Embracing the Creativity with Exploratory Testing

by Dmitry Kirsanov 18. November 2023 20:00

Among the several precision disciplines that define our roles as testers, feature confirmation and regression testing stand out as true stalwarts. They anchor our work in structure - feature confirmation acts as a beacon, shining light on the path defined by product requirements, while regression testing is a rigid indoor exercise, guarded by the blueprint of specific instructions dictating the what and the how of our testing.

Yet, there is another technique that seems to dance in the diffused, stimulating glow of the software testing spectrum. Like a swing dancer in a ballroom of waltzes, exploratory testing breaks away from the steady pattern and exhales a breath of fresh air into the otherwise rigorous, often impervious field of testing. Born from the context-driven school of thought, exploratory testing advocates for a hands-on, reflexive approach, allowing testers to tap into their creative reserves.

The waters of comprehension often get muddied here, with exploratory testing commonly misunderstood as being synonymous with ad-hoc testing. However, the two are inherently different.

While ad-hoc testing is an impromptu jam session, guided by innovation and discovery rather than pre-defined tunes, exploratory testing is more of a well-rehearsed jazz improv. It is an orchestrated method to investigate and understand the product under test that also provides room for the tester to respond to insights gained during the process. Essentially, it is a dynamic, interactive conversation between the tester and the product—an exchange that encourages learning, test design iteration, and execution on the go. It has a rhythm to it, a cadence, but one that embraces variability and chance over rigidity.

Exploring Uncharted Territories in Testing

Let's delve into a couple of scenarios to better elucidate the concept of exploratory testing. Assume that our project involves a medication prescribing application, and a hitherto unknown feature has surfaced unexpectedly. For instance, a patient may need a prescription for an assistive item, like crutches. Logical implications tell us some prescribing fields such as ‘dosage strength’ or 'dose form’ would be irrelevant for such items. Therefore, in this scenario, exploratory testing allows us to map and understand this feature, observe the UI variations, and document this newfound discovery for a potential regression test in the future.

Consider another example, where our project requires supporting a third-party flight booking system. Say one of our associated airlines overhauls their back-end flight searching function, which consequently impacts our system that is interwoven with theirs. With exploratory testing, we are equipped to conduct an array of searches in the airline's new system, juxtapose these results with parallel searches on our system, and ensure completeness and cohesiveness of the information on both sides.

Playing to the Strengths of Exploratory Testing

Exploratory testing comes with its own set of strengths and limitations. It's like a skilled detective delving into the obscure corners, masterful at detecting hidden flaws. It is arguably the most effective technique for uncovering elusive issues that often slide under the radar. Critical parts of the product you are managing can immensely benefit from this thorough examination technique. This hands-on approach also elevates the testers' creativity and analytical capacities and is generally a stimulating exercise for their problem-solving prowess. The flip side, however, is the required investment of time and analytical skillset. Should a tester be submerged in feature confirmation and regression testing tasks, the opportunity for exploratory testing might be scarce.

Despite its occasional unpredictability, exploratory testing can be a remarkable adjunct to the more structure-bound feature confirmation and regression testing activities. However, it's not uncommon for management to feel unease towards anything not tightly governed within the corners of concrete documentations. But, worry not, there's a solution. A well-documented exploratory test session charter, outlining explicit testing plans and outcomes, can be the bridge between the creative elusiveness of the technique and the comfort of concrete evidences needed by the stakeholders.

In our quest to demystify the world of interactive tester activities, we have navigated through the core triad - feature confirmation, regression testing, and exploratory testing. Like different sonatas in a symphony, these three forms the melody of any tester's repertoire, each bringing its unique tempo and depth to the magnificence of the final performance.



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