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How to do Exploratory Testing: It’s Not For Everyone

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The popularity of Exploratory Testing (ET) is increasing. It’s used in more projects where I am involved, more presentations at conferences mention ET and the number of blogs and articles about ET increases as well. So more testers are applying this, at least in the company where I work. And most of the testers love it! More flexibility, more action focussed, more freedom. Often I hear that they think ET is, depending on the context, a better way to test software compared to detailed scripting. I haven’t got scientific proof for this but so many testers being enthusiastic about it is some kind of proof for me.

But this is not the whole story. Not every tester manages to adapt to ET, and I wonder why. I started using different forms of ET (session based testing, bug hunts, test tours) instead of detailed scripting about three years ago and no, it wasn’t an overnight change. By the time I tasted the benefits I was persuaded and I didn’t want to go back to my old, more detailed scripting way of testing. Though, what stops other testers who stick to ‘scripting-no-matter-what’?

Is it Years of Experience with Detailed Scripting?

First I thought this was caused by the number of years someone used detailed scripting. Most of the experienced testers I know were pretty successful using detailed scripting. On the other hand, it seems to me that about all the testing newbies within our company had no problem whatsoever with using different forms of ET. However, some of them did prefer to make scripts in situations where colleagues used ET. And there was this whole bunch testers with multiple years of experience in detailed scripting who embraced ET from the moment they got in touch with it. Like me, by the time I learned about ET I had almost 20 years of experience in scripted testing. And now I don’t want to go back to that. So it is not years of experience with scripted testing.

So why is it so hard for some testers to embrace ET? I think it is important because in my opinion a professional testers should be able to apply different ways of testing like detailed scripting, global scripting, session based testing, bug hunts, test tours and freestyle exploratory testing. And a good senior tester or test manager is able to determine which way of testing is best to test in a particular situation. So ideally every tester and test manager knows how to covers the whole range with different ways of testing.

Creativity

By now I think, that the extend in which someone is able to apply ET is determined by his or her creativity. Maybe there are other aspects at stake here but I think creativity is one of the most important aspects. Testers who are less creative will, in my experience, favour the guidance of scripts. And the separation of different test activities (test planning, learning, test design, test execution, analysis of the outcome) will give them a sense of control. For testers with a lot of creativity, scripting will cause a feeling of restriction. By applying ET (the simultaneous learning, test design, test execution and the analysis of the outcome) they can use their creativity in full extend, making them to favour ET.

Three Types of Testers

This also explains why I see roughly three types of testers:

  1. Testers who always (try to) apply scripted testing;
  2. Testers who always (try to) apply ET and
  3. Testers who can apply both and use the way of testing they think is best in their situation.

In my opinion the third type is the best and most versatile tester, this type of tester is really able to test in different contexts. But does that make the first two types of testers bad testers? That depends on the situation they are in. Let me sketch a context for the first kind of tester. That tester always want to apply scripted testing and suppose he or she is testing a system that can best be tested with scripted testing; then there’s no problem! But what if this very same tester tests a system that can best be tested with ET, then his or her skills do not meet the required approach in that context. And this also counts vice versa for the tester that always favours ET.

Becoming More Creative

So as a tester you should make sure that your preference towards the way of testing meets the context you are in or that you are flexible enough (read: creative enough) to adapt to your context. And, in my experience, that means that a lot of us will have to become a lot more creative. Creativity is not a static, unchangeable skill, it can be stimulated. For some suggestions to become more creative please try this and for more information about different ways of testing please check here.

 

By Jan Jaap Cannegieter

Jan Jaap CannegieterJan Jaap is a well-known consultant, author, (keynote) speaker and requirements and test specialist form the Netherlands. He has 20 years of experience in ICT and did assignment s in testing, quality assurance, TMMi, CMMI, SPI, Agile  and requirements. In testing he was a tester, test manager, test consultant and workshop leader. At this moment Jan Jaap is test/QA-manager and delivery manager at DinamiQs and vice president of SYSQA B.V., a company of 180 employees specialized in requirements, software testing, quality assurance and IT-governance. Within SYSQA Jan Jaap coaches other testers and test managers, is the thought leader and responsible for product development. He is the driving force behind Situational Testing and he wrote several articles and books in the Netherlands.

Twitter: @jjcannegieter

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4 comments to How to do Exploratory Testing: It’s Not For Everyone

  1. Interesting article and yes it is difficult for some to fathom the skills required to do exploratory testing well. However I feel everyone can learn the skills required with dedicated practice. To throw something else in the mix both developers and testers can learn these skills and utilize them in a variety of different ways.

    However I do think we need to stop thinking that people are either right or left brained and this myth needs to be truly debunked. See the following references for reasons why this myth is not true:

    http://www.livescience.com/39373-left-brain-right-brain-myth.html
    http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/neuromyth6.htm
    https://www.braindecoder.com/neil-degrasse-tyson-elegantly-debunk-right-left-brain-myth-1120713524.html
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/16/left-right-brain-distinction-myth

  2. Certainly there is a lot of value to both types of testing.

    I would expect script-based testing to form the backbone of your regression tests, which are key if you’re going down the route of refactoring code. Also in the world of avionic software, where there’s a demand for requirements-based testing, the need to trace requirements to tests means that script-based testing is important there too.

    On the other hand, for systems with a lot of user interface, exploratory testing seems really useful for assessing usability (along with other characteristics).

  3. Shrini says:

    >>>I haven’t got scientific proof for this but so many testers being enthusiastic about it is some kind of proof for me.

    For a moment lest us assume that there is a scientific proof and approach that can validate enthusisam about ET (for that matter any idea related to software testing).

    how do you see and explain such scientific method or proof? We all are aware of scientific method that applies to pure sciences like Physics, Chemistry, Biology or maths.

    What is definition of scientific method as applied to an area like software testing

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