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How to be sure a test has actually failed

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Sanjay Zalavadia
Sanjay Zalavadia's picture
How to be sure a test has actually failed

Failure isn't an option in many situations, but mistakes and errors can cause complications to arise that can be difficult to recover from. This is why agile testing methodologies have become so integral in software development and release. The involvement of quality assurance personnel from the beginning of a project ensures that testing can begin right away, enabling teams to build a better quality product.

However, can you really count on your tests to be correct every time? Tests are only as good as their programmers, and human flaws can throw a wrench into testing efforts. Teams must be confident that their tests are performing correctly in order to keep progressing. Let's take a look at a few tips that will help you be sure that a test has actually failed and create steps to improve operations.

Gain guidance prior to test runs

Insight will be a major factor in maintaining and improving your test cases. The only way to get this is to have a clear view of the requirements and how developers are working to deliver on these needs. QA teams can also glean a lot of information once their tests are run, but the initial legwork can help ensure that tests are performing correctly from the very beginning. TechBeacon contributor Christine Parizo noted that turning failures into test cases for future releases will help create a stronger test base and ensure that scripts are finding all possible errors. In addition, working alongside developers can help QA catch omissions and errors faster and create a collaborative environment.

"Over time, getting familiar with the software and with its areas of potential weaknesses — because no software is free of those — builds an additional level of instinct-based, ad hoc testing," QA engineer Olga Nikulina told Parizo.

Beware of false negatives and positives

Organizations must ensure that their tests are regularly evaluated and adjusted to verify that they are working as intended and that they continue to provide value to testing operations. However, it's important for testing teams to be aware of false negative and false positive results. As DevelopSense's Michael Bolton noted, a passing or failing test is not a guarantee that the product is or isn't working correctly. It's very easy for elements to appear like they're functioning appropriately, but can break down upon release. Take GUI testing, for example. An automation testing tool might pass this type of test because computers solely evaluate code integrity, not aesthetics. But there could be glaring errors only visible when the program meets a real user. Bolton explained that passed tests simply signify use specific inputs based on a few requirements, meaning that any slight changes could easily put it into the failing category.

At the same time, a failure is not always conclusive when it comes to testing. Misunderstanding a requirement or misconfiguring the test platform can easily result in a failed test, even if nothing is actually wrong with it. Teams must take a deep dive into the causes of failed tests to ensure that the result was accurate and wasn't caused by outside forces.

"The timing of the test may be off, such that system was not ready for the input we provided," Bolton wrote. "There may be an as-yet-not-understood reason why the product is providing a result which seems incorrect to us, but which is in fact correct. A failing test is an allegation of failure."

Use capable tools

One means of ensuring test result accuracy is to keep detailed records through a capable test management tool. This type of asset not only enables team members to collaborate across projects, but they can also actively write, assign, schedule and adjust test cases as needed. With this resource, teams can look at their progress, evaluate whether their testing results are correct and catch bugs early on that can slip through the cracks. Using a variety of software testing metrics, analysis and test data, and organizations can reduce false outcomes, improve overall reliability and produce a quality product.

Rooting out problem test cases can be a challenge, but it's necessary to build confidence in testing efforts. By deriving guidance prior to test executions, leveraging capable tools and understanding how to spot false results, QA teams can have peace of mind that their test outcomes are accurate and can use these conclusions to direct testing efforts in the future.

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