Pop quiz, hotshot. There’s a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?  — Howard Payne, Speed, 1994

Probably the most famous line from the 1994 movie Speed, “Pop quiz, hotshot”, got me thinking about testing and automation. Specifically, regarding whether something is automated or not. As an automation developer/leader, I’ve often been asked pop quiz questions like “Is X automated yet?” and “When will Y be automated?”

I’ve begun thinking that “Is it automated?” isn’t a Yes/No question.

I subscribe to a broad definition of automation; I think that automation is an enabler and a force multiplier. When looking at it from that point of view, we can treat traditional, test-case-based automation as an implementation of automation as opposed to the definition of automation itself. This idea of enabler not only gives us the additional latitude to decide which activities to automate but also to decide how much of an activity to automate.

When we realize that we can decide how much of an activity to automate, we need no longer concern ourselves with “complete” automation versus “zero” automation on that activity. This is an important point because automation is not an all-or-nothing proposition. We can start putting a value assessment on parts of an activity which allows us to stop automating that activity once we determine that further automation on it is no longer a good business value. It also helps prevent us from creating Rube Goldberg machines that often cost more to maintain than the value that they provide.

So, back to the original question, “is it automated?” Simply answering “yes” or “no” leads us back to an all-or-nothing mindset; this is want to avoid. In the broad approach, the question leads us to more helpful questions such as:

  • Is it valuable to automate additional parts of this activity?
  • Are the automatable parts of this activity valuably automated?
  • Are there activities that are more valuable that we should automate first or instead?
  • Is the maintenance cost of automating this activity likely to erode the value we initially received?
  • Is this worth automating this at all?

Understanding that “is it automated?” is not a question with a binary answer allows us to focus on enabling business value with our automation implementations, as opposed to “automation at all cost”.

Like this? Catch me at an upcoming event!

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