How to Implement Efficient Automated Testing in Agile

In this guide, we'll explain the basics of automated testing in the Agile methodology, how to implement it, and suggest ways to call on specialist help when you need it.

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by Matias Emiliano Alvarez Duran


Software development without an efficient testing workflow causes your Agile teams to miss crucial errors, creating headaches all around.

This is where automated testing in Agile comes in and saves you and your team a heap of time and money and dramatically improves accuracy.

But understanding what automated testing is, knowing how and when to use it and who to turn to for assistance can be tough.

In this guide, we'll explain the basics of automated testing in the Agile methodology, how to implement it, and suggest ways to call on specialist help when you need it. 

Ready to build your own custom software with a team that cares about you and your processes? We’re not code monkeys, we care about you

Table of contents 

What is automated testing in Agile?

Test automation in Agile empowers quality assurance (QA) testers to build test cases that run automatically every time they introduce new code. Rather than manually running these tests, automation allows them to be more time efficient and keep quality high.

It's an essential part of the Agile methodology as it places a high emphasis on test-driven development and continuous testing. Adopting this approach, a QA team begins testing from day one.

They use the practice of continuous integration to test throughout the development process, rather than waiting until they have a final build.

Automation in Waterfall vs Automation in Agile

Waterfall was the first model commonly used for software development. It takes a linear approach to development (like a waterfall, hence the name). Teams would do each stage of development sequentially in a pipeline, with testing taking place towards the end of the process.

Agile, on the other hand, sees a project broken down into tasks that move through a series of iteration cycles throughout the Agile software development lifecycle. Agile teams break down tasks into stages such as development, review, feedback, and final approval of the item. 

Here’s a handy visual to demonstrate the great Agile vs waterfall debate:

The Waterfall development process is linear, while Agile software development is more cyclical. Source: NaNLABS

So where does automation come into this?

The Waterfall method doesn't typically prioritize automation. That’s because it encourages a “hand-off” mindset and investment is often inconsistent. It might use some automation, but it’s usually confined to the later stages of development or long-term support. 

Agile, in contrast, takes advantage of automated testing from the word go and focuses on continual improvement and testing. Agile continuous improvement doesn't allow development to proceed without first testing new features to perfection. 

This provides more opportunities for automation testing and as a result, you save more time and money.

Types of automated testing

App testing in Agile comes in all shapes and sizes, but most fall under the umbrella of functional testing. Knowing which types of functional testing are the best candidates for automation is key.

The main contenders are:

  1. Automated regression testing

  2. Automated acceptance testing

  3. Automated unit testing

Automated regression testing

Regression testing in Agile makes sure that any code changes haven't created knock-on effects in the software. It ensures that the final product meets customer expectations, regardless of updates or bug fixes.

If regression cases are stable and repeatable you should automate them. This leaves testers free to focus on more manual test coverage, other environments, and combining complex cases.

Still, regression testing cannot be 100% automated. Testers need to perform some manual tests in the beginning stages— such examining software logic, product flow, and UI changes.

It's also important to combine automated testing with occasional manual verifications. This helps to catch false positives or negatives in new features.

Automated acceptance testing

Agile QA teams use acceptance testing to confirm that an application meets the customer's requirements. It's important because it helps to make sure the product is being made to the correct specifications at an earlier stage in the Agile software development lifecycle.

Testing teams perform acceptance tests to check if the application meets the requirements. If it doesn't, the Agile software development team resolves the issues and the tests are re-run until they pass. As these tests are repeatedly performed they are ripe for automation. You catch serious problems and ensure customer satisfaction.

Automated unit testing

Unit testing is all about testing the smallest piece of code that developers can isolate in a system. This normally ends up being a module, class, method or function.

Automation makes unit testing more predictable and easy to repeat. It introduces an “assembly line” approach to testing that doesn't get in the way of the original creativity of the design. Instead, it ensures that day-to-day processes are undertaken with high levels of accuracy and efficiency.

Developers are also given more flexibility when it comes to implementing changes in existing code. Automated unit testing enables them to perform refactoring in Agile and still preserve design integrity.

Automated unit testing allows developers to refactor code while preserving design integrity. Source: Unsplash

Is automated Agile testing right for every project?

Simply put, no. Automated Agile testing provides real added value to projects, but you should consider your options before diving straight in.

Even if you decide to implement automated testing in Agile it helps to know which tasks to automate and which are better left to human eyes and ears.  

Common challenges of automated testing in agile development

Automated testing is not a one-size-fits-all solution and it has its drawbacks, such as:

  • Takes time to set up. It takes a lot of planning to pin down the right test approach, find the right automation tools, and choose which test cases to automate.

  • Sets unrealistic expectations. Test coverage can never be 100% automated and you need to know that you can't cover some test areas.

  • Potential scope creep. You might end up investing a lot of time in maintenance of the preexisting automation suite as Agile allows for scope creep. But, you can avoid this issue by creating a robust Agile software development project plan.

  • Initial high costs. It requires up-front investment both in terms of the price of high-quality automation tools and human resources.

  • Requires expertise. It calls for specific knowledge and skills which your current team members may not have.

When not to use automation testing tools

Additionally, some specific tests are better suited to manual test coverage. These include:  

  • Tests you’ll only run once. There's little reason to automate a test if it's not repeatable. 

  • Tests you need to run immediately. Automated test execution needs setting up.

  • Infrequent/specialist tests. They are ad hoc tests based on domain know-how.

  • Tests that don't provide predictable results. Automation validation needs to have predictable results.

  • Tests that need to be manually checked. If it needs to be double-checked for accuracy it's not a great candidate for automation.

  • Usability tests for user experience. They require a user to respond to how easy or not it is to use the app. 

How to implement an Agile automation testing process

Implementing automated testing in Agile can be tricky at first, so start small and don’t try to automate everything from the get-go.  

Take a step-by-step approach and focus on the following:

  1. Prepare an Agile automation framework. Agile works around short sprints so it requires a clear automation framework. Establish and build this framework before development begins.

  2. Choose which test cases to automate. As already outlined, not all test cases in Agile projects are right for automation. Knowing which to automate from the start is essential.

  3. Conduct parallel testing. Consequential tests are the enemy of continuous delivery. But with automation testers can conduct various tests on different devices, operating systems, and browsers all at the same time.

  4. Find the right automation tools. Take some time to choose the right automation tools. This will help to avoid wasting time and money, making sure they meet your testing needs and add value. 

  5. Map the process. Agile places less focus on planning and more on flexibility. But that doesn't mean you can launch into automated testing without first mapping out your approach. 

Understand Agile automation frameworks

A clearly defined testing framework is key to automatic testing success. Choosing the appropriate framework also reduces costs and increases return on investment (ROI). 

Testing frameworks consist of a web of libraries, tools, and utilities, including  object repositories, coding standards, and  test-data management.

These different frameworks establish the test accuracy, efficiency, and maintenance costs associated. So choosing the correct type of testing framework is essential for successful development.

The most commonly used frameworks are:

  • Modular-based. Breaks down the software into individual functions or units, testing each separately.

  • Linear automation framework. Lets you record and playback by writing scripts sequentially and performing them one by one.

  • Data-driven. Allows you to store data externally by isolating test data from script logic.

  • Keyword-driven. Like the data-driven framework, it separates test data and script logic but for a keyword-driven approach.

  • Library architecture. By identifying related tasks by function you can reuse code across multiple test scripts. 

  • Hybrid. Uses a blend of different frameworks.

Choose Agile test automation tools 

Choosing the right automation testing tools is just as important as committing to the right framework . Various factors to keep in mind, and features to keep an eye out for, include:

  • Pricing relative to budget 

  • Robust integration capabilities

  • Provides friction-less input of large test data

  • Technical knowledge required to use and implied learning curve

  • Ease of creating and maintaining test scripts

  • Web, desktop, and mobile app support

  • Level of reliable, high-quality technical support

  • Intuitive test report generation

  • Multi-language support

  • Ease of maintenance  

After having established what you're looking for in an automated tool we recommend checking out these examples:

Map the Agile automation testing process 

Thorough test plans aren’t common in Agile technical practices as they require a leaner, more flexible approach. Instead, make an automated testing strategy.

When mapping your Agile automation testing strategy there are many different ways to go about it. You can create a test matrix, or use a Kanban board (an Agile project management tool that visualizes tasks). You might simply map out the strategy in a document.  

Whichever way you choose to go about mapping your process we recommend keeping in mind the Agile test automation pyramid:

The bottom part of the testing pyramid (unit and integration) usually relies on automated testing; while the upper part (E2E) needs more manual intervention. Source: NaNLABS

This graphical strategy guide divides types of testing into three layers based on the ROI offered by automating each one. It offers a clear guide on what testing to automate and outlines the sequence and frequency of those tests. 

Get expert advice

This may seem like a lot to take on, and it can be. Say you're looking to implement automated testing but it's too much work for your in-house team members to handle. Likewise, recruiting takes time and may not result in hiring the best talent out there.  

Augment your development team with NaNLABS and take advantage of our expertise in test automation in Agile. We'll help you to increase efficiency and reduce overall costs.

Unlike other external teams, we're not faceless coders. We take the time and effort to proactively integrate with your existing team and practices. This is because we know that communication is the key to creating knock-out software. 

How we helped Tongal improve their automated testing

Here at NaNLABS we’re committed to the Agile life, so we know the importance of automated testing. When Tongal came to us for help we provided QA automation consultancy to analyze their strategy and propose improvements. 

Shortly afterward we joined their team to accomplish these improvements, creating an automation framework to test web and mobile applications using Nightwatch.js. We also used BrowserStack to run tests on different mobile devices and browsers on the cloud. 

This approach increased the confidence of the entire team and boosted the lead time to release their software updates. 

Why you should automate your software testing in Agile, today  

Automated testing is key to adopting the Agile mindset. It also simplifies your development workflow by taking care of repetitive tests, removing human error, and saving time. 

When applying automated testing remember to consider: 

  • The types of testing you want to use.

  • Whether it's right for your project.

  • The specific test cases to use it on.

  • The right framework and tools for you.

  • How you'll map out a testing strategy.  

The benefits are obvious, but implementing automated testing in Agile can escape the grasp of many development teams. Reach out to specialists like NaNLABS who can augment your team and get you up and running with automated testing in no time.

Ready to build your own custom software with a team that cares about you and your processes? We’re not code monkeys, we care about

Frequently asked questions about automated Agile testing 

  • Can testing be automated in an Agile project?

    Yes, testing can be automated in an Agile project for a number of reasons. It will reduce time spent on repeatedly carrying out the same tests manually, improves accuracy, and saves money in the long term.   

    With that said, you can't apply it to all test cases or aspects of software development.

  • When should test automation not be used in Agile?

    Test automation should not be applied to:

    • Tests you will only run once.

    • Tests you need to run immediately.

    • Infrequent/specialist tests.

    • Tests that don't provide predictable results.

    • Tests that need to be manually checked.

    • Usability tests for user experience.

  • What are examples of automated testing?

    Examples of automated testing include:

    • Automated regression testing.

    • Automated acceptance testing.

    • Automated unit testing.

  • How do you automate in Agile?

    To automate in Agile, you should:

    • Prepare an Agile framework

    • Choose which test cases to automate

    • Conduct parallel testing

    • Find the right automation tools

    • Map the process

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