Exploration Through Example

Example-driven development, Agile testing, context-driven testing, Agile programming, Ruby, and other things of interest to Brian Marick
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Fri, 22 Aug 2003

Agile testing directions: tests and examples

Part 2 of a series
The table of contents is on the right

'It all depends on what you mean by home.'

'Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.'
                                            'I should have called it
Something you somehow haven't to deserve.'

-- Robert Frost, "The Death of the Hired Man"

In my first posting, I drew this matrix:

Consider the left to right division. Some testing on agile projects, I say, is done to critique a product; other testing, to support programming. But the meaning and the connotations of the word "testing" differ wildly in the two cases.

When it comes to supporting programming, tests are mainly about preparing and reassuring. You write a test to help you clarify your thinking about a problem. You use it as an illustrative example of the way the code ought to behave. It is, fortunately, an example that actively checks the code, which is reassuring. These tests also find bugs, but that is a secondary purpose.

On the other side of the division, tests are about uncovering prior mistakes and omissions. The primary meaning is about bugs. There are secondary meanings, but that primary meaning is very primary. (Many testers, especially the best ones, have their identities wrapped up in the connotations of those words.)

I want to try an experiment. What if we stopped using the words "testing" and "tests" for what happens in the left side of the matrix? What if we called them "checked examples" instead?

Imagine two XP programmers sitting down to code. They'll start by constructing an incisive example of what the code needs to do next. They'll check that it doesn't do it yet. (If it does, something's surely peculiar.) They'll make the code do it. They'll check that the example is now true, and that all the other examples remain good examples of what the code does. Then they'll move on to an example of the next thing the code should do.

Is there a point to that switch, or is it just a meaningless textual substitution? Well, you do experiments to find these things out. Try using "example" occasionally, often enough that it stops sounding completely weird. Now: Does it change your perspective at all when you sit down to code? Does it make a difference to walk up to a customer and ask for an example rather than a test? Add on some adjectives: what do motivating, telling, or insightful examples look like, and how are they different from powerful tests? ("Powerful" being the typical adjective-of-praise attached to a test.) Is it easier to see what a tester does on an XP project when everyone else is making examples, when no one else is making tests?

Credit: Ward Cunningham added the adjective "checked". I was originally calling them either "guiding" or "coaching" examples.

## Posted at 14:38 in category /agile [permalink] [top]

About Brian Marick
I consult mainly on Agile software development, with a special focus on how testing fits in.

Contact me here: marick@exampler.com.




Agile Testing Directions
Tests and examples
Technology-facing programmer support
Business-facing team support
Business-facing product critiques
Technology-facing product critiques
Testers on agile projects

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