August 26, 2010

Understanding Exploratory Testing

"Exploratory testing involves simultaneously learning, planning, running tests, and reporting / troubleshooting Results."  - Dr. Cem Kaner.
"Exploratory testing is an interactive process of concurrent product exploration, test design and test execution. To the extent that the next test we do is influenced by the result of the last test we did, we are doing exploratory testing.  - James Bach.
Exploratory testing is defined as simultaneous test design, test execution and bug reporting. In this approach the tester explores the system (finding out what it is and then testing it) without having any prior test cases or test scripts. Because of this reason it also called as ad hoc testing, guerrilla testing or intuitive testing. But there is some difference between them. In operational terms, exploratory testing is an interactive process of concurrent product exploration, test design, and test execution. The outcome of an exploratory testing session is a set of notes about the product, failures found, and a concise record of how the product was tested. When practiced by trained testers, it yields consistently valuable and auditable results. Every tester performs this type of testing at one point or the other. This testing totally depends on the skill and creativity of the tester. Different testers can explore the system in different ways depending on their skills. Thus the tester has a very vital role to play in exploratory testing.
This approach of testing has also been advised by SWEBOK for testing since it might uncover the bugs, which the normal testing might not discover. A systematic approach of exploratory testing can also be used where there is a plan to attack the system under test. This systematic approach of exploring the system is termed Formalized exploratory testing.
Exploratory testing is a powerful approach in the field of testing. Yet this approach has not got the recognition and is often misunderstood and not gained the respect it needs. In many situations it can be more productive than the scripted testing. But the real fact is that all testers do practice this methodology sometime or the other, most often unknowingly!
Exploratory testing believes in concurrent phases of product exploration, test design and test execution. It is categorized under Black-box testing. It is basically a free-style testing approach where you do not begin with the usual procedures of elaborate test plans and test steps. The test plan and strategy is very well in the tester’s mind. The tester asks the right question to the product / application and judges the outcome. During this phase he is actually learning the product as he tests it. It is interactive and creative. A conscious plan by the tester gives good results.
Human beings are unique and think differently, with a new set of ideas emerging. A tester has the basic skills to listen, read, think and report. Exploratory testing is just trying to exploit this and structure it down. The richness of this process is only limited to the breadth and depth of our imagination and the insight into the product under test.

How does it differ from the normal test procedures?
The definition of exploratory testing conveys the difference. In the normal testing style, the test process is planned well in advance before the actual testing begins. Here the test design is separated from the test execution phase. Many a times the test design and test execution is entrusted on different persons.
Exploratory testing should not be confused with the dictionary meaning of “ad-hoc”. Ad hoc testing normally refers to a process of improvised, impromptu bug searching. By definition, anyone can do ad hoc testing. The term “exploratory testing”-- by Dr. Cem Kaner, in Testing Computer Software--refers to a sophisticated, systematic, thoughtful approach to ad hoc testing.

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