5 min read

Should test-driven development be used in automation?

Go through this blog to learn about how TDD helps in automation – you can also understand its significance, benefits and drawbacks before opting for TDD

Spend time to save time. That’s the paradox of automation. Spend more time upfront and save countless hours in the future. Automation plays a crucial role for an enterprise, not just because of time saved, but also because it reduces costs and enables your staff to focus on innovation instead of on manual, repetitive tasks.

One form of automation, RPA (robotic process automation), involves arming virtual bots with a set of logical steps so they can perform repetitive, high-volume tasks in a high speed, error-free way that humans can’t match.

But these bots can save you even more time, depending on the software development process you choose.

In this blog, I’ll talk about test-driven development as a whole and why it may be a good idea to start using it for your automation projects.

And it again boils down to a paradox: Spend time to save time.

What is test-driven development?

Test-driven development, or TDD, is an agile software development process in which developers write test cases beforewriting the production code instead of the other way around.

The process of TDD starts when the feature requirements for a particular solution are penned. Based on the requirements for each feature, the development team writes an automated test case. Testing of the software is then done on a continual basis against those test cases throughout development of the code, and the code is iteratively refined until it passes each test case.

What is the reason for doing it this way?

Higher quality software — Scenario: The deadline to release a new software feature is just hours away, and you need to move on to the next one as soon as possible. The development team just finished coding. Do you now move on to the next feature? This can be tempting, but if the code is pushed to production before it’s thoroughly tested, it can lead to bugs. And post-hoc tests can be slapdash and not well thought out.

If the test code is written first, it can get rid of this temptation. It will also force you to design the software well from the start. And tests can be run automatically at any time to prove to any stakeholders that the software is working as intended.

Easier onboarding — If a new developer is onboarded (which is common these days, as you know) it can be hard to understand the original intention of a function, especially if the documentation is lackluster. But with TDD, the test cases are already in place by this time for each function, so a developer being onboarded to the project can see what the code is supposed to do. Any code that is written after is, by design, easy to test. If they make a change to the code, they can rest easy knowing a test already exists with which they can validate their code.

Shortened time to market — Running automated tests as you go enables you to test faster, make your code more robust, and deliver your software product faster. It’s much simpler and more efficient to test a couple of lines of code than it is to find the bugs in a thousand lines of code.

Extensible and flexible code — A team of developers, all working on the same software project, all making changes to the code, can spell chaos. If a developer changes one line of code, it could break another piece of the software. The automated tests that go with TDD force the decoupling of dependencies, ensuring that code can be refactored when necessary, with little risk of breaking the code.

No wasted effort — With TDD, you write just enough code to pass the tests. Does the code do what it’s supposed to, without fail? Good, move on to other development tasks.

Drawbacks of TDD 

The main drawback of TDD is that it takes a much longer upfront investment of time. For smaller projects, it may not be advantageous to write code this way, but the larger and more complex a project gets, the more benefit you’ll see.

Another drawback isn’t of the method itself, but something that may occur while not following TDD best practices. Individual developers may write tests that are too large, for instance. Or team members may incorrectly apply a test, and therefore the software may not work as intended. Some on the development team may even choose not to use TDD, which won’t yield the intended benefits.

TDD: Should you apply it to RPA?

When considering if you should automate, whether that’s streamlining an IT workflow, the extraction of data, customer onboarding, or another process, you first have to decide if it’s worth the time, effort, and money to automate it.

You first need to determine the breakeven point to help you make that decision. Find the answers to these questions:

  • What will it cost to automate the process?
  • How many times will the process be run?
  • How long does the process need to run in order to save time and/or money?

An X factor to add to this list is the addition of using TDD in writing the RPA bots.

As mentioned before, TDD does take more upfront time than other development methodologies. But just like automation itself, putting in more effort early on can save you time down the line, especially if you expect the process to be running for a long time.

Dealing with change

TDD is particularly beneficial when there are changes later on ⁠— and there could be many changes when it comes to RPA. Steps of the process could change. A legacy system could be modernized. A software update could be pushed out.

You spent all that time and money on the automation project, but now the RPA processes aren’t working as intended due to those changes. TDD makes dealing with changes a whole lot easier, as it reduces the time to fix errors caused by those changes.

See what I mean by spending time to save time?

What Relevantz Can Do for You

Using technologies like RPA, AI, and ML, we can help reimagine your business processes from scratch with our Hyper Automation service offering to introduce disruptive capabilities in your business model, creating entirely new business markets and opportunities for your growth and scale.

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