Kevin Cool professional photo

Kevin Cool

Director Consulting Expert

In the evolving software and product development landscape, one method is emerging as a game-changer — Automated Acceptance Test Driven Development. This approach revolutionizes the traditional development process and addresses key challenges, enabling teams to confidently set and achieve goals. Embarking on the journey of Automated ATDD is not just about embracing a new method; it's about dismantling the barriers that hinder efficiency and collaboration within development teams. 

Let's acknowledge the challenges that many teams face—challenges rooted in traditional project management thinking, organizational structures, and persistent post-sprint quality gates.

  • Not following foundational Agile Manifesto principles: The Agile Manifesto, emphasizing collaboration, customer satisfaction, and flexibility, often feels aspirational rather than practical. This is especially true when leadership continues hiring specialized test competencies aligned with traditional project management thinking. Its tendency to throw more people at quality problems rather than addressing the root cause — lack of collaboration and a "bolt-on quality" approach — limits the actual realization of agile principles.
  • Testers beholden to different goals: A common inhibitor is the organizational separation of testers, who often report to a different department than others on a team. Traditional testing organizations are rewarded based on the number of problems found rather than built-in quality injection. This structure creates a disconnect between development and testing, hindering the flow of information and collaboration. In more extreme cases, these competencies are in direct conflict with each other: release value quickly vs. finding problems and sending them back to fix.
  • Implementing ineffective quality gates: Many organizations insist on preserving post-sprint quality gates, such as User Acceptance Testing (UAT), to ensure quality. This is like insisting we install wooden wheels on an electric vehicle. These gates often exacerbate the real problem—the lack of upfront collaboration in capturing the right behavior. And importantly, they remain a hard barrier to true release on demand.

We can overcome these challenges by introducing a method that guides organizations into a better pattern. The notion of relying on in-sprint handoffs or post-sprint gates by advocating for collaboration and test creation before the sprint begins. By shifting the focus to capturing requirements and tests simultaneously, the approach eliminates the need for after-the-fact quality assurance, fostering a culture of continuous collaboration and improvement.

Embracing Automated ATDD

Maximizing in-sprint workflows

A fundamental shift introduced by Automated ATDD is the assertion that content can only enter the sprint backlog once there is concrete evidence of tests being captured, automated, and confirmed as failing. Failing automated tests are a quality check and a powerful indicator of development readiness. This reshapes the role of test experts, guiding them toward ensuring the development environment is ready to test intended behavior through continuous automation. This proactive approach aligns the testing expertise with the development process, fostering a true culture of engineering enablement, collaboration, and shared responsibility.

In-sprint bottlenecks often arise due to the segregation of test and development teams. Although a given team may have the required competencies to develop and test, in practice it’s still “me then you” or a “team within a team” handoff. On the other hand, automated acceptance tests are collaboratively crafted and refined before a given sprint begins. Focusing on passing these tests during development eliminates the need for a handover to a separate testing phase within the sprint. This fosters estimable work and ensures a seamless flow from backlog to done. With clear goals and reduced dependencies, teams can set objectives that drive quality outcomes forward in a collaborative manner.

Prioritizing quality to mitigate the cost 

One of the primary advantages of Automated ATDD is its ability to shift the quality focus earlier in the development process. The approach minimizes the risk of defects escaping into production by capturing requirements and tests simultaneously. The costs associated with post-deploy bug fixes are mitigated as rework is constrained within the development cycle. This enhances the overall quality of the software and saves valuable time and resources that would otherwise be spent on addressing issues after handoff or deployment.

Achieving 100% alignment with requirements as tests

Automated ATDD brings harmony to the development life cycle by unifying requirements and tests. Every acceptance test created simultaneously is a requirement, ensuring that both aspects are seamlessly aligned. The result is a comprehensive test coverage that precisely mirrors the expected outcomes. This alignment enhances the clarity of objectives and contributes to a more robust and error-free final product.

In Automated Acceptance Test Driven Development, the focus of functional development is not merely on writing code but on creating the desired outcomes. Capturing and automating tests ensures the team collectively understands the expected behavior. Passed tests become more than a validation; they confirm that the developed functionality aligns with the intended requirements. This shift towards a confirmatory role empowers the development team to take ownership of quality from the inception, leading to more reliable and efficient outcomes.

Building collaborative teams

With Automated ATDD, collaboration is not just encouraged — it's a necessity. Teams naturally evolve into cross-functional entities, driven by the collaboration required from behavior and testing perspectives. A culture of shared responsibility emerges as team members actively define and refine tests. This cross-functional approach enhances the skill set of individual team members and promotes adaptability, creating a more resilient and responsive development team.

What’s the difference between Automated ATDD and BDD? 

Behavior Driven Development (BDD) is an explicit component of Automated ATDD. That is, our requirements are also tests and capture testable behavior as captured by a need or opportunity. However, the two methods are not directly synonymous. While teams may boast a transition to BDD, the reality often reveals a mere change in test language. These tests frequently exist separately from requirements, aren’t embedded in user story acceptance, and are conducted by testers after development. This separation hinders the injection of testing into the development cycle, resulting in a gap between the intended behavior and the actual outcomes. One might argue that a team using this approach is not truly practicing BDD, which would be valid, but it doesn’t acknowledge reality.

Automated ATDD challenges this status quo by advocating for a more functional approach, where evidence of captured and failing automated tests becomes a prerequisite for entering the sprint backlog or development cycle. This distinction is important because it calls out Automated ATDD’s emphasis on collaboration, automation and testability.  

What’s next? Automated ATDD is the catalyst for effective engineering enablement

Let’s empower teams to create valuable outcomes more collaboratively and predictably. In this quickly shifting software and product development world, where agility and quality are paramount, Automated ATDD is the catalyst for effective engineering enablement. By breaking down silos, prioritizing quality, unifying requirements and tests, and fostering cross-functional collaboration, teams can embrace a transformative approach that not only meets but exceeds sprint goals. This paves the way for a new era of efficient and effective development. Learn more about our Automated ATDD accelerator, SimpliTest or connect with a CGI expert to get started.

About this author

Kevin Cool professional photo

Kevin Cool

Director Consulting Expert

Kevin has a passion in helping organizations pivot and recognize the benefits in modern transformational change. As part of lean DevOps organizations, he also embraced the next wave of what has become possible with continuous integration and delivery. Kevin has also maintained a keen interest ...