Exploratory Testing – A Quick Guide

We all love structure, but a little deviation from predefined paths can provide exciting opportunities for growth and discovery. Exploratory testing is a software testing technique that involves testing manually without any formal plan in order to explore. It allows software testers to deviate from repetitive and monotonous scripted testing routines and use their skills in a more creative way. This blog will help you understand what exploratory testing means and how, when and where to use it.

Exploratory Testing: What is it and why do we need it?

To understand what exploratory testing means, we can contrast with a more common approach to testing: scripted testing. Scripted testing is a formalized approach to testing that involves detailed test plans, step by step test cases, strict test case management and use of test management tools and extensive reporting and documentation to test predefined test cases according to specific requirements and objectives. On the other hand, exploratory testing is a type of unscripted testing technique that is done without any formal or predetermined plans, to test and discover new and unpredictable bugs. It helps increase understanding of the software under test and find potential issues that scripted testing might miss.

Let’s explore this with the help of an analogy: Think of yourself as a tourist in a new city. You may have planned an entire schedule to make sure you visit all the important landmarks (scripted testing), but going off the schedule and venturing out without any pre-planned destination can lead you to discover hidden gems that no other tourist has ever found before (exploratory testing)!

Therefore, exploratory testing in software testing is an improvised style of testing in which test cases are not planned or created beforehand. Instead, the tester employs their creativity to think out of the box and explore unique test case scenarios. Structured, scripted testing is beneficial but does not leave much room for creative exploration. Testers get stuck in rigid boundaries and cannot see beyond them, making them unable to spot new potential defects. Exploratory testing breaks out of this shell to cover all bases and discover new bugs and defects not covered by scripted testing.

Exploratory testing

How can exploratory testing be done effectively?

A successful exploratory software tester needs to have a curious mind and the ability to think creatively while simultaneously having strong domain and technical knowledge.

You may be wondering, why is it necessary for a software tester to have deep knowledge and command over the system under test? To answer this, it is important to understand that although exploratory testing in software testing is unplanned, that does not mean it is random. Performing exploratory testing still involves the application of knowledge and expertise.

Let’s understand this with the help of an example. In any art form, specific rules are in place that need to be followed in order to create a beautiful piece of art. Breaking those rules results in badly created pieces that are unaesthetic and unpleasant. However, artists with complete and true mastery over the rules have the ability to break and bend the rules effectively to create unparalleled pieces of original and beautiful art.

This shows us that only true experts have the ability to break rules with success. Similarly for exploratory testing in software testing, testers need to have complete knowledge of the software under test, its uses and applications, end user expectations, and industry standards. Only then can they explore and prioritize the use cases which are important rather than testing all over the place without generating any useful information.

Additionally, it is important to remember that exploratory testing is not always feasible or advisable. If your team does not have enough experience, it is best that they do not get into exploratory testing. Time and resource constraints can determine whether exploratory testing is a good idea or not. In some cases, such as for repetitive tests, scripted testing is most efficient. With good test case management and the right test management tool, scripted testing provides a myriad of benefits.Additionally, certain software and industries can benefit more from scripted testing than exploratory testing. These are businesses that have strict regulations and compliance requirements where it is important to show that the requirements have been met. Since scripted testing is repeatable, reproducible and usually consists of extensive documentation and reporting, it provides better evidence that specific requirements have been met and tested. For example, testing for safety, reliability and data security is important in industries such as healthcare, pharmaceuticals or aviation.

To get the best of both worlds, the best testing strategy is to combine exploratory testing with scripted testing for a holistic testing approach, depending on the needs of the project, software and its domain. Proper test case management and high-quality test management tools can help your software testing team combine and manage both types of testing effectively and produce better output.

Benefits of Exploratory Testing

Exploratory testing offers many benefits. For example, exploratory testing can:

  • - Discover edge case and unexpected defects that may go unnoticed in scripted testing.

  • - Test from a user perspective to understand what problems a user might encounter and how they can be solved to improve user experience and usability.

  • - Encourage creativity and new ways of thinking in software testers to prevent monotony and improve software quality.

  • - Increase test coverage by covering more possible scenarios and identifying new defects that may not be adequately addressed by scripted testing.

  • - Test software in its beginning stages of development to catch bugs early on even if no formalized, scripted tests have been created.

  • - Offer the flexibility to try new testing techniques and improve overall software testing efforts.

  • To summarize, exploratory testing is a type of unscripted testing to discover unique or new defects. With the help of efficient test case management, exploratory testing technique can be combined with unscripted or planned testing to create high-quality software that satisfies customers and results in minimum problems for end-users.

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    Exploratory testing is a type of unscripted or ad hoc testing technique where software testers explore the system under test without any pre-defined test plan. This helps them discover unique or uncommon bugs and defects that scripted testing might miss.
    Exploratory testing offers many benefits. It helps discover edge cases and uncommon defects, improves user experience, encourages creativity, and facilitates early testing.
    The use of exploratory testing is dependent on the availability of relevant expertise and resources. It is used in the early stages of software development if scripted test plans are not made. Exploratory testing can be used to test pretty much any software to uncover new defects, although in some strictly-regulated industries it should be combined with scripted testing to prove compliance with testing standards.