where a single test performs multiple API requests in sequence, passing data between calls to emulate a customer workflow. These tests are end-to-end from both the infrastructure and the customer experience perspective.

As these examples illustrate, end-to-end and user interface testing can mean different things depending on the product under test and the test strategy adopted by a team. If you work in an organisation where you label your test automation with one of these terms, it may be worth checking that there is truly a shared understanding of what your tests are doing. Different perspectives of test coverage can create opportunities for bugs to be missed.

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Test Automation Canvas

Test automation frameworks grow incrementally, which means that their design and structure can change over time. As testers learn more about the product that they are testing and improve their automation skills, this can reflect in their code.

Recently I've been working with a group of eight testers who belong to four different agile teams that are all working on the same set of products. Though the testers regularly meet to share ideas, their test automation code had started to diverge. The individual testers had mostly been learning independently.

A manager from the team saw these differences emerging and felt concerned that the automated test coverage was becoming inconsistent between the four teams. The differences they saw in testing made them question whether there were differences in the quality of delivery. They asked me to determine a common approach to automated test coverage by running a one hour workshop.

I am external to the team and have limited understanding of their context. I did not want to change or challenge the existing approach or ideas from this position, particularly given the technical skills that I could see demonstrated by the testers themselves. I suspected that there were good reasons for what they were doing, but perhaps not enough communication.

I decided that a first step would be to create an activity that would get the testers talking to each other, gather information from these conversations, then summarise the results to share with the wider team.

To do this, I thought a bit about the attributes of a test automation framework. The primary reason that I had been engaged was to discuss test coverage. But coverage is a response to risk and constraints, so I wanted to know what those were too. I was curious about the mechanics of the suites: dependencies, test data, source control, and continuous integration. I had also heard varying reports about who was writing and reviewing automation in each team, so I wanted to talk about engagement and maintenance of code.

I settled on a list of nine key areas:

  1. RISKS - What potential problems does this suite mitigate? Why does it exist?
  2. COVERAGE - What does this suite do?
  3. CONSTRAINTS - What has prevented us from implementing this suite in an ideal way? What are our known workarounds?
  4. DEPENDENCIES - What systems or tools have to be functional for this suite to run successfully?
  5. DATA - Do we mock, query, or inject? How is test data managed?
  6. VERSIONING - Is there source control? What is the branching model for this suite?
  7. EXECUTION - Is the suite part of a pipeline? How often does it run? How long does it take? Is it stable?
  8. ENGAGEMENT - Who created the suite? Who contributes to it now? Who is not involved, but should be?
  9. MAINTAINABILITY - What is the code review process? What documentation exists?

I decided to put these prompts into an A3 canvas format, similar to a lean canvas or an opportunity canvas. I thought that this format would create a balance between conversation and written record, as I wanted both to happen simultaneously.

Here is the blank Test Automation Canvas that I created:

A blank Test Automation Canvas

On the day of the workshop, the eight testers identified four separate automation suites under active development. They then self-selected into pairs, with each pair taking a blank canvas to complete.

It took approximately 20 minutes to discuss and record the information in the canvas. I asked them to complete the nine sections in the order that they are numbered in the earlier list: risks, coverage, constraints, dependencies, data, versioning, execution, engagement, and maintainability.

Examples of completed Test Automation Canvas

Then I asked the pairs to stick their completed canvas on the wall. We spent five minutes circling the room, silently reading the information that each pair had provided. As everyone had been thinking deeply about one specific area, this time was to switch to thinking broadly.

In the last 15 minutes, we finished by visiting each canvas in turn as a group. I asked two questions at each canvas to prompt group discussion: is anything unclear and is anything missing. This raised a few new ideas, and some misunderstanding between different teams, so notes were added into the canvas'.

After the workshop, I took the information from the canvas' to create a single A3 summary of all four automation frameworks, plus the exploratory testing that is performed using a separate tool:

Example of Test Automation Summary

In the image above, each row is a different framework. The columns are rationale, coverage, dependencies, mechanics, and improvement opportunities. Within mechanics are versioning, review, pipeline, contributors and data.

I shared this summary image in a group chat channel for the testers to give their feedback. This led to a number of small revisions and uncovered one final misunderstanding. Now I think that we have a reference point that clearly states the collective understanding of test automation among the testers. The next step is to share this information with the wider team.

I hope that having this information recorded in a simple way will create a consistent basis for future iterations of the frameworks. If the testers respect the underlying rationale of the suite and satisfy the high-level coverage categories, then slight differences in technical implementation are less likely to create the perception that there is a problem.

The summary should also support testers to give feedback in their code reviews. I hope that it provides a reference to aid constructive criticism of code that does not adhere to the statements that have been agreed. This should help keep the different teams on a similar path.

Finally, I hope that the summary improves visibility of the test automation frameworks for the developers, business people, and managers who work in these teams. I believe that the testers are doing some amazing work and hope that this reference will promote their efforts.