Example Mapping

What is BDD, and How Do We Practice It? (Webinar + Q&A)

On March 18, 2019, I gave a webinar entitled, “What is Behavior-Driven Development, and How Do We Practice It?” in collaboration with Paul Merrill and his company, Beaufort Fairmont. It was both a pleasure and an honor to do this webinar with them. Paul is a top-notch test automation expert, and Beaufort Fairmont is doing really exciting things. Check out their two-day BDD training offering, as well as their blog and other webinars.

To see my webinar recording, register here.

During the webinar, attendees asked more questions than we could answer. I’m excited that so many people asked questions. My answers are below.

Questions about Process

How is BDD different from TDD (Test-Driven Development)?

BDD is an evolution of TDD. In TDD, developers (1) write unit tests and watch them fail, (2) develop the feature to make the tests pass, (3) refactor the code to make it stronger, and (4) repeat the cycle. In BDD, teams do this same loop with feature tests (a.k.a “acceptance” or “black-box” tests) as well as unit tests. Furthermore, BDD adds shift left practices like Example Mapping and Specification by Example so that teams know what they are doing and focus on developing the right things.

Check out Dan North’s article, Introducing BDD, for a more thorough answer.

Can BDD be used with manual testing?

Yes! BDD is not merely an automation tool – it is a set of pragmatic practices to help teams develop better software. Gherkin scenarios are first and foremost behavior specs that help a team’s collaboration and accountability. They function secondarily as test cases that can be executed either manually or with automation.

Can we use BDD with technical stories or backend features?

Yes! If you can describe it, then you can do it.

How many Gherkin scenarios should one story have?

There’s no hard rule, but I recommend no more than a handful of rules per story, and no more than a handful of examples per rule. If you do Example Mapping and feel overwhelmed by the number of cards for a story, then the story should probably be broken into smaller stories.

Should we do Example Mapping for every story? Spending 20-30 minutes for each story would take a long time.

Try doing Example Mapping on one or two stories to start. The first time is always rough, but as you iterate on it, you’ll get better as a team. Even though Example Mapping has an upfront time cost, it will save a lot of time later in the sprint because (a) acceptance criteria is clear, (b) tests are already written, and (c) everyone has a mutual understanding of the story. The team won’t suffer through the inefficiencies of miscommunication and poor planning. You may even want to replace planning meeting with Example Mapping meetings.

What metrics should we use with BDD?

All metrics are flawed, but some metrics are useful. All the standard testing and Agile metrics still apply: code coverage, story velocity, etc. Here are some additional metrics you may consider for BDD:

  • the percentage of stories that undergo Example Mapping before the sprint
  • the number of rules and examples that get “missed” during Example Mapping and need to be added later
  • the percentage of Gherkin scenarios that get automated in the sprint

If you choose to track metrics, make sure their feedback is used to improve team practices. For more info on metrics, please read my Quality Metrics 101 series.

What were the resources you recommended at the end of the webinar?

Questions about Tools

What test management tools should we use with BDD?

I’m sure there are BDD plugins for test management tools, but I don’t have any that I can personally recommend. To be honest, I try to stay away from large test management tools like HP ALM, qTest, VersionOne. When doing BDD, the Gherkin feature files themselves should be the single source of truth for feature-level tests, and they should be version-controlled in a repository. Don’t fall into the trap of slapping “Given-When-Then” keywords onto existing functional tests – that’s not BDD.

Does Jira support Example Mapping?

I have not personally used any Jira plugin for Example Mapping. It looks like there is an Easy Agile User Story Maps plugin that is similar to but slightly different from Example Mapping.

Are there other good tools for BDD and Example Mapping?

What’s the difference between Gherkin, Cucumber, and SpecFlow?

  • Gherkin is the Given-When-Then spec language.
  • Cucumber is a company and its eponymous test framework that uses Gherkin.
  • SpecFlow is Cucumber for .NET.

Questions about Testing

Can BDD test frameworks be used for unit testing?

Yes, but I don’t recommend it. BDD frameworks shine for black-box feature testing. They’re a bit too verbose for code-level unit tests. Read BDD 101: Unit, Integration, and End-to-End Tests for more info.

Can BDD test frameworks be used for integration testing?

Yes! See BDD 101: Unit, Integration, and End-to-End Tests.

How long should Gherkin scenarios be?

Scenarios should be bite-sized. Each scenario should focus on one individual behavior. There’s no hard rule, but I recommend single-digit step counts. Read BDD 101: Writing Good Gherkin for more info.

What are “step definitions” in Cucumber?

Step definitions are the methods in the automation code that execute the steps. When a BDD framework runs a Gherkin scenario as a test, it “glues” each step to a step definition based on some sort of string matching.

How can we minimize duplicate code within a BDD test framework?

Know your steps. Always search for existing steps before writing new steps. Refactor existing steps whenever appropriate. Reuse steps when writing new scenarios. Do pair programming or mob programming when writing scenarios. Put scenarios through code reviews. Apply good coding practices – remember, test automation is software.

I write Gherkin scenarios, but I don’t write test automation code. What’s the best way to write Gherkin scenarios so that they can be automated?

Do pair programming with the automation engineers to write Gherkin scenarios together. Become familiar with existing steps by reading and searching feature files. Otherwise, the Gherkin steps you write in isolation might not be usable. Remember, BDD is a team effort!

The examples in the webinar were all fairly basic. Do you have any examples with more complex systems?

I have some example projects on GitHub in Python and Java with some basic unit, integration, and end-to-end tests, but I don’t have any large-scale examples that I can share publicly.

We wrote hundreds of SpecFlow tests without the other Amigos. Now, there are large test gaps, and many steps aren’t reusable. What should we do?

I’m sorry to hear that. It’s not an uncommon story. There are two paths: (1) refactoring or (2) starting over. Without really knowing the situation, I don’t think it’s my place to say which way is better. Here are some questions to help guide your decision:

  • What are your goals for testing and automation?
  • What’s your overall quality and testing strategy?
  • What parts of the code base are salvageable?
  • What parts of the code base should be removed?
  • If you started again from scratch, what would you do differently to make sure the same problems don’t reoccur?

I strongly recommend taking the Setting a Foundation for Successful Test Automation course from Test Automation University. (It’s free.) I also gave a talk about this very problem, Egad! How Do We Start Writing (Better) Tests?, at a few Python conferences.

We have a large BDD test suite with heavy coupling and slow execution times. The business amigos have also left the company. Should we try to fix what we have or just start over?

Sorry to hear that; same answer as before.

Final Questions

Why do you call yourself the “Automation Panda”?

Pandas are awesome. Everybody loves them. And nobody forgets my moniker.

Where can I get team training in BDD?

Beaufort Fairmont provides a one- or two-day course in BDD and writing Gherkin. Sign up for more information here.

Sprint Planning Sucks. Can It Be Fixed?

Warning: This article contains strong opinions that might not be suitable for all audiences. Reader discretion is advised.

It’s Monday morning. After an all-too-short weekend and rush hour traffic, you finally arrive at the office. You throw your bag down at your desk, run to the break room, and queue up for coffee. As the next pot is brewing, you check your phone. It’s 8:44am… now 8:45am, and DING! A meeting reminder appears:

Sprint Planning – 9am to 3pm.

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What’s your visceral reaction?

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I can’t tell you mine, because I won’t put profanity on my blog.

Real Talk

In the capital-A Agile Scrum process, sprint planning is the kick-off meeting for the next iteration. The whole team comes together to talk about features, size work items with points, and commit to deliverables for the next “sprint” (typically 2 weeks long). Idealistically, team members collaborate freely as they learn about product needs and give valued input.

Let’s have some real talk, though: sprint planning sucks. Maybe that’s a harsh word, but, if you’re reading this article, then it caught your attention. Personally, my sprint planning experiences have been lousy. Why? Am I just bellyaching, or are there some serious underlying problems?

Sprint planning is a huge time commitment. 9am to 3pm is not an exaggeration. Sprint planning meetings are typically half-day to full-day affairs. Most people can’t stay focused on one thing for that long. Plus, when a sprint is only two weeks long, one hour is a big chunk of time, let alone 3, or 6, or a whole day. The longer the meeting, the higher the opportunity cost, and the deeper the boredom.

Collaboration is a farce. Planning meetings typically devolve into one “leader” (like a scrum master, product owner, or manager) pulling teeth to get info for a pre-determined list of stories. Only two people, the leader and the story-owner, end up talking, while everyone else just stares at their laptops until it’s their turn. Discussions typically don’t follow any routine beyond, “What’s the acceptance criteria?” and, “Does this look right?” with an interloper occasionally chiming in. Each team member typically gets only a few minutes of value out of an hours-long ordeal. That’s an inefficient use of everyone’s time.

No real planning actually happens. These meetings ought to be called “guessing” meetings, instead. Story point sizes are literally made up. Do they measure time or complexity? No, they really just measure groupthink. Teams even play a game called planning poker that subliminally encourages bluffing. Then, point totals are used to guess how much work can be done during the sprint. When the guess turns out to be wrong at the end of the sprint (and it always does), the team berates itself in retro for letting points slip. Every. Time.

Does It Spark Joy?

I’ve long wondered to myself if sprint planning is a good concept just implemented poorly, or if it’s conceptually flawed at its root. I’m pretty sure it’s just flawed. The meetings don’t facilitate efficient collaboration relative to their time commitments, and estimates are based on poor models. Retros can’t fix that. And gut reactions don’t lie.

So, what should we do? Should we Konmari our planning meetings to see if they spark joy? Should we get rid of our ceremonies and start over? Is this an indictment of the whole Agile Scrum process? But then, how will we know what to do, and when things can get done?

I think we can evolve our Agile process with more effective practices than sprint planning. And I don’t think that evolution would be terribly drastic.

Behavior-Driven Planning

What we really want out of a planning meeting is planning, not pulling and not predicting. Planning is the time to figure out what will be done and how it will be done. The size of the work should be based on the size of the blueprint. Enter Example Mapping.

Example Mapping is a Behavior-Driven Development practice for clarifying and confirming stories. The process is straightforward:

  1. Write the story on a yellow card.
  2. Write each rule that the story must satisfy on a blue card.
  3. Illustrate each rule with examples written on green cards.
  4. Got stuck on a question? Write it on a red card and move on.

One story should take about 20-30 minutes to map. The whole team can participate, or the team can split up into small groups to divide-and-conquer. Rules become acceptance criteria, examples become test cases, and questions become spikes.

Here’s a good walkthrough of Example Mapping.

What about story size? That’s easy – count the cards. How many cards does a story have? That’s a rough size for the work to be done based on the blueprint, not bluffing. More cards = more complexity. It’s objective. No games. Frankly, it can’t be any worse that made-up point values.

This is real planning: a blueprint with a course of action.

So, rather than doing traditional sprint planning meetings, try doing Example Mapping sessions. Actually plan the stories, and use card counts for point sizes. Decisions about priority and commitments can happen between rounds of story mapping, too. The Scrum process can otherwise remain the same.

If you want to evolve further, you could eliminate the time boxes of sprints in favor of Kanban. Two-week work item boundaries can arbitrarily fall in the middle of progress, which is not only disruptive to workflow but can also encourage bad responses (like cramming to get things done or shaming for not being complete.) Kanban treats work items as a continuous flow of prioritized work fed to a team in bite-sized pieces. When a new story comes up, it can have its own Example Mapping “planning” meeting. Now, Kanban is not for everyone, but it is popular among post-Agile practitioners. What’s important is to find what works for your team.

Rant Over

I know I expressed strong, controversial opinions in this article. And I also recognize that I’m arguing against bad examples of Agile Scrum. Nevertheless, I believe my points are fair: planning itself is not a waste of time, but the way many teams plan their sprints uses time inefficiently and sets poor expectations. There are better ways to do planning – let’s give them a try!