Posts tagged ‘BDD’

I’ve previously written about Agile test automation principles, and since then I’ve had some interesting discussions with people that have led me to revise them in this article. In particular, Seb Rose wrote about his 6 principles of unit testing and pointed out some issues with mine. So this article is an update on the previous one, and I’m hoping this will spark further interesting discussions!

I feel like I’ve spent most of my career learning how to write good automated tests in an agile environment. When I downloaded JUnit in the year 2000 it didn’t take long before I was hooked – unit tests for everything in sight. That gratifying green bar is near-instant feedback that everthing is as expected, my code does what I intended, and I can continue developing from a firm foundation.

Later, starting in about 2002, I began writing larger granularity tests, for whole subsystems; functional tests if you like. The feedback that my code does what I intended, and that it has working functionality has given me confidence time and again to release updated versions to end-users.

I was not the first to discover that developers design automated functional tests for two main purposes. Initially we design them to help clarify our understanding of what to build. In fact, at that point they’re not really tests, we usually call them scenarios, or examples. Later, the main purpose of the tests becomes to detect regression errors, although we continue use them to document what the system does.

When you’re designing a functional test suite, you’re trying to support both aims, and sometimes you have to make tradeoffs between them. You’re also trying to keep the cost of writing and maintaining the tests as low as possible, and as with most software, it’s the maintenance cost that dominates. Over the years I’ve begun to think in terms of four principles that help me to design functional test suites that make good tradeoffs and identify when a particular test case is fit for purpose.

Book-128Readability

When you look at the test case, you can read it through and understand what the test is for. You can see what the expected behaviour is, and what aspects of it are covered by the test. When the test fails, you can quickly see what is broken.

If your test case is not readable, it will not be useful, neither for understanding what the system does, or identifying regression errors. When it fails you will have to dig though other sources outside of the test case to find out what is wrong. Quite likely you will not understand what is wrong and you will rewrite the test to check for something else, or simply delete it.

internet_128Robustness

When a test fails, it means there is a regression error, (functionality is broken), or the system has changed and the tests no longer document the correct behaviour. You need to take action to correct the system or update the test, and this is as it should be. If however, the test has failed for no good reason, you have a problem: a fragile test.

There are many causes of fragile tests. For example tests that are not isolated from one another, duplication between test cases, and dependencies on random or threaded code. If you run a test by itself and it passes, but fails in a suite together with other tests, then you have an isolation problem. If you have one broken feature and it causes a large number of test failures, you have duplication between test cases. If you have a test that fails in one test run, then passes in the next when nothing changed, you have a flickering test.

If your tests often fail for no good reason, you will start to ignore them. Quite likely there will be real failures hiding amongst all the false ones, and the danger is you will not see them.

Speed-128Speed

As an agile developer you run your test suite frequently. Both (a) every time you build the system, (b) before you check in changes, and (c) after check-in in an automated Continuous Integration environment. I recommend time limits of 2 minutes for (a), 10 minutes for (b), and 60 minutes for (c). This fast feedback gives you the best chance of actually being willing to run the tests, and to find defects when they’re cheapest to fix, soon after insertion.

If your test suite is slow, it will not be used. When you’re feeling stressed, you’ll skip running them, and problem code will enter the system. In the worst case the test suite will never become green. You’ll fix the one or two problems in a given run and kick off a new test run, but in the meantime you’ll continue developing and making other changes. The diagnose-and-fix loop gets longer and the tests become less likely to ever all pass at the same time. This can become pretty demoralizing.

updatability.001Updatability

When the needs of the users change, and the system is updated, your tests also need to be updated in tandem. It should be straightforward to identify which tests are affected by a given change, and quick to update them all.

If your tests are not easy to update, they will likely get left behind as the system moves on. Faced with a small change that causes thousands of failures and hours of work to update them all, you’ll likely delete most of the tests.

Following these four principles implies Maintainability

Taken all together, I think how well your tests adhere to these principles will determine how maintainable they are, or in other words, how much they will cost. That cost needs to be in proportion to the benefits you get: helping you understand what the system does, and regression protection.

As your test suite grows, it becomes ever more challenging to adhere to all the principles. Readability suffers when there are so many test cases you can’t see the forest for the trees. The more details of your system that you cover with tests, the more likely you are to have Robustness problems – tests that fail when these details change.  Speed obviously also suffers – the time to run the test suite usually scales linearly with the number of test cases. Updatability doesn’t necessarily get worse as the number of test cases increases, but it will if you don’t adhere to good design principles in your test code, or lack tools for bulk update of test data for example.

I think the principles are largely the same whether you’re writing skinny little unit tests or fatter functional tests that touch more of the codebase. My experience tells me that it’s a lot easier to be successful with unit tests. As the testing thickness increases, the feedback cycle gets slower, and your mistakes are amplified. That’s why I concentrate on teaching these principles through unit testing exercises. Once you understand what you’re aiming for, you can transfer your skills to functional tests.

How can you use these principles?

I find it useful to remember these principles when designing test cases. I may need to make tradeoffs between them, and it helps just to step back and assess how I’m doing on each principle from time to time as I develop. If I’m reviewing someone else’s test cases, I can point to code and say which principles it’s not following, and give them concrete advice about how to make improvements. We can have a discussion for example about whether to add more test cases in order to improve regression protection, and how to do that without reducing overall readability.

I also find these principles useful when I’m trying to diagnose why a test suite is not being useful to a development team, especially if things have got so bad they have stopped maintaining it. I can often identify which principle(s) the team has missed, and advise how to refactor the test suite to compensate.

For example, if the problem is lack of Speed you have some options and tradeoffs to make:

  • Replace some of the thicker, slower end-to-end tests with lots of skinny fast unit tests, (may reduce regression protection)
  • Invest in hardware and run tests in parallel (costs $)
  • Use a profiler to optimize the tests for speed the same as you would production code (may affect Readability)
  • Use more fakes to replace slow parts of the system (may reduce regression protection)
  • Identify key test cases for essential functionality and remove the other test cases. (sacrifice regression protection to get Speed)

Strategic Decisions

The principles also help me when I’m discussing automated testing strategy, and choosing testing tools. Some tools have better support for updating test cases and test data. Some allow very Readable test cases. It’s worth noting that automated tests in agile are quite different from in a traditional process, since they are run continually throughout the process, not just at the end. I’ve found many traditional automation tools don’t lead to enough Speed and Robustness to support agile development.

I hope you will find these principles help you to reason about your strategy and tools for functional automated testing, and to design more maintainable, useful test cases.

Images Attribution: DaPino Webdesign, Lebreton, Asher Abbasi, Woothemes, Iconshock, Andy Gongea, FatCow from www.iconspedia.com

One of the great privileges of being the programme chair for Scandinavian Developer Conference is getting to choose the keynote speakers. This year, I’m delighted to present Dan North and Janice Fraser, both thought leaders in the field of software development. Although from different backgrounds and perspectives, they’re both accomplished at building software that delivers great business outcomes. I’d like to tell you a little about each person, and why I’ve invited them to Göteborg for SDC2013.

Dan North – a man full of intriguing ideas

I first came accross Dan North at a conference in 2007, talking about a topic I was very familiar with – unit testing – but using a whole new set of words. Behaviour Driven Development (BDD) intrigued me then, and still does now. How can switching the word “Test” for “Behaviour” and “AssertEqual” to “Should be” make such a difference to the way you end up designing your code?

In his famous article from 2006, “Introducing BDD” Dan explains that he found when he stopped talking about “Testing” and started instead used the word “Behaviour”, “… a whole category of coaching problems disappeared”. People understand more easily that defining the behaviour of the software is an important activity for the whole team, not just testers. It also changes the way you as a programmer think about your code, and helps you focus on what’s important.

BDD as an approach to software development is still being actively developed and written about, although Dan himself has largely stepped aside in favour of other thought leaders like Elizabeth Keogh, Chris Matts, Olav Maasen, and of course Gojko Adzic. Gojko wrote the hugely influential book “Specification by Example” which is all about having useful conversations about software behaviour, and expressing that in terms of executable examples – ie a lot like BDD. At about the time that book was being written, Dan himself chose a different road. He actually stepped out of the consultant life entirely for about two years, taking up a full time position developing software at a financial trading firm.

His latest ideas around “Accelerated Agile” to a large extent come from his experiences working in that high-powered trading environment. He wrote in his blog: “This team was the most insanely effective delivery machine I’ve ever been a part of”, and I find that particularly intriguing. He says that standard agile practices like Continuous Integration and maintaining a Product Backlog weren’t being used! So what exactly did they do in order to be so effective?

Dan has also famously opined that “Programming is not a Craft”, and argues that the “Software Craftsmanship Manifesto … [is] a spectacularly easy bandwagon to jump on”. He says he’d rather see, “…a call to arms to stop navel-gazing and treat programming as the skilled trade that it is.” So there. Dan certainly has some strong opinions, and when I’ve met him, he always seems to express himself with wit and intelligence.

I’m really looking forward to Dan’s keynote address on Tuesday 5th March. I’m intrigued to find out what “Patterns of Effective Delivery” is all about, and to hear his latest opinions on the practice of software development.

Janice Fraser – a pioneer of Lean User Experience

To a large extent, Silicon Valley is the epicenter of our whole industry. Many of the biggest and most influential software companies in the world are based there, and as an incubator with a friendly climate for startup companies, it is unparalleled, despite the efforts of many other regions around the globe to imitate their success.

Janice Fraser has been working in Silicon Valley for over 15 years, and she says in her CVI’ve seen a lot — bubbles, bursts, and fantastic acts of collaboration that have transformed literally billions of lives.” Yes, that’s right, billions of lives.

The latest trend coming out of the Valley is “Lean Startup”, a term coined by Eric Ries, and documented in his bestselling book “The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Business”.  I first heard about it in 2011, when Joshua Kerievsky, an early adopter of eXtreme Programming and successful entrepreneur, published an article “Agile vs. Lean Startup”. He says, “[Lean Startup] rocks. It rocks far more than Agile.” If it rocks far more than agile, then I find that pretty intriguing!

Janice Fraser is of course also an early adopter of “Lean Startup”, and has pointed out that the ideas in it are not all new. She saysThe Lean Startup, is a rediscovery of user centered design… [it] gives UX teams an unqualified mandate to make products customers love.

Janice herself is a serial entrepreneur, having led several startup companies. She says in her CV, “My proudest success is Adaptive Path, a leading product design firm. I was a founder and served as the company’s first CEO”. Adaptive Path is still successfully in business.

Janice is not shy about recounting her failures either, she’s written a candid report of how she started “Emmet Labs” in 2007 intending to change the world, right through to when she laid off all the staff in 2009. I think her article “7 things I did right with Emmet Labs” shows how much courage and determination it takes to build a company, and how resilient and clear-thinking Janice herself can be in a crisis.

Janice’s business these days is helping other startup companies to succeed: “Before you build anything, find customers, learn their needs & goals, and measure your progress towards your vision” – an extract from the marketing materials for her company, Luxr. She’s also just about to publish a book “The Lean Product Book: How Smart Teams Work Better”, which I guess will document the kind of advice she gives to her clients – all about Lean User Experience.

All this talk of startups and product development in Silicon Valley might seem a long way from chilly Göteborg and our IT industry, dominated by a few huge corporations. I think it’s just the kind of thing we need to hear about, though. Companies of any size need to renew themselves and develop great new products in order to flourish, and this is clearly an area where Janice is innovating and leading the world. I’m really looking forward to hear what she’s going to say in her keynote “Lean Startup Product Teams: Principles of Success”, on Monday 4th March.

Please note – As of March 2013, I have rewritten this post in the light of further experience and discussions. The updated post is available here.

I feel like I’ve spent most of my career learning how to write good automated tests in an agile environment. When I downloaded JUnit in the year 2000 it didn’t take long before I was hooked – unit tests for everything in sight. That gratifying green bar is near-instant feedback that everthing is as expected, my code does what I intended, and I can continue developing from a firm foundation.

Later, starting in about 2002, I began writing larger granularity tests, for whole subsystems; functional tests if you like. The feedback that my code does what I intended, and that it has working functionality has given me confidence time and again to release updated versions to end-users.

Often, I’ve written functional tests as regression tests, after the functionality is supposed to work. In other situations, I’ve been able to write these kinds of tests in advance, as part of an ATDD, or BDD process. In either case, I’ve found the regression tests you end up with need to have certain properties if they’re going to be useful in an agile environment moving forward. I think the same properties are needed for good agile functional tests as for good unit tests, but it’s much harder. Your mistakes are amplified as the scope of the test increases.

I’d like to outline four principles of agile test automation that I’ve derived from my experience.

Coverage

If you have a test for a feature, and there is a bug in that feature, the test should fail. Note I’m talking about coverage of functionality, not code coverage, although these concepts are related. If your code coverage is poor, your functionality coverage is likely also to be poor.

If your tests have poor coverage, they will continue to pass even when your system is broken and functionality unusable. This can happen if you have missed out needed test cases, or when your test cases don’t check properly what the system actually did. The consequences of poor coverage is that you can’t refactor with confidence, and need to do additional (manual) testing before release.

The aim for automated regression tests is good Coverage: If you break something important and no tests fail, your test coverage is not good enough. All the other principles are in tension with this one – improving Coverage will often impair the others.

Readability

When you look at the test case, you can read it through and understand what the test is for. You can see what the expected behaviour is, and what aspects of it are covered by the test. When the test fails, you can quickly see what is broken.

If your test case is not readable, it will not be useful. When it fails you will have to dig though other sources outside of the test case to find out what is wrong. Quite likely you will not understand what is wrong and you will rewrite the test to check for something else, or simply delete it.

As you improve Coverage, you will likely add more and more test cases. Each one may be fairly readable on its own, but taken all together it can become hard to navigate and get an overview.

Robustness

When a test fails, it means the functionality it tests is broken, or at least is behaving significantly differently from before. You need to take action to correct the system or update the test to account for the new behaviour. Fragile tests are the opposite of Robust: they fail often for no good reason.

Aspects of Robustness you often run into are tests that are not isolated from one another, duplication between test cases, and flickering tests. If you run a test by itself and it passes, but fails in a suite together with other tests, then you have an isolation problem. If you have one broken feature and it causes a large number of test failures, you have duplication between test cases. If you have a test that fails in one test run, then passes in the next when nothing changed, you have a flickering test.

If your tests often fail for no good reason, you will start to ignore them. Quite likely there will be real failures hiding amongst all the false ones, and the danger is you will not see them.

As you improve Coverage you’ll want to add more checks for details of your system. This will give your tests more and more reasons to fail.

Speed

As an agile developer you run the tests frequently. Both (a) every time you build the system, and (b) before you check in changes. I recommend time limits of 2 minutes for (a) and 10 minutes for (b). This fast feedback gives you the best chance of actually being willing to run the tests, and to find defects when they’re cheapest to fix.

If your test suite is slow, it will not be used. When you’re feeling stressed, you’ll skip running them, and problem code will enter the system. In the worst case the test suite will never become green. You’ll fix the one or two problems in a given run and kick off a new test run, but in the meantime someone else has checked in other changes, and the new run is not green either. You’re developing all the while the tests are running, and they never quite catch up. This can become pretty demoralizing.

As you improve Coverage, you add more test cases, and this will naturally increase the execution time for the whole test suite.

How are these principles useful?

I find it useful to remember these principles when designing test cases. I may need to make tradeoffs between them, and it helps just to step back and assess how I’m doing on each principle from time to time as I develop.

I also find these principles useful when I’m trying to diagnose why a test suite is not being useful to a development team, especially if things have got so bad they have stopped maintaining it. I can often identify which principle(s) the team has missed, and advise how to refactor the test suite to compensate.

For example, if the problem is lack of Speed you have some options and tradeoffs to make:

  • Invest in hardware and run tests in parallel (costs $)
  • Use a profiler to optimize the tests for speed the same as you would production code (may affect Readability)
  • push down tests to a lower level of granularity where they can execute faster. (may reduce Coverage and/or increase Readability)
  • Identify key test cases for essential functionality and remove the other test cases. (sacrifice Coverage to get Speed)

Explaining these principles can promote useful discussions with people new to agile, particularly testers. The test suite is a resource used by many agile teamembers – developers, analysts, managers etc, in its role as “Living Documentation” for the system, (See Gojko Adzic‘s writings on this). This emphasizes the need for both Readability and Coverage. Automated tests in agile are quite different from in a traditional process, since they are run continually throughout the process, not just at the end. I’ve found many traditional automation approaches don’t lead to enough Speed and Robustness to support agile development.

I hope you will find these principles will help you to reason about the automated tests in your suite.

At agile2008 I attended a session with Dan North about Behaviour Driven Development. Someone on the agile sweden mailing list was asking about it, so I decided to write up my notes here.

Most cellphone and computer software is delivered late and over budget. The biggest contributing factor to cost bloat is building the wrong thing. So what software and business people need is “a shared understanding of what done looks like”.

Test Driven Development is about design, conversations, and writing examples for a system that doesn’t yet exist. It’s not really about testing. However, once the system exists, your examples turn into tests, as a rather useful side effect.

A User Story is a promise of a conversation, and it is in that conversation that things go wrong. The customer and developer rarely agree what “enough” and “done” look like, which leads to over- or under- engineering.

Dan suggests a format for User Story cards which aims to prevent this communication gap.

On the front of the User Story index card, you have the title and narrative. The narrative consists of a sentence in this format:

As a stakeholder
I want feature
so that benefit

where benefit is something of value to stakeholder.

On the back of the card, you have a table with three columns

Given this context | When I do this | then this happens

Then you have 4 or 5 rows in the table, each detailing a scenario. (If you need more than that then the story is too big and should be split)

Dan finds that in his work, this leads to conversations about User Stories where “done” and “enough” are discussed, and defined.

User Stories should be about activities, not features. In order to check that your User Story is an activity, you should be able to do a thought experiment where you implement the story as a task to be performed by people on rollerblades with paper. You must think about it as a business process, not a piece of software.

When creating the story cards, the whole team should be involved, but it is primarily the business/end user stakeholders and business analysts who write the title and narrative on the cards. They then take in a tester to help them to write the scenarios.

Are people familiar with the V model of software testing? When this was conceived, they thought that the whole process would take 2 years, and span the whole project. Dan ususally does it in 2 days. Many times for each project.

Then Dan offered to show us how to do BDD using plain JUnit. He requested a pair from the audience, so I volunteered. At this point my notes dry up, and I am working from memory, but I think the general idea is like this.

You talk about “behaviour specs” not tests. The words you use influence the way you think, and “behaviour specification” gives much better associations than “tests”.

Each behaviour specification should be named to indicate the behavour it is specifying. Not “testCustomerAccountEmpty” rather “customerAccountShouldBeEmpty”.

In the body of the spec, you can start out by typing in the prose of one of the scenarios you have on the user story, as a comment.

//given we have a flimble containing a schmooz
// when we request the next available frooble
// then we are given a half baked frooble and the schmooz.

Then you can fill in code after the “given” comment. When you have code that does what the comment says, delete the comment. Repeat with the “when” and “then” comments.

In this way, you build up a behaviour specification that drives your development of the system. A few minutes later (hopefully) you have a system which implements the specification, and at that point your spec helpfully turns magically into a regression test which you can run. At that point you can start calling it a test if you like. But actually it is more helpful to your brain to continue to think of it as a behaviour specification. It leads to much more constructive conversations about the system.