The full potential of many an agile organization is hardly ever reached. Many teams find themselves redefining user stories although they have been committed to as part of the sprint. The ‘ready phase’, meant to get user stories clear and sufficiently detailed so they can be implemented, is missed. How will each user story result in high quality features that deliver business value? The ‘Definition of Ready’ is lacking one important entry: “Automated tests are available.” Ensuring to have testable and hence automated acceptance criteria before committing to user stories in a sprint, allows you to retain focus during the sprint. We define this as: Ready, Test, Go!
Behaviour-Driven Development has proven to be a fine technique to write automated acceptance criteria. Using the Gherkin format (given, when, then), examples can be specified that need to be supported by the system once the user story is completed. When a sufficiently detailed list of examples is available, all Scrum stakeholders agree with the specification. Common understanding is achieved that when the story is implemented, we are one step closer to building the right thing.
The specification itself becomes executable: at any moment in time, the gap between the desired and implemented functionality becomes visible. In other words, this automated acceptance test should be run continuously. First time, it happily fails. Next, implementation can start. This, following Test-Driven Development principles, starts with writing (also failing) unit tests. Then, development of the production code starts. When the unit tests are passing and acceptance tests for a story are passing, other user stories can be picked up; stories of which the tests happily fail. Tests thus act as a safeguard to continuously verify that the team is building the thing right. Later, the automated tests (acceptance tests and unit tests) serve as a safety net for regression testing during subsequent sprints.
That's simple: release your software to production. Ensure that other testing activities (performance tests, chain tests, etc) are as much as possible automated and performed as part of the sprint.
The (Agile) Test Automation Engineer
In order to facilitate or boost this way of working, the role of the test automation engineer is key. The test automation engineer is defining the test architecture and facilitating the necessary infrastructure needed to run tests often and fast. He is interacting with developers to co-develop fixtures, to understand how the production code is built, and to decide upon the structure and granularity of the test code.
Apart from their valuable and unique analytical skills, relevant testers grow their technical skills. If it cannot be automated, it cannot be checked, so one might question whether the user story is ready to be committed to in a sprint. The test automation engineer helps the Scrum teams to identify when they are ‘ready to test’ and urges the product owner and business to specify requirements – at least for the next sprint ahead.
So: ready, test, go!!