Exploratory testing at its fundamental core is about taking the unbeaten path to finding software problems. It’s about sailing into uncharted seas and about blasting off into parts of our galaxy no one has thought of, or dared to go. It is an adventure of specific art and science. It relies on a known process to discover unknown surprises. For every software product, it must be done! It is the testing strategy that fills in the holes that other testing approaches leave behind. To do it well, you need a thoughtful handbook and an experienced trail guide. I have that handbook and know that trail guide!
This poster paper presents a review of Elisabeth Hendrickson’s excellent book “Explore It! Reduce Risk and Increase Confidence with Exploratory Testing” (pub. 2013 by The Pragmatic Programmers). My goal is to help promote and challenge software test professionals to undertake the journey of Exploratory Testing in their organizations. As they will see, and then find out on their own, the return value will be greater confidence in their products, more fun along the way, and a greater sense of value in the work that they deliver!
Yes, it is true, we do have other good testing methods out there and many of them are working well to verify software application requirements, measure performance, and keep our software products shipping with a minimal number of software bugs. The problem though is that the “net” effect of our current testing methods leave gaps that cannot be 100% filled. Hendrickson addresses this as she explains the two core questions any testing approach must answer:
“1. Does the software behave as intended under the conditions it’s supposed to be able to handle? 2. Are there any other risks?”
Addressing risks is where Exploratory Testing has great advantage. Risks are the holes in our safety net that traditional testing methods do not cover. Even a tightly woven net still has tiny holes that can and often do compromise our software products. Hendrickson provides the following statement that sheds some light on this problem. Indeed, it is the core purpose of her book – to enable us to patch those holes!
“Exploratory testing involves scouting around the areas that the net doesn’t cover. You interact with the implementation, designing and executing tiny experiments in rapid succession using the results from the last experiment to inform the next.
As you discover potential risks, you probe deeper. You use your ability to observe and analyze to adapt your investigation on the fly. Your experiments give you empirical evidence about the capabilities and limitations of your software. Along the way, you uncover new questions needing answers and you plan for additional types of tests.
Exploration offers a way of navigating through infinite possible variations to steer toward the risks in a way that your preplanned tests cannot. To discover additional surprises, repeatability will not help you – variation will.
However, the two questions represent two facets of testing: Checking that software meets expectations and exploring for risk. Neither checking nor exploring is sufficient on its own.”
The poster paper does not offer Exploratory Testing as the only software testing approach, but as a must-have and value-add that should be included in every QA organization. In Elisabeth’s book, she provides a very good understanding on how to equip your QA team in thinking outside-the-box and how to be systematic in doing so.
With the ever changing nature of software technologies and products that are being designed to utilize those technologies, we must have tools that help us reduce risks and increase the quality of our products. Exploratory Testing offers us a bridge to close the risk gap in our current testing methods. I highly recommend you take the time and look up Elisabeth Hendrickson’s “Explore It!” book. It will be your very capable handbook and trail guide for adding additional value, excellence, and excitement to your organization!
Happy trails to my fellow explorers!