Behavior-Driven Development

However, around four years ago,[13] a group of Agile practitioners starting rocking the boat. The key observation seemed to be that it’s perfectly possible to write high quality, well-tested, reliable, and maintainable code, and miss the point altogether. As software developers, we are employed not to write code, but to help our customers to solve problems. In practice, the problems we solve pretty much always fit into one of three categories:

  1. Help the customer make more money.

  2. Help the customer spend less money.

  3. Help the customer protect the money they already have.

Around this recognition grew up an evolution of TDD focused specifically around helping developers write code that matters. Just as TDD proved to be a hugely effective tool in enhancing the technical quality of software, behavior-driven development (BDD) set out to enhance the success with which software fulfilled the business’s need.

The shift from TDD to BDD is subtle, but significant. Instead of thinking in terms of verification of a unit of code, we think in terms of a specification of how that code should behave—what it should do. Our task is to write a specification of system behavior that is precise enough for it to be executed as code.

Importantly, BDD is about conversations. The whole point of BDD is to ensure that the real business objectives of stakeholders get met by the software we deliver. If stakeholders aren’t involved, if discussions aren’t taking place, BDD isn’t happening. BDD yields benefits across many important areas.

Building the Right Thing

BDD helps to ensure that the right features are built and delivered the first time. By remembering the three categories of problems that we’re typically trying to solve, and by beginning with the stakeholders—the people who are actually going to be using the software we write—we are able to clearly specify what the most important features are, and arrive at a definition of done that encapsulates the business driver for the software.

Reducing Risk

BDD also reduces risk—risk that, as developers, we’ll go off at a tangent. If our focus is on making a test pass, and that test encapsulates the customer requirement in terms of the behavior of the end result, the likelihood that we’ll get distracted or write something unnecessary is greatly reduced. Interestingly, a suite of acceptance tests developed this way, in partnership with the stakeholder, also forms an excellent starting point for monitoring the system throughout its lifecycle. We know how the system should behave, and if we can automate tests that prove the system is working according to specification, and put alerts around them (both in the development process so we capture defects, and when live so we can resolve and respond to service degradation), we have grounded our monitoring in the behavior of the application that the stakeholder has defined as being of paramount importance to the business.

Evolving Design

It also helps us to think about the design of the system. The benefits of writing unit tests to increase confidence in our code are pretty obvious. Maturing to the point that we write these tests first helps us focus on writing only the code that is explicitly needed. The tests also serve as a map to the code, and offer lightweight documentation. By tweaking our approach towards thinking about specifying behavior rather than testing classes and methods, we come to appreciate test-driven development as a practice that helps us discover how the system should work, and molds our thinking towards elegant solutions that meet the requirements.

How does all of this relate to Infrastructure as Code? Well, as infrastructure developers, we are providing the underlying systems which make it possible to effectively deliver software. This means our customers are often application developers or test and QA teams. Of course, our customers are also the end users of the software that runs on our systems, so we’re responsible for ensuring our infrastructure performs well and remains available when needed. Having accepted that we need some kind of mechanism for testing our infrastructure to ensure it evolves rapidly without unwanted side effects, bringing the principle of BDD into the equation helps us to ensure that we’re delivering business value by providing the infrastructure that is actually needed. We can avoid wasting time pursuing the latest and greatest technology by realizing we could meet the requirements of the business more readily with a simpler and established solution.



[13] Dan North at ThoughtWorks and Dave Astels, a well-regarded independent consultant, both started presenting on this area and working on tools in 2007.

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