Specification by Example (SBE) requires clear instructions and time for practice for even the most basic concepts. It is not a common-sense solution, it requires a multi-month journey that starts with small, considered steps, most likely in the training room.
A picture paints a thousand words, so they say. But when you are trying to explain technical things so that business people and geeks share the same understanding, it seems a thousand block diagrams and a million process maps do not a picture make.
Which is why SBE (specification by example) is becoming so prevalent among certain sections of the Wellington IT industry. Giving business people the chance to show their thinking by writing examples seems like such a simple idea, you wonder why it wasn’t always done like that. It’s a colourful dream.
Yet black and white reality kicks in soon after teams start out. Thinking in examples is such an alien concept to most that it takes months of practice, review and experience to optimise the process. And unfortunately in these cash-strapped times, giving teams space for training and contemplation is not fashionable.
But teams will respond beautifully even late on, when given a safe environment to explore. “It reinforced the concepts of the whole agile process,” said one business analyst, after a morning’s workshop, adding that SBE, “Accentuated the importance of communication.”
And the folly of late training was exposed by another attendee who had been working with SBE for eight months without having the chance to understand first. For her, the lost opportunity was exasperating: “We totally should have done this eight months ago,” she said.
Forcing teams to take on any technical practice without them clearly knowing the importance is a crazy waste of money. In my experience, SBE can lift a team from quality duffers to zero defects in about four months from a standing start, if adequately trained and mentored. That’s not much to ask given the usual effort spent fixing things after release and the liability of supporting broken features that nobody really wanted anyway.
Practice does make perfect. If you want your teams to excel in specification by example you must give them the foundations on which they can build. They won’t of course become experts overnight, but at least they will begin the journey facing in the right direction