Net Objectives

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Test-Driven Development in the Larger Context: Pt 4. Synergy

Having established the differences between ATDD and UTDD, how are they the same? Why are they both called “TDD” collectively?

Tests ensure a detailed and specific, shared understanding of behavior.

If properly trained, those who create these tests will subject their knowledge to a rigorous and unforgiving standard; it is hard if not impossible to create a high-quality test about something you do not know enough about. It is also unwise to try and implement behavior before you have that understanding. TDD ensures that you have sufficient and correct understanding by placing tests in the primary position. This is equally true for acceptance tests as it is for unit tests, it's just that the audience for the conversation is different..

Tests capture knowledge that would otherwise be lost.

Many organizations we encounter in our consulting practice have large complex legacy systems that no one understands very well. The people who designed and built them have often retired or moved on to other positions, and the highly valuable knowledge they possessed left with them. If tests are written to capture this knowledge (which, again, requires that those who write them are properly trained in this respect) then not only is this knowledge retained, but also its accuracy can be verified at any time in the future by simply executing the tests. This is true whether the tests are automated or not, but obviously the automation is a big advantage here. This leads us to view tests, when written up-front, as specifications. They hold the value that specifications hold, but add the ability to verify accuracy in the future.

Furthermore, if any change to the system is required, TDD mandates that the tests are updated before the production code as part of the cadence of the work. This ensures that the changes are correct, and that the specification never becomes outdated. Only TDD can do this.

Tests ensure quality design.

As anyone can tell you who has tried to add tests after the fact to a legacy system, bad design is notoriously hard to test. If tests precede development, then design flaws are made clear early in the painful process of trying to test them.  In other words, TDD will tell you early if your design is weak because the pain you’ll feel is a diagnostic tool, as all pain is. Adequate training in design (design patterns training for example)will ensure that the team understands what the design should be, and the tests will confirm when this has happened. Note that this is true whether tests are written or not; it is the point of view that accompanies testability that drives toward better design. In this respect the actual tests become an extremely useful side-product. That said, once it is determined how to test something, which ensures that it is indeed testable, then the truly difficult work is done. One might as well write the tests…

What TDD does not do, neither in terms of ATDD nor UTDD, is replace traditional testing. The quality control/quality assurance process that has traditionally followed development is still needed as TDD will not test all aspects of the system, only those needed to create it. Usability, scalability, security, and so on still need to be ensured by traditional testing. What TDD does do is contribute some of the tests needed by QA, but certainly not all of them.

There is another benefit to the adoption of TDD, one of healthy culture. In many organizations, developers view the testing effort as a source of either no news (the tests confirm the system is correct) or bad news (the tests point out flaws). Similarly, testers view the developers as a source of myriad problems they must detect and report.

When TDD is adopted, developers have a clearer understanding of the benefits of testing from their perspective. Indeed, TDD can become a strongly-preferred way to work by developers because it leads to a kind of certainty and confidence that they are unaccustomed to, and crave. On the other hand, testers begin to see the development effort as a source of many of the tests that they, in the past, had to retrofit onto the system. This frees them up to add the more interesting, more sophisticated tests (that require their experience and knowledge) which otherwise often end up being cut from the schedule due to lack of time. This, of course, leads to better and more robust products overall.

Driving development from tests initially seemed like an odd idea to most who heard of it. The truth is, it makes perfect sense. It’s always important to understand what you are going to build before you build it, and tests are a very good way to ensure that you do and that everyone is on the same page. But tests deliver more value than this; they can also be used to efficiently update the system, and to capture the knowledge that existed when the system was created, months, years, even decades in the future. They ensure that the value of the work done will be persistent value, and in complete alignment with the forces that make the business thrive.

TDD helps everyone.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4


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