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Volodymyr Klymenko, CEO, Senior Automation Quality Assurance engineer

Jan 09, 2024 15 min read

Exploratory Software Testing: How Best To Do It

Delve into the advantages of exploratory testing and essential factors to contemplate before its implementation. Elevate your mastery of exploratory testing in software testing to achieve thorough and effective software assessments through the insights shared in this article. 

Exploratory Software Testing

Exploratory testing, a dynamic and intuitive approach to software assessment, holds the key to ensuring that the application functions as intended by the developer and meets user expectations.   How a testing team incorporates this method into routine checks can significantly improve the testing process and allow for innovative testing approaches.    

Delve into the advantages of exploratory testing and essential factors to contemplate before its implementation. Elevate your mastery of exploratory testing in software testing to achieve thorough and effective software assessments through the insights shared in this article. 

What is Exploratory Testing?

Exploratory testing is when a tester interacts with an application or new functionality without using the existing test documentation. The main characteristics of this type of testing include minimal reliance on documentation and maximal utilization of the tester's experience and intuition.  

It doesn't require preparing test cases beforehand. Moreover, even project documentation is optional for running these tests. Instead of relying on knowledge about a software product, a tester learns everything first-hand by interacting with the system directly. There is no such thing as automated testing – it can be manual only. The reason is simple: a QA specialist cannot write scripts for the functionality they are not familiar with. Exploratory testing techniques are applied to determine how the product works. Exploratory and Ad-hoc testing lay the foundation for planning and creating test cases and test suites.  

Comparing Ad-hoc, Exploratory and Acceptance Testing 

Ad-hoc and exploratory testing have many similarities, but they are not interchangeable terms. The developer has product documentation for testing, but testing documentation still needs to be provided. On the other hand, ad-hoc testing explores the application based on intuition and creates testing documentation.  Acceptance testing is a formal and planned phase focused on verifying business requirements and acceptance criteria. 

Characteristic 

Exploratory Testing 

Ad-hoc Testing 

Acceptance Testing 

Product Documentation 

Can be clear and structured, but used not for the test planning, but only for verification of the test results 

Absence of clear documentation 

Clearly structured based on acceptance criteria, must be used for both test planning and verification of the test results 

Test Documentation 

Can be less structured, oriented towards exploration, used for verification of test results. This type of testing is the key to creating or updating the test documentation 

Usually limited or absent. This type of testing is the key to creating the test documentation 

Clearly structured, oriented towards acceptance criteria 

Tester's Experience & Intuition 

Requires highly experienced testers 

Requires highly experienced testers 

Lower demands to testers experience 

Points of Focus in Exploratory Testing  

Flexibility in Criteria 

Testers exhibit flexibility by extending their focus beyond the documented requirements, delving into various user interactions that may need to be explicitly outlined. This adaptability allows a more comprehensive evaluation of the application's behavior under diverse conditions.  

Unexpected User Interactions 

Beyond the specific functionalities outlined in the developer documentation, exploratory software testing explores various user interactions. It encompasses scenarios where users might deviate from the expected path, engage with features in unconventional ways, or encounter edge cases not explicitly defined in the initial requirements.  

Real-World Simulation 

The objective is to create an environment that closely mimics real-world usage. Testers consider factors such as user behavior, potential interruptions, and variations in network conditions. This holistic approach ensures the software is tested under conditions that align with user experiences.  

The focus points in exploratory testing revolve around a user-centric approach, adaptability to diverse scenarios, and the proactive identification of potential issues. This method goes beyond scripted test cases, allowing testers to uncover nuanced aspects of the application's behavior and enhance its overall quality.  

Requirements for the Tester  

In exploratory software testing, the qualification and skills of the tester play a crucial role in the effectiveness of the process. Here are the essential requirements for a tester engaged in exploratory software testing:  

Extensive Manual Testing Experience 

The tester should possess a wealth of experience in manual testing. This expertise is vital in organically navigating the application, identifying potential issues, and assessing the overall user experience. A solid foundation in manual testing ensures thorough scrutiny of the application's functionalities.  

Background in Quality Assurance (QA) 

Beyond manual testing, a background in Quality Assurance (QA) is advantageous. QA encompasses a broader understanding of the software development life cycle, quality processes, and the overall goal of delivering high-quality software. This perspective enhances the tester's ability to uncover nuanced issues and contribute to the overall improvement of the development process.  

Limited Familiarity with the Application  

The tester shouldn't be extensively familiar with the application under test. A fresh perspective brings objectivity to the testing process, allowing the tester to approach the application as a new user. Limited prior exposure ensures that the tester doesn't rely solely on preconceived notions, encouraging a more comprehensive exploration.  

New Functionality Exposure  

If the testing focuses on new functionality within an existing application, the tester should have extensive experience testing such applications. They should possess significant expertise in this domain to effectively carry out testing activities. 

Ability to Uncover Unanticipated Scenarios 

The tester should have a knack for thinking outside predefined scenarios. Identifying potential edge cases, unexpected user interactions, and unanticipated scenarios is crucial. It requires creativity, intuition, and a keen eye for detail.  

Open-Minded and Adaptive 

Exploratory software testing demands an open-minded and adaptive approach. The tester should be receptive to unexpected findings, willing to pivot testing strategies based on emerging issues, and capable of adjusting priorities as new insights are gained during the exploration.  

Effective Communication Skills 

Clear and concise communication skills are essential. The tester must effectively articulate findings, potential issues, and improvement suggestions, facilitating collaboration with developers, product owners, and other stakeholders.  

By meeting these requirements, a tester can maximize the effectiveness of software exploratory testing, contributing significantly to the tested software's overall quality and user satisfaction.  

Outcomes of Exploratory Testing  

The outcomes of exploratory testing serve as valuable assets for enhancing the overall testing strategy and software quality. The results should include:  

  • Creation or Update of Regression Test Cases: The findings from exploratory testing should lead to creating or updating regression test cases. These cases serve as a baseline for future regression testing cycles and ensure critical functionalities remain intact.  
  • Discussion of Application Improvements: Identify and discuss potential improvements for the application or specific features based on the insights gained during exploratory testing. This collaborative process can contribute to iterative development and continuous improvement.  
  • Organized Regression Testing: After establishing a foundation of regression test cases, organize and prioritize them into test suites based on user scenarios. This structured approach facilitates subsequent regression testing cycles, guiding the team on which areas to focus on during each iteration.  
  • Bug Reporting: In case defects are discovered during exploratory testing, generate detailed bug reports. These reports should include information on the issue's nature, steps to reproduce, and its potential impact on the application.  
Outcomes of Exploratory Testing  

Stages of Exploratory Testing  

During exploratory testing, significant attention is given to the tester's freedom while adhering to a specific structure.  

The three primary stages of this approach are:  

Stage 1: Learning  

Testers start by deeply understanding the software and its functionality and critically analyzing how it fits together.  

A tutorial on working with the software may even be required at the learning stage. In the investigative stage, the tester gathers all the necessary information to develop a wide range of proper tests.

Stage 2: Test Development  

Exploratory tests involve various rules and parameters, but they offer much more freedom than scripted testing, where the specifics are known before testing begins. 

Testers can design checks potentially discover valuable insights for the development team, including notable issues they must address.  

Testing teams use this stage to determine their approach and how to effectively distribute the work among different testers to leverage their strengths.  

Stage 3: Execution  

It is the stage where testers actively seek out issues and consider whether these problems could impact other functions and capabilities. The development and execution are carried out simultaneously by the tester. 

While there is an element of intuition involved in conducting exploratory tests, they still adhere to established processes and objectives. To understand how to do exploratory testing effectively, testers should rely on their knowledge and testing expertise, interacting with the software as an end user would. 

Types of Exploratory Testing  

The three primary types of exploratory testing that a team can employ are as follows:  

Freestyle Exploratory Testing  

Freestyle testing is a specific approach to application checking. It involves fewer rules, resulting in varying effectiveness; some programs and components require a more reliable methodology.  

These checks can be highly beneficial, helping testers familiarize themselves with the application and validate the previous tester's work.  

Even without strict rules, experienced and skilled testers can efficiently utilize this. They can effortlessly navigate through all aspects of the software—in some situations, testing rules can be restrictive and unintentionally limit the team's results.  

 Scenario-Based Exploratory Testing  

Scenario-based testing uses realistic user scenarios as the basis for each test, such as verifying inputs that users are likely to make during typical use of the software.  

Testers work diligently to ensure that each scenario they create aligns with how a user interacts with the application.  

Time can be a constraint since the team's goal is to test as many scenarios as possible; depending on impending deadlines, covering all possibilities may not be possible.  

Testers must employ a wide range of tests across different categories.  

Strategy-Based Exploratory Testing  

Strategy-based testing encompasses a broad spectrum of specialized methods, including boundary value testing, equivalence methods, risk-based methods, and more. In this case, preference is typically given to testers who need to become more familiar with the application since they can develop individual strategies that include these distinct methods.  

A strategy-based approach can lead to a more comprehensive analysis of the application and its features, potentially delving deeper than other approaches.  

Best Practices for Exploratory Testing  

  • Establishing precise objectives and charters for every exploratory testing session. 
  • Adjusting the testing strategy in response to the software's context and identified risk areas. 
  • Blending domain expertise, user viewpoint, and intuition to reveal potential issues. 
  • Recording thorough notes, screenshots, and videos to comprehensively document findings. 
  • Engaging in collaborative efforts with developers, business analysts, and other stakeholders throughout the testing process. 
  • Harmonizing exploration with structured testing techniques for holistic coverage. 
  • Disseminating insights and lessons acquired from exploratory testing within the team. 
  • Testers need to understand both their target audience and competitors. It helps them evaluate how people are likely to react to the current functionality of the application.  
  • Testing teams can use emulators for more resource-effective cross-browser and cross-platform testing. 

Exploratory Testing Unveils Critical User Experience Flaw: A Real Scenario 

Introducing a new feature or application brings with it the potential for unforeseen challenges. This real-world example revolves around Company N, which recently expanded its service offerings by introducing a new mobile application for renting automobiles. This application, while separate, shares user data and settings with other applications on the platform, creating an integrated user experience. Notably, the new app lacks support for Apple Pay, automatically defaulting payment settings to Cash – a deviation from the user's expected payment method, potentially leading to confusion and inconvenience. 

Consider a user accustomed to renting phone numbers through the platform now decides to rent a car using the new application. The user, confident in their Apple Pay settings for the phone number rental app, might be caught off guard when the car rental app defaults to Cash as the payment method. This discrepancy can result in the user searching for physical Cash to complete the transaction despite believing they had already settled the payment through Apple Pay. 

In many instances, explicit requirements may not explicitly state that the new application should not disrupt existing user workflows. However, from a business standpoint, the expectation is clear – introducing new features should seamlessly integrate with the existing ecosystem and not create unexpected user challenges. 

Automated and functional testing, while essential components of the testing process, may not catch issues that stem from significant changes in the user environment, especially when such changes are not explicitly documented. In the case of Company N, the absence of a requirement specifying the preservation of existing user workflows might lead automated tests to overlook the flaw. 

A tester can employ exploratory testing to bridge the gap between documented requirements and unspoken expectations. This approach involves the tester interacting with the application organically, leveraging their experience and intuition. In our example, a tester engaging in exploratory testing might stumble upon an unexpected change in payment settings during the car rental process. 

Exploratory testing in software testing allows testers to unearth issues that formalized test cases may not cover. In our scenario, a tester performing exploratory testing could identify the discrepancy in payment methods, recognizing the potential confusion and inconvenience it might cause users. 

Upon discovering such issues, the tester advocates for including exploratory testing in the testing process. The goal is to highlight the importance of these sessions in uncovering user experience challenges, unspoken expectations, and implicit requirements that might not be evident through traditional testing methods. 

This real-world example from Company N illustrates how such testing sessions can reveal critical flaws in user experience, prompting a reconsideration of the testing strategy. By embracing exploratory testing in software testing, organizations can enhance their ability to deliver software that meets documented requirements and aligns seamlessly with user expectations and existing workflows. 

Why Choose Luxe Quality for Exploratory Testing  

Choosing our services offers several advantages:  

Extensive Industry Experience 

We bring our experience working across various industries, allowing us to understand industry-specific nuances, common issues, and best practices.  

Documentation Expertise 

Our team is proficient in creating comprehensive documentation. This skill ensures that the findings from exploratory testing are well-documented, aiding in subsequent testing phases and knowledge transfer.  

Skilled Professionals 

Our team comprises proficient testing experts who have experience in testing web, mobile, and desktop applications across various industries, including healthcare, finance, and real estate. We also can automate created test cases for subsequent regression testing of your application. 

Conclusion  

Exploratory testing can benefit software development companies, complementing scripted testing and other checks.  Understanding how to perform exploratory testing efficiently involves a continuous learning process, adaptability, and effective communication within the testing team and with other stakeholders.

With the help of exploratory testing in software testing, quality assurance teams can test applications to higher standards, enhancing the quality of the final software and assisting developers in addressing any existing issues. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

How Would You Define Exploratory Testing?

Exploratory testing combines test development and execution stages. It involves interaction with the application without extensive test documentation, relying on the tester's experience and intuition. 

What are the Points of Focus in Exploratory Testing?

The focus includes meticulous attention to flow, usability, and efficiency. Testers emulate user actions, maintain flexibility beyond strict documentation criteria, explore holistic user interactions, conduct real-world simulations, and actively seek unanticipated scenarios. 

What are the Requirements for an Effective Tester in Exploratory Testing?

Effective exploratory testers should have extensive manual testing experience, a background in Quality Assurance (QA), limited familiarity with the application, exposure to new functionality, the ability to uncover unanticipated scenarios, and practical communication skills. 

What are the Outcomes of Exploratory Testing?

Outcomes include creating or updating regression test cases, discussions on application improvements, organized regression testing with prioritized test suites, and bug reporting if defects are discovered. 

How to Perform Exploratory Testing?

To answer the question of how to perform exploratory testing, let's consider that performing exploratory testing is exploring the software and trying different actions and inputs to find bugs or issues. Testers use their creativity and experience rather than following pre-written test scripts. For more information, read our article. 

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