When not to use BBD (yet)

What is BDD

This blog is not about explaining BDD in detail, but here’s a short description. BDD is a way to build software against tests that are defined beforehand. BDD allows you to make sure your whole application is working, not just parts of it. It’s basically an outside-in way of testing, as apposed to unit testing which is focussed on the inner parts of the application.

What BDD is not

BDD is not a way to discover your application’s requirements or use cases. It’s a way of documenting the requirements and use cases in an executable way. Even the Wikipedia article on BDD gets it wrong here, so it’s a common misconception.

The pitfall I’ve come across is always starting your user story implementation with BDD. In the cases where you know how your application should behave that’s fine, but when the behavior still needs to be fleshed out BDD can get in your way. The confusion is between problem description and solution design, BDD is solution design while you might confuse it for problem description.

So let’s take an example:

Suppose your customer wants to have a view on the customers orders. The orders are stored in a database, but not necessarily¬†in a user friendly structure. The user also isn’t very familiar with all the data that is stored in the order, because some of the data comes from external systems. Now, when you start asking your user for BDD examples, you will probable fail. You can’t get examples for statuses, missing information, multi-line orders etc. because the user simply doesn’t know what he/she wants exactly at this stage.

So the usual course of action is to either discuss some examples of the data, but in this example the we ‘just build something ™’. We asked the users to interact with the data for a few weeks by just showing the raw data structure. The users could relate the stored orders to other sources of information, their work process and past systems that stored customer orders. Only after that experience could they tell us how they wanted to see the data, what features they would like, what manual steps they’d like automated. And only now could we actually create a BDD scenario.

If you’d started with BDD, you would have been describing user goals and scenario’s that they couldn’t really support. Since you’re not building to solve their problems (because you don’t know them yet) how can you create BDD scenario’s? In that case your BDD tests will just be system integration tests, not value driven scenarios. So skip BDD in this case until you’ve learned a little bit more.

Lean Startup Approach – paper mockups

In the Lean Startup reminded us all of finding out what problem you’re solving before you start solving it. The goal in the Lean Startup is learning about your customers problems, desires, needs etc. The trick is to find the fastest (and cheapest) way to learn so that you can solve the right problem effectively. Sometimes writing code is the easiest way to start learning, get something out there. Now this kind of code is similar to the post-it notes in a customer brainstorming session: you throw them away.

Wrapping up

So to summarize, if you know how the application should behave use BDD. Often when a user just wants the same features he/she has seen before on another application or website, the behavior is clear. If application behavior is not clear, make sure the problems/needs are discovered and you’ve agreed on the application design before starting BDD.

A drawing that explain the two scenarios:

Application behavior is known, use BDD
Discovering through building, use BDD later
When not to use BBD (yet)