5 Test Automation Anti-Patterns (And How To Avoid Them)

Mobile phone testing setup

Test automation has become an integral part of modern software development processes. Unfortunately, however, test automation, like other aspects of software development, is susceptible to anti-patterns, which can obscure the full meaning and potential of test automation. In this blog, we will go through and explore several test automation anti-patterns and offer practical solutions to avoid them.

What Is Test Automation?

First, before we dive into the anti-patterns of test automation, let's clarify what test automation is. Test automation is the process of testing test cases with automated testing tools, where the test results are compared with the expected results. This is in contrast to manual testing, where testing is performed by a person sitting at a computer, phone, or other device and carefully performing all test steps. One of the main goals of test automation is to reduce the manual effort required for repetitive testing, and compared to manual testing, test automation increases the speed and accuracy of test execution.

What are Anti-Patterns?

Anti-patterns in software development, project management, or business processes are unfortunately quite common responses to a recurring problem that are usually ineffective and can be very counterproductive. Anti-patterns are common solutions to recurring problems that initially seem beneficial but end up having negative consequences. In the context of test automation, anti-patterns can cause things like:

  • increase maintenance of test scripts
  • reduce reliability
  • slower feedback from the development team

1. Flaky Tests

Flaky tests are automated test cases that do not produce accurate and consistent results over time. They tend to fail, despite the fact that the functionality of the application remains the same. This reduces confidence in the test suite and can lead to the development team starting to ignore failing tests. If your tests are flaky, they won't be able to help you find (and fix) bugs in your software, which will end up having a negative impact on the user experience.

Flaky tests can occur for various reasons, for example:

  • Insufficient amount of test data
  • Narrow the scope of the testing environment
  • Due to complex technologies
  • Bad test implementation practices 

How To Avoid Flaky Tests?

Avoiding flaky tests is critical to maintain reliable test automation. Here are some suggestions to help you avoid flaky tests:

  1. Stabilize the test environment - Flaky tests can often be caused by a test environment that is unstable. Before running the tests, it is important to ensure that the test environment is properly set up and configured. Avoid sharing the test environment with other development processes that could affect test execution.
  2. Use precise waits - Waiting for elements or actions without ( or conversely, with too long) waiting for timeouts can lead to flaky tests, especially in scenarios with varying response times. Use clear waits with appropriate timeouts. While waiting for elements or any actions,  avoid using hard-coded wait methods (sleep, pauses) as they might not be suitable for your automation. Instead of that, try to use smart waiting mechanisms which usually are provided in framework documentation, that check for the presence of elements at specific intervals and proceed as soon as the expected condition is met.
  3. Log test errors and investigate - When a test fails, it is mandatory to record the details of failure, including not only relevant logs but test environment details too. Investigate the failure immediately to determine if it is a product bug or a flaky test. Track flaky tests individually and prioritize them for resolution to maintain the integration of test automation. 
  4. Use Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) - Include automated tests in your CI/CD pipeline and run them regularly in different environments. This practice helps identify unstable tests early in the development cycle, and with that, it ensures that all tests are reliable before the code is promoted to production.
  5. Before you merge your test script, make sure that it actually works. In your local environment, test it carefully several times, run a test, and observe how it works. Depending on the type of automation and the client requirements, test it on all possible platforms(for example, if you are working with mobile automation, make sure that the script works not only on Android but also, for instance, on iOS).

By following these and other recommendations, it is possible to reduce the number of flaky tests and keep your test automation suite clean. Remember that flaky tests are unfortunately a natural part of test automation, but with the right amount of effort and attention to detail, their impact on your test automation framework can be minimized, allowing you to deliver more efficient and reliable automated tests and results.

Employee examining code

2. Desire to Automate Everything, Immediately (Automation Overloading)

One of the most common anti-patterns of test automation is to try to automate absolutely everything and do it all at one time, which will lead to automation overload. For example - the automation team tries to automate more than they can do, and as a result, it all ends up with unreliable scripts and poor-quality regression results. This will mean that the tests will not provide sufficient coverage and will often fail, resulting in the need to consume redundant resources and time to try to fix the problems. Often this is related to unrealistic deadlines, or there is pressure from the management side to “achieve” the same or similar results as in manual testing in quick time.

How To Avoid Automation Overloading?

One of the best ways to avoid that anti-pattern is to first create a test automation strategy that will specify which types of tests will need to be automated first, and which will take a long time to automate or will not be possible at all.

Instead of automating everything sequentially, test cases should be prioritized based on risk, complexity, frequency of execution, and customer requirements. Start with high-priority test cases. It will make the automation process simpler, easier to maintain, and easier to manage, and ensure that teams can automate in record time with flawless accuracy. Gradually expand/increase your automation regression suite with tests that are less important (with lower risk and impact on user experience). 

Employee working on a desktop testing rig

3. Ignore Test Maintenance

Unfortunately, but usually, test automation is not a create-once-and-forget activity. Test automation requires constant maintenance and updates as the software may change. Ignoring test maintenance can lead to the fact that test automation scripts can become obsolete, because the functionality of the software changes and they will be ineffective - they will start to always fail or skip, and it will not be possible to see the real test automation results. 

How to avoid it?

It is necessary to make test maintenance one of the main parts/points of your test automation strategy. Implement version control of your automation scripts to track changes. Set up a process to review and update test scripts whenever any changes are made in the software. Analyze test results regularly to ensure scripts are providing accurate results/feedback.

4. Not Keeping Track Of Automation Test Coverage From The Start

Anti-patterns happen, from the very beginning of the automation development process, the extent to which the application is tested with automation is not monitored and measured. This anti-pattern can cause several negative consequences, so let's dive deeper into this anti-pattern and let's understand some of those anti-pattern consequences:

  1. Without automation coverage tracking, you won't be able to quickly determine which parts of your software have been covered by automated tests and which parts of your software have been neglected. As a result, critical functionality may not be sufficiently covered by tests.
  2. Duplication of tests - Duplication of tests is possible if the team members are not aware of the already existing automation tests. This will lead to unnecessary test development, wasting valuable resources.
  3. Difficulties in planning and prioritizing tests - not knowing how much functionality is covered by tests makes it difficult to effectively plan and prioritize testing.

How To Avoid It?

To avoid this anti-pattern, consider the following suggestions

  1. Use test management tools - use tools that will allow you to document and track coverage of automated test scripts.
  2. Define clear goals - define clear goals for test automation based on critical software functionality and business needs.
  3. Regularly review test coverage documentation - review it, to be sure that automation efforts align with the defined goal. From the reports, identify things that could be improved to achieve the goals.
  4. Collaborate with team members - Collaboration between team members to ensure that everyone in the team is aware of the test coverage goals and actively contributes to achieving them.

Tracking automation test coverage from the start is critical to successful test automation. It provides valuable insight into testing progress, helps identify test automation problems, and ensures that critical parts of the application are properly covered with tests. By defining clear goals, using test management tools, reviewing coverage documentation, and regular collaboration between team members, you can avoid this anti-pattern and create a comprehensive and efficient test automation process.

Multiple testers working on code debugging

5. Rushing Automation Efforts Too Early In Feature Development, When Requirements Are Still Changing

This anti-pattern is encountered quite often when the automation team already started trying to automate test cases, while the feature or software under test is not stable, and the customer requirements are not completely clear and final. Let's observe this anti-pattern and try to understand its possible consequences : 

  1. Redundant effort - if automation is started too early, there is a very high probability that the test scripts will work correctly for a very short time due to requirements and/or code changes. As a result test scripts will become flaky and initial efforts to automate will be wasted.
  2. Time-consuming maintenance - often requirements and/or code changes can increase the cost of maintaining automated test scripts. The automation team will waste time updating and correcting test scripts at the outset instead of creating new test scripts, thus reducing overall productivity. 
  3. Increased costs - premature automation of unclear and undefined requirements will increase costs due to the time and resources invested in automation, which may not provide sufficient ROI due to often business requirements and/or code changes.
  4. Team demoralization - when business requirements and/or code changes too often, and the test automation engineers see how their test scripts behave differently every day, they can become demoralized and feel frustrated, which can lead to poor relations between teammates and other development teams. 

How To Avoid It?

To avoid this anti-pattern, consider the following suggestions: 

  1. Collaboration with developers - it is necessary to work closely with the development team to be able to understand when and what changes will be made and how they will affect test automation. Working with a development team can help determine the right time to start test automation.
  2. Stable requirements - before starting test automation, make sure that the requirements of the feature or software are clear, constant, and well-defined.
  3. High-priority test cases first - you need to start test automation with the high-priority test cases, focusing on the most critical and base functionality.


Test automation, if designed effectively, will greatly improve the quality and efficiency of software development. Avoiding the anti-pattern of test automation is critical to seeing and exploiting the true potential of test automation. Keep these suggestions in mind when you start your automation journey so you can achieve optimal results quickly and deliver a high-quality software product to your users. Happy testing!

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