Exploratory Testing Tutorial: How To Get Started

Software testing 101

Exploratory Testing Tutorial: How To Get Started

No doubt you have heard a lot about exploratory testing – what it is, what it’s not, and how it can help you get deeper insight into your application under test. 

Once you’re convinced of the value of exploratory testing, how do you get started? 

The first thing you will want to do is plan your testing session, which, if you are doing session-based testing, will include creating a session charter. The charter is the document that states the goals and purposes of the test, as well as defining the constraints of the test.

Constraints are an important part of exploratory testing. Unless you have an organized and systematic way to structure your testing (which we accomplish through session-based testing), your exploratory tests will end up chaotic and difficult to measure for success. Adding constraints to your test design helps you define a test scope, which tells your testers exactly what features should be explored.

While there are many ways to write an exploratory testing charter, one of the most straightforward methods was introduced by Elizabeth Hendrikson:

Explore [target feature] with [additional resources or tactics] to discover [session goal].

Along with the target feature, additional resources, and session goal, you also want the testing charter to define details such as:

  • The date of the test session
  • The testers involved
  • The time box or duration of the test session
  • Any specific approaches you want the tester to take during the test session

Your session charter can go into much further detail, however once you have the basic information (above) in place, you are ready to start your exploratory test session. 

Unlike in manual testing, exploratory testing does not have a defined list of test steps that the tester needs to follow. Rather, the tester needs to exercise their creativity and critical thinking to explore the target feature, using the additional resources or tactics dictated in the testing charter, in order to accomplish the session goal. What exactly this will look like varies with every test and every tester. 

What does not vary however, is the need for documentation. It is a well established fact that documentation is one of the most time consuming parts of exploratory testing. While there are several exploratory testing tools on the market that help automation test documentation through automated screenshots, video and audio recording, and more, many exploratory testers still rely on manual documentation using a Word document or Excel sheet. Check out our feature comparison of the biggest exploratory testing tools on the market here. 

However you choose to document your test steps, the goal is to make sure that any defects or issues you discover are recorded and easily reproducible by the development team. 

Every organization’s process for the formalization and wrap-up of an exploratory test session is different. There are two things that must happen, however, once you have finished your test session and documentation:

  • The documentation will need to be turned over to both the session owner (usually the person who designed the session charter), so that they can evaluate the success of the test within the larger scope of the testing objectives.
  • Either you or the session owner will report the test findings to the developers so that they can begin working on fixing the defects you uncovered during the test.