Since 2010, every job I have had has included one task that is particularly difficult to achieve: train and convert a mostly manual QA tester (or team) to be an automated tester.
Most timeframes include 3-6 months to accomplish this task.
I have never had a 100% conversion rate. I have never had a 50% conversion rate. The average is most likely hovering around 30-40%.
Well, several factors determine how successful a manual QA person transitions to be an automated tester. And by knowing little bit of data beforehand, I can almost accurately predict which people can successfully learn test automation skills and write excellent test automation to augment their manual tests:
1) Software education background and coding experience - this one is the most relevant in predicting the outcome of the QA person making the transition. This contributes 60% to successful chance of the conversion.
2) Familiarity with one or more of the testing technologies chosen for implementation - for example, SQAEvangelist uses a stack including Ant, JUnit, TestNG, Selenium/WebDriver, and Java. This contributes 15% successful chance of conversion.
3) Ambition - believe it or not, this attribute contributes a lot. 15%.
4) Work ethic - good intentions and great work habits don't help to succeed much - 5%.
5) Training - someone spend 1:1 time and helps the tester understand how to do it and even goes through examples. 5%.
Remember that these numbers do not guarantee failure or success or each person making the transition. It's a hard and impossible road for some QA people.
People with attributes 1 and 2 are nearly a lock to make quick contributions to the automated testing effort with a few days.
I have found that any person with attributes 1 and 3 are almost certain to become a good automated tester and can almost be efficient and make significant contributions.
So before you challenge the team to learn automated testing, consider these factors before making a final decision. Analyze the team and predict it's chances of success beforehand.
It may be easier to hire/create an automated testing team to automate and just let the manual testers stay manual testers.