A TDL Communicates Intent and Describes Behavior

The goal of a Test Description Language (TDL) is to put a little structure and a little rigor around effective test writing, where “effective test writing” means tests that communicate intent (which correspond to your scenario title) and describe behavior (the steps of your scenario). Since those attributes should be what all statements of requirement strive for, this means that requirements and tests, at some level of approximation, can be the same artifact. That “level of approximation” is the point at which you get down to specifying the behavior that users find value in.

Let’s dig into this a bit more.

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Communicating In a Test Description Language

A TDL (Test Description Language) is a constructed language that we use to describe, and thus specify, our requirements as tests. Or our tests as requirements, if you prefer. This is what allows testing to be a design activity. What makes a style of writing a TDL is adherence to a structuring element and a set of principles and patterns that are used to guide expression.

Current forms of TDL swirl around various BDD concepts, such as Given-When-Then. But it’s clear that just having that focus in place does nothing for you by itself because there is a lot of thought that goes into how you want to express yourself. I’ve found many testers really struggle with this but, equally, I’ve found I struggle in being able to adequately teach at what level you work at with a TDL.

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When Business Needs Become Specs That Become Code

There is a distinction I want to make in this post regarding what you change in a test specification and how a test specification itself my change, in terms of the role it provides. That leads into a nice segue about how team roles also change. Here by “test specification” I mean the traditional “feature file” of BDD tools like Cucumber, Lettuce, Spinach, SpecFlow, and so on.

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Test Specifications and Fluid Test Writing

I have been introducing Cucumber to testers who have little exposure to such tools. I was looking at whether The Cucumber Book would be worth having around the office. And while it may or may not be, one thing I notice is that it (like most resources on Cucumber I find) don’t really address some of the heuristics regarding how you can start thinking about writing test specifications.

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Spec Workshops, Collaboration, and Test Writing

I’ve found myself in a position lately of having to explain a lot of concepts that are “obvious” to me. I found myself getting frustrated but then I considered my own words regarding the “obvious” nature of Quality Assurance and I realized that maybe I wasn’t establishing the context of what I was talking about. So I took step back and I started to look at whether many of the testers I work with and meet these days are aware of, much less practice, the idea of requirements being tests; of acceptance test specifications that drive development; of specification workshops. As it turned out, no, most testers were not practicing these concepts and many were not even aware of them as a shift in the dynamic of how testing can be done.

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Specifying Application Workflow Activities

Lately I’ve been writing a lot of specifications and by that I mean test specifications. And by that I mean the specifications you tend to write in tools like Cucumber, SpecFlow, Lettuce and so on. What’s been interesting is deciding at what level of intent to write at.

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Tests as Specifications

In Testing’s Brave New World, I ended up talking about BDD and the concepts that testing, acting as a design activity, has to work within. That was a post fairly heavy on nomenclature concerns. I sort of skirted around the issue that it’s the tools we use in our BDD type activities that are often forcing us to consider this terminology. Even if you are not using a specific tool, but rather a technique like spec workshops — which is a “BDD activity” — you are still wrestling with these terms.

So let’s put this in some context.

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Testing’s Brave New World

As a tester you will often encounter environments that desire to practice some form of Behavior-Driven Development (BDD) and testing practices must fit within that. The term “BDD” may be used more or less vaguely. One thing that’s often somewhat common is that people will start to promote so-called “BDD tools.” Examples here would be tools like Cucumber, Spinach, Turnip, SpecFlow, Behat, Lettuce, and so forth. These tools all ask you to adhere to some sort of organization based on terms like “feature”, “story”, “scenario” and so on. What this often ends up doing is totally missing the point.

But what is the point?

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Testing By Any Other Name…

In my post Are We Defocusing Our Development and Test Practices? I was talking about the various “driven-development” terms. I had brought up how Behavior Driven Development (BDD) seems to have largely come about because some people felt that the term “test” was a bit too confusing for some people or, at the very least, off putting for some reasons that are not explained very well. There was thus apparently a shift to “examples” that talked about “behavior” and this was somehow different than a test. And this somehow made everything a bit better. But did it? What was it about the terms “test” and “testing” that were just not working? I’d rather people deal with that problem before thinking we need to come up with new acronyms. I say that because, ultimately, the concepts of a “test” and the activity of “testing” is still very much there.

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Are We Defocusing Our Development and Test Practices?

As a tester, you’ll hear about behavior-driven development (BDD). Sometimes this goes by acceptance test-driven development (ATDD) or maybe even acceptance test-driven planning (ATDP). You may hear that these are related to test-driven development (TDD). After a while you might start to wonder if these are just different ways of saying the exact same thing.

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