It’s about the examples you can’t find, not the ones you can

A long time ago, I was toying with the idea of starting my test methods with “will”, instead of “should”.

Dan explained to me, “If you start with the word ‘will’, you’re already making the assumption that you understand what you’re doing. Using ‘should’ allows you to question whether you understand or not.”

For me, that was the moment that I suddenly got it. BDD and TDD aren’t actually about making sure that something works well. They’re about uncovering the parts you don’t understand; the parts that are hard, and the gaps. Dan’s post introducing “Deliberate Discovery” takes this idea even further, but it started here: replacing the word “test” with the word “should”.

This is why I find it more useful to look for the gaps in the examples; scenarios we haven’t thought of, or don’t know what to do. Chris Matts calls this, “Breaking the model”. Often whatever we do here is wrong, so we need to write down our suggestions and then get feedback on them.

If you do anything which starts suggesting to people that these examples are correct and complete – like, for instance, automating them or referring to them as “specifications” – then you may find yourself running into trouble. Automation is a commitment, specification can be seen as one, and we know by now that we never commit early unless we know why.

You might also want to keep a small record of the looser requirements or behaviour that spawned the examples – for instance, as blurb in a scenario or as a method name – just so that you can give yourself a chance of spotting those gaps later. You won’t always get it right first time, and that should be OK.

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