The Opportunity Cost of Test Automation

In one of my previous blog posts, The Economics of Software Testing: Opportunity Cost, I explained how this key concept in Economics, applies to the software testing industry,

This time, however, I would like to focus on the opportuniy cost of Test Automation and how to weigh this up both in terms of the cost you would have to incur now vs the benefits you would reap later because of time saved.

What is opportunity cost?

According to Econlib:

“It’s the value of the next best alternative of a resource.”

In this case “resource” means your time.

Another way of looking at this is:

What would you be doing with your time instead?

What benefit(s) do you reap by having the test automation up and running?

Imagine that you have the test automation up and running, let’s assume you are freed up from manual regression.

If you are wanting to convince your company, to give you time, to set up your test automation, or to update your existing framework - tell them what you could do with your time instead, once it’s up and running.

Instead of doing repetitive regression tests each release/build/etc. you could be:

Having test automation in place would free you up to do these things.

What is the opportunity cost of setting up your test automation?

Another way of looking at this is:

If you weren’t setting up your test automation, what would you be doing instead?

If you aren’t super busy, then you basically have no opportunity cost to setting up the test automation.

But I find the initial set-up, generally takes time.

If you are very busy, and have a lot to test - I’m not suggesting that you should skip setting up your test automation. But it is important to be aware of the fact that the test automation setup comes at a cost.

You need to communicate this to your team.

Your time is limited.

Therefore there needs to be an intentional choice to forego something, in the meantime, so you can get your test automation set up.

What is the opportunity cost of maintaining your test automation?

Maintaining an existing test automation suite is generally a lot easier than setting one up.

But again, time is limited.

Not only is it important to be aware of the opportunity cost here, but also to communicate that out to your team.


Everything you do has an opportunity cost.

This doesn’t just apply to test automation.

What’s important is to be aware of it, and then to communicate what that cost is.

It’s also important to highlight the benefits of test automation and exactly how you are freed up; what you could do with your newly discovered time.