I’ve written a fair amount in the past about Cucumber and the way I like to structure my features. After reading these through, someone recently asked me about a particular workflow concerning multiple actors.

They were starting from the following feature file:

Feature: Complimentary Accounts

Scenario: Creating a complimentary account
Given I am signed-in to the admin area
When I create a new complimintary account with these details:
| Name | John Smith |
| Email | john.smith@gmail.com |
Then a welcome email should be sent to 'john.smith@gmail.com'

Scenario: Receiving a welcome email
Given I have received a welcome email
When I follow the link
Then I should see a welcome page
And I should be signed-in
And I should see the details of my account
And I should be able to set my password

The concern was that the feature had more than one actor involved: there was the administrator creating the complimentary account, and the recipient of that account. The feature as written just didn’t feel right to them: it’s not clear who the actors are from the text, although the feature has a certain workflow. Also the check that recipient can set the password is an important one, but isn’t clearly called out in the feature.

How could this be written differently?

Setting the scene

The first thing I noticed is that the feature is missing a preamble. People often leave these out, but I find them invaluable to set the context of the feature and to ensure there’s a point to adding the feature at all.

To write the scenarios, I would approach this from the point of view of the personas involved, who I would normally give names. In this case there are two obvious personas: Angie the Administrator, and Victor the VIP. There’s a more subtle role at play here too: It’s unlikely that Angie decides who gets a complimentary accoun. Therefore we also have the particular stakeholder who wants this feature, who we will call Buster the Business Development Director.

This is how I’d structure the “non-executing” part of the feature:

Feature: Complimentary Accounts
In order to cater for certain special people that promote our
company in other ways
As Buster the Business development director
I want the ability to ask Angie the Administrator to create
special free accounts for special people

Scenario: Angie creates a complimentary account
..
Scenario: Victor receives a welcome email
..
Scenario: Victor can change his password
..

I’d check this with the customer too, just to make sure it made sense. If the password changing is important to them, I’d make that a separate scenario.

Writing the scenarios

I keep my scenarios really short. So I’d try and push some of these details down into steps. Let’s take the scenarios in turn:

@angie
Scenario: Angie creates a complimentary account
When I create a new complimintary account for Victor
Then a welcome email should be sent to Victor

The @angie tag just ensures that Angie is signed in. It’s neater than a separate Given step in my opinion. I don’t include specifics such as email addresses: it’s just noise.

@victor
Scenario: Victor receives a welcome email (direct account login)
Given I have received a welcome email
When I follow the link
Then I should be logged straight into my account

The fact that we’ve switched actor here isn’t a problem in my view. It’s still clear who “I” is in this case, because the scenario title is clear and descriptive.

@victor
Scenario: Victor receives a welcome email (change password on 1st screen)
Given I have received a welcome email
When I follow the link
Then I should be able to change my password from the first screen

This is a very similar scenario, but it’s worth making it a separate one as the password change is an important business need for the customer. It’s very tempting to tag the check onto the end of a previous scenario, but this reduces clarity and the perceived importance of that particular part of the feature in everybody’s mind.

Feature files are bookmarks for conversation in just the same way that other agile tracking methods are. If they don’t accurate represent the shared thinking, they’re worse than useless.

Get the customer input

I’m not sure if this feature had originally been run past the customer, but this point is so important that it’s worth restating anyway:

If you’re not showing the customer the feature files you’re missing out on 90% of the value of Cucumber.

I’m still sometimes guilty of not doing this. I feel like I must have covered every detail and that discussing it with a customer is a waste of time, but I can’t remember ever showing a feature file to a customer where we didn’t change the feature to make it better. There’s always some ambiguity you can drive out.

Have you got any feature files you'd like some input on? Send them over and I'll do my best to give some insight if I can.