Plenty of organizations want to improve their quality processes nowadays by jumping aboard the test automation train, and with good reason. More companies and their teams are learning about the benefits of automated testers—faster development cycles, improved stability, quicker deployments, the potential for continuous delivery, and so on. However, the transition from an entirely manual testing practice to an automated one can sometimes be a rocky one.

Going into test automation when there is none can lead to a lot of overwhelm among testers. Often, an organization fosters these feelings by diving into the automation trend without putting much thought into the process or the people who will do the work. Team members who are excellent testers but don't have much experience with test automation get assigned to these roles, or developers get tasked with setting up automation but don't have a solid grasp of good testing practices. Whatever the reason is, it leads to situations where overall quality takes a hit because people feel out of their element while getting pulled in multiple directions without a clear path.

It's rarely a straight path when any team or company begins to implement different workflows or processes. Every organization has its ups and downs as everyone settles into a comfortable groove and gets used to what's new. It's no different with test automation. The process will take time, but those first couple of days or weeks may feel intimidating. If you're a tester working in a company transitioning toward automated practices and don't know where to begin, here are a few tips to help make your journey smoother.

Understand why the organization wants test automation and how it will help

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, companies have lots of reasons to establish an automated testing routine for your team and beyond. For example, a company might want to improve regression testing times and stability after shipping, making a product's time to market shorter and reducing customer support inquiries over time. Depending on your current situation and desired goals, test automation can help the long-term goals spanning multiple areas of an organization, from engineering and product to marketing and sales.

Before implementing a new test automation strategy, it's crucial to understand the "why" behind the work. Getting clear with the expectations about what this kind of testing can and can't do will help everyone start on the right foot. No one wants to spend weeks or months on testing only to realize their vision doesn't align with the organization's goals. If you're unclear about the intentions behind automating some of your testing processes, ask the team leads or stakeholders for clarification as early as possible.

Knowing why the work is essential from an organizational standpoint also serves to raise red flags as early as possible in the process. Some teams and organizations think that automation is a silver bullet that will solve all their testing needs. When left unchecked, these beliefs will lead them to believe that everything related to testing can be automated, manual testing will become a thing of the past, and their products automatically become bug-free. Setting expectations early on will avoid any disappointment caused by these unrealistic views.

You should also set expectations for the work you're responsible for when the new processes get put into play. Nothing causes testers more overwhelm than getting assigned tasks and deadlines that don't fit their current skillset. For example, if you don't know much about programming or automated testing, you're going to need some time to brush up on those skills, so your organization shouldn't expect you to have something up and running in a few days. You might need some training or additional resources, so it's best to let your team know where you're at in your journey so you can have the best chance to succeed.

Start small and don't over-do your testing

Once an organization decides to begin moving into test automation, it's time to take action. A common strategy given to testers when moving from manual testing to automated testing is to have them split their time equally between both tasks. The expectation is to have them spend half of their day on the newer automated tasks while doing their usual manual and exploratory tests.

The problem with that 50-50 split is that it never works when starting out with test automation and is one of the quickest paths to overwhelm and burnout. Imagine that your project has 100 defined test cases that you and your team go through in a given week. If the expectation is to split half your time between manual and automated testing, that means your team should be working on automating at least 50 of those test cases on top of everyone's everyday work. Do you think you'll be able to take that on, especially if you're just getting started with test automation?

It's improbable you'll have the time and availability to work on that transition. It'll often lead to less time spent overall on manual and automated tests since they require a different kind of focus for each. Any tester who's juggled two or more entirely different tasks knows how context switching wreaks havoc on one's output. In my experience, this kind of schedule leads testers to think they're not cut out for test automation because they won't be able to keep up with their perceived expectations.

At the start of any test automation project, start small. Take the necessary steps to implement one or two automated tests once you're clear about the team's goals with this process. You don't need to rush through automating dozens of test cases at the start. In fact, going too fast will be detrimental in the long run because you won't have a clear picture of how your new strategy will play out at this point. Just build enough of your test suite to begin demonstrating its value and show how it'll help the rest of your organization, and the next steps will start taking shape.

Monitor your process and ramp it up when you're comfortable

After you spend some time building your test suite and have a few tests working well, you'll have a solid foundation for your test automation strategy moving forward. It's now an excellent time to review what you've done so far. Going back to why your organization is spending time establishing these processes, you now have a better idea of how to build towards those goals. Being able to see the path ahead clearly does wonders in eliminating the stress and overwhelm you may have felt at the beginning of this journey.

Keeping an eye on what you've done and what you need to do next isn't a one-time effort, though. You'll need to continuously monitor the work done to plan your next moves better and course-correct if needed. It also helps you and your team determine the right tests for you to focus your attention on automating. If you don't track your progress frequently and adjust as needed, you risk straying far off course and will have a rough time getting back on the right path.

With a clear picture of your goals, where you currently are in the process, and what you need to do next, you can begin ramping up your efforts. You can go about this in different ways. Individually, you can simply write more automated tests—you'll have more experience under your belt to keep forging ahead. However, a more efficient way to boost your automation strategy is by scaling out your efforts to others across the team. Having a solid foundation established makes it easier for others in your organization to contribute.

One thing to keep in mind during this ramping-up phase is maintainability. Writing more tests and onboarding more testers to help out can quickly spiral out of control if there aren't any checks in place to ensure the long-term health of the work. Some teams may feel pressured to show value by writing as many automated tests as possible without thinking about how it can make the tests less practical over time with slow test runs, flakiness, and so on. While keeping a healthy test automation strategy becomes more complex with more people involved, keeping your test suites easy to manage over time is crucial for the process to survive for the long haul.

Remember, you don't have to automate everything

Once a test automation strategy becomes an essential part of an organization, a thought inevitably pops up across the team: "We need to automate more! How can we add more test automation to our existing processes?" When others begin to see the value of an automated test suite and how it's helped them with their work, it's not uncommon to want to do more with it. I've even had clients ask me—after setting up a test automation pipeline for their organization—about how we can automate every single test case and workflow for their application and phase out manual testing.

My usual response to this is what this article mentioned earlier: test automation is not a silver bullet, and it will not solve all your testing woes. Test automation is a wonderful tool to help teams deliver high-quality applications. But all the benefits it provides don't come for free. There's a cost to implementing and maintaining an automated testing strategy. Organizations need skilled testers to build and keep tools and systems up to date. Things will inevitably break due to changes in the underlying architecture that take attention away from other tasks. The deeper an organization is with test automation, the more needed resources to build and maintain it.

Automation can take away the repetitive and tedious parts of a tester's work, but it also has its own set of issues. A broken or flaky automated test can't magically fix itself, nor will it automatically deprecate itself when it's no longer needed. More than that, automation will never match a person's conscious reasoning and insight—one of the most important attributes required for successful and efficient testing. The best way to handle quality in any organization is by keeping a steady balance between manual, exploratory, and automated testing. Never attempt to cut corners with automation.


With more companies diving into test automation and reaping the benefits, it can unintentionally create a lot of stress and anxiety across the team. Establishing a successful test automation strategy requires its own unique set of skills and knowledge to see through to its initial completion. For some testers, it might feel like a sudden wave of work comes crashing down on them, and they find themselves not knowing how to handle this new paradigm. Setting up any new processes in a company will never be a pain-free experience, and getting started with test automation is no different. But you can always find ways to smooth out the initial bumpy road.

It starts with understanding all expectations with the new automation process early and smoking out any warning signs. With reasonable expectations in place, it's time to take action by starting with the minimum steps you can take to begin showing value and avoiding taking on too much at the beginning. Starting small helps you form a clearer picture of what to do next. Keep an eye on your progress to stay on track with your company's goals before ramping up your efforts. Finally, keep in mind that test automation doesn't replace all other forms of testing, so make sure you balance the new automation with manual and exploratory tests.

If you're placed in this situation and don't know where to even begin, these tips will hopefully give you a strong starting point towards a robust test automation strategy that will serve your organization for years to come.

What strategies do you employ when you start to feel overwhelmed with test automation? Share your tips with your fellow testers in the comments section below!