Deliberate Discovery with Gáspár Nagy and Seb Rose: Working Together is Success

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Henry Ford has coined hundreds of brilliant ideas, yet, there is one which is very much true even in the today’s world of software delivery: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

In the spring 2017, when I first heard about Behaviour-Driven Development (BDD) and read the book BDD In Action, I understood BDD as a way to better specify requirements at our software-delivery project. After all, back then this was a goal of a business analyst – to write better specification and throw it over the fence to a developer and tester so that they would know what to do.
BDD in the way I got it seemed to be a sound remedy to the issues we faced back in the days, mainly improvements coming out of the clash between business expectations vs. our delivery, and lots of bugs stemming from the fact that we neither had a common way to write our specifications, nor did we practice an approach that would allow us to understand requirements at the team level. You can read more about those times in the introduction to another post of mine: Specification by Example with Gojko Adzic.

The participation at the workshop given by Gojko in early 2018 opened my eyes a bit more and I started to see the real idea behind BDD. To be fair towards the BDD in Action, re-reading the book allowed me to see what I originally did not get. BDD is not about writing better specification, even though it eventually helps to do that. BDD is rather about delivering maintainable software of a great value through better cooperation and communication within a team.

As Johan Wolfgang von Goethe once put it: “Everyone hears only what he understands.” This was true for my original understanding of BDD and this has turned out to be true also for our software-delivery project. Individual people at various roles at our project quite often understood expectations, requirements and specifications in their own ways – and they were not even aware of the different understanding until it came to light at a very late stage, usually after the development had finished.

When I met Gáspár Nagy and Seb Rose at the Craft Conerence in May 2018 they outlined to me how to make everyone u-n-d-e-r-s-t-a-n-d in the same way. They called this approach a deliberate discovery, i.e. a discovery of the requirements intentionally before lots of effort get invested, rather than accidentally in a form of unpleasant surprises during the development or even at the deployment stage.

Reading their concise book on the topic showed me that the deliberate discovery was just the first step towards applying BDD at a project, yet a quintessential one for being able to put into practice the following two steps: Formulation and Automation. First the team needs to agree and understand what it is to be done, only then the functionality can be specified (formulation), and only then automated tests may be created and living documentation achieved (automation). It would be easy to go for automation immediately, yet automating something we are not sure of is a certain way to a disaster. At the same time as the authors put it “Delivery is mandatory. The subsequent practices [formulation, automation] deliver incremental value and facilitate continuous delivery and continuous deployment.”

Seb and Gaspar’s book on the deliberate discovery was an easy weekend read. Even before turning the last page it was clear to me this was the way to work in our team. Luckily enough, adopting the approach seemed easier, as we had just transitioned our organisation towards a cross-functional setup with full-stack highly independent verticals.

Within our team (a squad) we made a decision to put the ideas from the deliberate-discovery book into action. This meant we met as a team to discuss one of the upcoming functionalities. At that moment all roles (a product owner, a business analyst, a developer, a tester, a designer) found themselves in a room and with the facilitation of our scrum master we spoke about one of the next things to deliver.
People started coming up with ideas, questions, we pointed out weak points of the requirement. Even at the very first attempt to do deliberate discovery it was obvious that engagement and the different-role-perspective benefit was something we had ignored a way to much. Yet, we struggled with the example mapping and excessive freedom – it seemed like we could discuss the functionality for hours and days, easily missing an expected delivery date. This struggling seemed to be a great preparation for a workshop I had anyway intended to organize – so we asked Seb and Gáspár to come and share their knowledge and years of experience with us directly.

The two give their BDD Fundamentals workshop in two days and cover all three parts. Yet, I deliberately asked whether it would be possible to make two customizations:

  • Have a single-day workshop focused on understanding the value of deliberate discovery (the mandatory part of BDD) as a team, dig a bit into the formulation, yet leave the more technical part (automation) possibly for another time.
  • Teach us the deliberate discovery using an upcoming functionality from our project rather than using a general example such as an address change for a pizza delivery business.

When the day of the workshop came on the 31st of July 2018, the fifteen of us and the trainers met to spend a day together. Most of our team members managed to take part and the remaining spaces were offered to scrum masters and product owners of other teams, so that they would be able to evaluate a possible benefit of such a workshop to their work.

 

The trainers started with a set of true/false statements which were meant to see what our understanding of BDD was before the workshop, so that we would be able to compare it to the understanding at the end of the day. After that, Seb and Gáspár let us brainstorm about the meaning of terms such as deliberate discovery, rules-examples-tests, and living documentation. Once done, we together went through the terms in the context of the Behaviour Driven Development, where the trainers used their 50 years of shared experience with software delivery to demonstrate why projects fail and how the chances for sucess can be tremendously increased by applying the BDD principles. This served as a great support for the BDD evangelization I had done internally because the two BDD practicioners could answer all questions and back up the answers by experience from numerous projects.

What we learnt about a deliberate discovery session based on the example mapping:
Preparation
– needs to be practised ideally on a daily basis (must be scheduled for the same time slot); possible cancellation causes a boost of endorphins within the team
– should last max 25 minutes
– is done by the BA (business analyst) and the PO (product owner) who prepare a story, rules and an initial introduction
– participant needs to get informed about the topic to be discussed a day in advance

Running
– at least the so called 3-amigos setup (to have various roles present)
– max 6 participants (to keep a single discussion going)
– the BA and PO provide a story (a yellow card) + rules (blue cards) and an initial introduction
– the developer and tester (+everyone else) come up with examples to challenge the functionality rules
examples gets discussed together and their originators write them on individual green cards
questions that cannot be answered get parked on red cards to be answered after the session

Output
– a yellow card with the name of the discussed story
– a set of blue cards with rules related to the discussed functionality
– a set of green cards with various example demonstrating the rules (at least 2 examples for each rule)
– a set of red cards with questions that need to get answered and further discussed
– NOT a set of Given-When-Then scenarios

As a team we managed to see how the example-mapping based deliberate discovery session should be done while applying it on a a real functionality from our project which we are about to deliver in the upcoming months. Even though deliberate discovery sessions may be seen as a huge time investment, they have proven to bring worthy benefits. They increase team engagement, support knowledge sharing, and bring better understanding of functionalities to be build. Having the same understanding across the organization before the development starts eventually reduces the number of must-have improvements and bugs. This is a valuable return on investment which speeds up the delivery, boosts the quality, builds trust, and increases the satisfaction of the team: the team can focus most of their energy on a meaningful evolution of the product rather than on never-ending firefighting of what has (again) gone wrong.

The example mapping as a discovery technique invented by Matt Wynne and used within BDD is fully documented online in a Cucumber blogpost written by Matt himself.

Only once a deliberate discovery of a specific story is finished, the shared understanding can get transferred from the color-based cards (a story, rules, examples) into the Given-When-Then scenarios using the Gherkin syntax. These scenarios can subsequently be used on top of the implementation and automated tests to create a living documentation. Such a documentation provides at any time an up-to-date overview of the desired behaviour with the actual state (pass/fail/to-do) for each of the scenarios – and most importantly this documentation can be read and understood by all stakeholders regardles the level of their technical background.

This is how BDD looks from 5,000 feet:

  1. Decide the next user story to work on
  2. Use concrete examples to explore and discover the acceptance criteria for the user story
  3. Formulate a concrete example as a scenario
  4. Automate a scenario and see it fail
  5. Write a programmer test and see it fail
  6. Write enough code to make the programmer test pass
  7. Refactor to clean up the code
  8. Manual exploratory testing
  9. Release to production

The BDD Fundamentals Workshop by Gáspár Nagy and Seb Rose was extremely well executed and the participants appreciated especially:

  • the chance to meet experts from the agile universe
  • getting better understanding of BDD and the benefits it brings
  • getting experience with the deliberate discovery using the example mapping technique
  • attending as a squad brought an unexpected team-building benefit

At the same time the participants would like to have spent more time with the trainers to get additional experience with the example mapping technique. Developers and testers also wish to have had the automation as a part of the workshop to learn the technicalities behind BDD. Yet the automation part was deliberately left out in order to reduce the scope and complexity of the workshop, and can get organized as a standalone session later on.

The BDD Fundaments workshop has clarified to our team how to do the deliberate discovery and example mapping properly and more efficiently. It has also inspired us to go deeper into the automation and living documentation direction. We have already turned this inspiration into a working proof of concept where we integrated the cypress.io all-in-one testing framework, which is used at our project, with a cucumber plugin and reached gherkin-based living documentation for a part of our functionality where we have had a great cross-team understanding. I do recommend the BDD workshop with Gáspar and Seb to any team that wants to learn doing the discovery part of Behaviour Driven Development and to any team which wants to collaborate in a better way – because as Henry Ford put it, working together is success.

 

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