Best Practices for Exploratory Testing

What is Exploratory Testing? How can this software testing method drive growth and help you discover more bugs? Find out in this ultimate guide.

 

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Introduction: What is exploratory resting?

As the name suggests, exploratory testing is about testers exploring an application to identify and document potential bugs. Testers embark on a process of investigation and discovery in order to effectively test a product. In exploratory testing, testers have the freedom to run tests how and when they decide. This means there is a simultaneous process of test design and test execution. 

Best practice exploratory testing answers the following questions:

  1. Does the app perform the function it was designed for?  
  2. Does the app work under multiple scenarios? 
  3. Is app performance good enough? 
  4. What potential bugs are there?

These four questions are answered by a process of learning, designing, and execution

Best practices for exploratory testing

Best practice exploratory testing has three main components:

  • Learning
  • Designing
  • Executing
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Three components of Exploratory Testing

Learning

Testers need a comprehensive understanding of the app or website they are testing, in order to test it effectively. By understanding valuable information like industry awareness, company details, and competitive benchmark data, the tester will have the context needed to execute tests successfully. Learning, therefore, is central to the exploratory testing process. 

Designing

A big difference between exploratory testing and scripted testing is in design. In scripted testing, the test has specific parameters or rules, whereas exploratory testing has no preset path or predetermined conditions. Exploratory testers are able to conduct tests in a way which they deem fit. As a result, tests are designed frequently, and freely, meaning designing is a key skill for an exploratory tester.  Therefore, you need to ensure you have professional testers with a varied skill set, who can design effective test cases.

Executing

Seamless test execution is also an extremely important best practice. In exploratory testing, the tester has the freedom to execute a test as soon as he or she would like to do so. As soon as the test is written, it can be conducted. This freedom means that nobody is waiting on scripted requirements and work can be conducted relatively seamlessly. 

Exploratory testing example

Let’s imagine you want to test a mobile gaming app. If you decided to use exploratory testing, testers from around the world would be given very general scenarios to test. For example, in a gaming app, the user might expect to use tokens or in-game inventory items before a battle. The exploratory testing for this may require a tester to ensure that this functionality works and the player can complete the battle as expected.

Exploratory Testing, in this case, involves simultaneous test design and test execution, as testers explore the game and the different in-game scenarios that may occur. Although there is a structure to the testing process, with testers planning the general scenarios they need to test, there is an inherent freedom in how and when the testers navigate the app.

These kinds of tests can’t really be executed via automation. While a script could ensure that tokens or inventory items are purchasable, it can’t emulate a human doing battle! This is the inherent human aspect of exploratory testing. Due to the fact that some tests can’t be predetermined (like a battle in a game), the human creativity required for exploratory testing is a key factor in its success. 

Difference between scripted testing and exploratory testing

Unlike traditional, scripted testing, exploratory does not restrict testers to a predefined set of instructions. Test cases are not written in advance, so the tester can learn and iterate throughout the process. This makes exploratory testing unique, and extremely valuable, as testers can use their individual creativity to discover bugs that the software developer may not have ever expected.

Exploratory Testing in Agile Teams

Working in agile involves adaptive planning and continuous improvement. The aim is to be able to respond to change quickly and efficiently. This means that exploratory testing can work extremely well with agile teams. Increased demand for frequent software updates has meant that there is a need for faster software development and continuous delivery. Testing methods need to respond to change quickly and seamlessly. Enter exploratory testing, where the continuous process means bugs can be found faster and releases can happen more frequently.

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Agile Methodology

Advantages of exploratory testing

  • Finding more bugs: A major benefit is that exploratory testing finds bugs that automation simply cannot. Automated tests are limited to the test cases that are written for them. They won't test any bugs outside of this scope. You can learn more about this on our blog: QA vs. Humans: Can You Automate Everything?
  • Speed of the test cycles: Exploratory testing doesn’t require extensive planning. The scope of a test cycle needs to be clear but detailed test cases are not needed. That’s because testers are trusted to test what they believe needs testing. In comparison, automated tests are fast in test execution but can be time-consuming to plan. 
  • Idea generation: the creativity required of testers and the fast pace of Exploratory Testing means that more ideas are created 

Disadvantages of exploratory testing

  • Getting it right is difficult: As previously mentioned, exploratory testing relies heavily on the testers. It can be an expensive and difficult skill to acquire, so you may find it difficult to find the exploratory testers you are looking for.
  • Measuring ROI can be tricky: Measuring the success of exploratory testing in the short term can prove difficult. Think of running a marathon -  you can’t train ten hours per day a week before the race and expect to do well. It takes months of regular training to be succesful. Exploratory testing is the same. Long-term consistency will generate better results than short-term intensity.

When should you use exploratory testing?

We have discussed what exploratory testing is, what the advantages and disadvantages of the technique are, and how it can be used in agile, but how do you know when you should actually implement exploratory testing? Here are the top 5 scenarios where exploratory testing can be a huge benefit to your testing strategy.

  1. You’re not sure what tests to run
  2. You want to diversify the testing process after a cycle of scripted testing
  3. You need to recieve rapid feedback on a product
  4. You want to understand the ins and outs of a new release quickly
  5. You want to find more bugs!

Conclusion

Exploratory testing is a creative and diverse testing method. Using this technique can help you find more bugs and achieve fast results because testers are given the freedom to write and execute test cases seamlessly.

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