Sunday, May 22, 2016

Chocolate and Prayer - An Anti Pattern for BDD

In a school, for first graders, there was a practice or ritual in the morning every day. The kids used to assemble and sit in a designated place as they come in. They needed to say a prayer with closed eyes. When they finished the prayer, each kid would find a chocolate bar in front of her. The kids would happily take it, eat and proceed to their classes. This ritual ran for several years. Kids thought that chocolate is prize that they earn for saying prayers and none questioned the ritual. Years passed by. The length of prayer became smaller, kids got their share of prize - chocolate nonetheless.  On one day - kids assembled in their usual place and were preparing to say prayer - they saw chocolate bars in front of each of them - already. With none around  - few kids took initiative and grabbed chocolate while few sincere ones proceeded with prayer as usual.  After few days - following law of diminishing returns, these sincere kids to started to skip prayer and focused only on eating chocolate.
After several years of this ritual - one curious kid, unable to control his thought about why they get a chocolate everyday in the morning (note - prayer is long forgotten), asked his friend. "None knows why, my elder brother tells me that there used be some prayer before they got their chocolate" said the friend not so interested in the question.

Now, imagine this is a multi year social experiment conducted by school authorities in collaboration with educationists - what would you infer ? You might say, initially kids got their prize after prayer (a good and recommended activity to start the day in school) and when chocolate was given prior to any prayer, kids simply forgot or dropped the idea of prayer. Economists would call this as "incentive" to elicit a specific behavior from a group of people.

Let us come to our world and let us try to map prayer and chocolate to BDD (behavior driven development) and automation. As original proponents of BDD wanted it solve certain problems and automation apparently came out as chocolate, prize that follows doing BDD.

As I understand  - BDD was intended to bring business analysts into the party, develop a common vocabulary between Dev, BA, Testing and stakeholders and address some of the perceived problems close cousin of BDD - the TDD, test driven development. Dan North explains the background and history of how he landed with the idea of BDD. As Dan narrates - the practice of BDD proposes to focus on the behavior (change from keyword "Test"or "requirement") software should demonstrate for a feature that client wants. In order to develop a common vocabulary - BDD needed to restrict the representation of this behavior using a set of keywords and the behavior required to be in a non technical language (remember they needed to bring BA's that are non technical into the party). Thus using a class of languages (meta language, I guess) like Gherkin which is a type of DSL (domain specific language) BDD ushered a practice where intended software behavior and corresponding scenario or an example was represented in a format like the one below

As [Role/Stakeholder]
I want to [A feature or behavior]
So that [business outcome that is worth paying for]

Given [Initial or Preconditions]
When [ Action performed to invoke the feature]
Then [Expected result that software needs to demonstrate]

As Liz Keogh, one of early collaborators with Dan on BDD development, says -key challenge BDD was intended (broadly among other things) to solve is facilitate and improve communication, discussion and debates about what the behavior should be,among developers, testers, business analysts and stakeholders.

That was a prayer  - BDD's objective for effective communication.

After looking format of BDD scenario/user story, full of keywords - a smart developer would have thought "I can parse this and generate a skeleton code which can be implemented later as automated test". This is that chocolate that was promised to everyone in the team. Thus a strong distraction for original objective of BDD was born in the form of automated tests out of BDD story/scenario.

The theme of automation attached to BDD become so powerful with loads of frameworks such as jBehave, Cucumber and others overshadowed everything related BDD. At some point of time, doing BDD meant using jBehave or cuccumber and creating automated tests.

The power distraction of automation (chocolate from our story) instantly hijacked communication/discussion about behavior (prayer) and practitioners BDD started doing only automation. This is the anti pattern that I wanted to highlight in this post. I have seen several instances where testers/developers/BA's were worried only about which tool or framework to use for BDD and which automation framework/library to use. The stakeholders on their part were sold on the idea that they would get "Executable specifications that come with dual benefit - representation of behavior and automated test". They could not ask more.

Alas, in the process, BA's, testers and developers instead of sitting together and discussing about what "Given" should lead to what "Then" or what "When" leads to what "Then's" - sat in silos and happily created loads of BDD stories and some tester or developer jumped straight away to implement automation.

I am not complaining about automation that is embedded in BDD per se - I would like people to reinstate the prayer - the focus on cross function collaboration, you can have your chocolate (automation) anyway.

Time to read Dan's post on introduction to BDD and also posts from Liz on the aspect of communication ?

1 comment:

Oneil said...

I agree with you! In the race for instant gratification, we jump to the final solution without actively understanding how to solve it. I've had a very good example when one of stakeholders came to me and wanted me to present the test automation approach to a TDD project. I had the luxury of telling him that TDD stood for Test Driven 'Development' and he should have gotten the Dev & BA teams involved for a complete solution.