June 21, 2018

...Learn TDD with Codemanship

Adopting TDD - The Codemanship Roadmap

I've been doing Test-Driven Development for 20 years, and helping dev teams to do it for almost as long. Over that time I've seen thousands of developers and hundreds of teams try to adopt this crucial enabling practice. So I've built a pretty clear picture of what works and what doesn't when you're adopting TDD.

TDD has a steep learning curve. It fundamentally changes the way you approach code, putting the "what" before the "how" and making us work backwards from the question. The most experienced developers, with years of test-after, find it especially difficult to rewrite their internal code to make it comfortable. It's like learning to write with your other hand.

I've seen teams charge at the edifice of this learning curve, trying to test-drive everything from Day #1. That rarely works. Productivity nosedives, and TDD gets jettisoned at the next urgent deadline.

The way to climb this mountain is to ascend via a much shallower route, with a more gentle and realistic gradient. You will most probably not be test-driving all your code in the first week. Or the first month. typically, I find it takes 4-6 months for teams to get the hang of TDD, with regular practice.

So, I have a recommended Codemanship Route To TDD which has worked for many individuals and teams over the last decade.

Week #1: For teams, an orientaton in TDD is a really good idea. It kickstarts the process, and gets everyone talking about TDD in practical detail. My 3-day TDD workshop is designed specifically with this in mind. It shortcuts a lot of conversations, clears up a bunch of misconceptions, and puts a rocket under the team's ambitions to succeed with TDD.

Week #2-#6: Find a couple of hours a week, or 20 minutes a day, to do simple TDD "katas", and focus on the basic Red-Green-Refactor cycle, doing as many micro-iterations as you can to reinforce the habits

Week #7-#11: Progress onto TDD-ing real code for 1 day a week. This could be production code you're working on, or a side project. The goal for that day is to focus on doing it right. The other 4 days of the week, you can focus on getting stuff done. So, overall, your productivity maybe only dips a bit each week. As you gain confidence, widen this "doing it right" time.

Week #12-#16: By this time, you should find TDD more comfortable, and don't struggle to remember what you're supposed to do and when. Your mind is freed up to focus on solving the problem, and TDD is becoming your default way of working. You'll be no less productive TDD-ing than you were befpre (maybe even more productive), and the code you produce will be more reliable and easier to change.

The Team Dojo: Some teams are keen to put their new TDD skills to the test. An exercise I've seen work well for this is my Team Dojo. It's a sufficiently challenging problem, and really works on those individual skills as well as collaborative skills. Afterwards, you can have a retrospective on how the team did, examining their progress (customer tests passed), code quality and the disciplie that was applied to it. Even in the most experienced experienced teams, the doj will reveal gaps that need addressing.

Graduation: TDD is hard. Learning to test-drive code involves all sorts of dev skills, and teams that succeed tell me they feel a real sense of achievement. It can be good to celebrate that achievement. Whether it's a party, or a little ceremony or presentation, when organisations celebrate the achievement with their dev teams, it shows reall commitment to them and to their craft.

Of course, you don't have to do it my way. What's important is that you start slow and burn your pancakes away from the spotlight of real projects with real deadlines. Give yourself the space and the safety to get it wrong, and over time you'll get it less and less wrong.

If you want to talk about adopting TDD on your team, drop me a line.

Posted 3 weeks, 4 days ago on June 21, 2018