Posts Tagged - testing

Let Conversations Write Your Tests

This shift in thinking is due in part to Liz Keogh’s Step Away from the Tools and Dan North’s Who’s domain is it anyway?. Both of these got me thinking about how I’m using the term BDD (rather loosely) and how much of an investment I’m making in a specific tool (Cucumber).

More Meaningful Planning

Having meaningful planning meetings with their customer/product owner is one thing with which many teams struggle. Too often, we go too fast, don’t uncover enough detail, use the wrong language, don’t understand “done” and leave too many loose ends.

To combat this we draw screens, discuss workflows, ask leading questions and a variety of other techniques. I felt that while I was doing these things, I was still frustrated with the other part of the planning process. I’ve never liked traditional tasking and I’ve never like the idea of having to translate all of the data gathered with the customer into some other form only to express it later in a test in yet another form.

What if I wrote my tests during the planning meeting?

I decided that changing the way I gathered conditions of satisfaction, defined “done” and discussed workflows with my product owner would give me the biggest boost in value delivered, so one day I did just that.

For the following examples, assume that we’re adding a feature to an e-commerce website.

As a user I should be able to manage addresses so that I don’t have to enter my information more than once

As I’m discussing the feature with my product owner, I will discuss with them the possible scenarios, including workflows, required to use the feature. Some scenarios for this feature might include:

  • When I am on my account page
  • When I am creating a new address
  • When I am deleting an address

These scenarios might have scenarios of their own:

  • When I am editing an address
    • When I successfully edit my address
    • When editing my address fails

So far I’ve been able to ask the product owner something like “So when I’m editing my address, and I miss some required fields, what happens? What do I see? Where do I go? What are the required fields?”. I can also draw pictures to explain the workflows and ask more questions “What’s on this page? Where is the error message displayed? Do I see error messages for the fields that are missing?”.

For each scenario, I can capture assertions that come from answers to the questions I’m asking:

  • When I am on my account page
    • I should see a link to “My Addresses”
  • When I click on the “My Addresses” link from my account page
    • I should be on my addresses page
    • I should see “My Addresses” in the page heading
  • When I am on my addresses page
    • When I have existing addresses
      • I should see each address listed in format xyz
      • I should see an “edit” link for each address listed
    • When I don’t have existing addresses
      • I should see help text explaining how to add an address

If you’re an RSpec user, you might be thinking, “Hey this looks like RSpec!” and it does. During the planning meeting I can capture these scenarios and outcomes and then use them nearly verbatim for my RSpec acceptance tests. Even better, when I run my tests, I can use the “documentation” format that RSpec gives you to output that’s almost identical to the scenarios above.

The conversation required to really define these scenarios and outcomes is challenging, but at the same time, very rewarding. I have also found that it’s pretty powerful to be able to sit with the product owner and view two nearly identical documents side-by-side knowing that one is automated test output.

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Why Developers Avoid Testing

While the drive towards a culture of “always be testing” has existed for some time, the recent detour into software craftsmanship has helped to create a new style of getting the word out. What used to be, “Test driven development is a great way to approach solving a problem” has turned into “If you’re not testing you’re a shitty developer.” The testing evangelism going on in the community today is misguided and would convert more people if it addressed the real reason people aren’t testing.

It’s Like Losing Weight

To the ever testing software craftsman, it can be puzzling why people don’t write tests. The assumption much of the time is that developers are lazy, that they don’t care about the quality of their code or even that they think testing is an abject waste of time. In my experience this is almost never true.

People skip testing because, ultimately, it’s hard work. Think about what it takes to lose weight or to quit smoking:

  • Break familiar habits
  • Disrupt your personal relationships
  • Acknowledge that you’re deficient
  • Find help
  • Fail often before you succeed

As a developer working in an organization that does not maintain a culture of “always be testing”, it’s going to be difficult to:

  • Change the way you think about solving problems
  • Upset peers who are comfortable in the status quo
  • Admit that you don’t how how, what, when and why to test
  • Find a mentor willing to help you improve
  • Not give up every time you get stuck

End the FUD!

Think about what it means to start testing when you never have before. Not only do you have to come to terms with not knowing what you’re doing, you eventually realize that you’ve been “doing it wrong” until now. This is fearful self-doubt territory for a lot of people.

If you’re serious about getting more of your industry peers to start testing, stop:

  • Going on about craftsmanship; people don’t strive for mediocrity.
  • Playing the doomsday “If you don’t test…” game.
  • Talking about how testing makes you so much faster; their personal experience points to the contrary.
  • Overlooking their perception of testing.
  • Forgetting when you were in their shoes.

Instead, ask questions, get to the root of the problem, don’t settle for “testing makes me slow” or “that’s not my job”, dig deeper.

I believe that as an industry we should strive for increasing code quality, robust test suites and better problem solving. As the minority who are practicing TDD/BDD/test-first/TATFT etc., we need to change our tune. Let’s stop preaching the benefits and start addressing the fear, uncertainty and doubt that keeps smart, capable and dedicated developers from enjoying these benefits.

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