What is Exploratory Testing?

Software Testing 101

What is Exploratory Testing?

Exploratory testing is the process of learning a product, designing and executing test cases, and interpreting test results – all at the same time. It’s an all-in-one approach to testing; the perfect complement to specification-based manual and automated testing. Simply put, a software test is just as a question you ask of your product to gain new information. No matter what form it takes, exploratory testing is always a search for information. 

Exploratory testing gives you a greater scope of risk coverage

Exploratory testing is a powerful approach for analyzing potential risks, whereas specification-based testing is best suited for monitoring known risks.

Automated and manual testing are the best ways to achieve comprehensible risk coverage by conquering your product thoroughly in a structured fashion. This implies the application of solid concepts, such as test case design, test data management, orchestrated service virtualization, UI & API test automation approaches, risk based testing, etc. As a result, any kind of specification-based testing approach mainly requires that testers follow a rigid set of rules in a structured fashion.

In contrast, the purpose of exploratory testing is to use various perspectives to scout and explore new territories in your product and find the most severe defects as early as possible. Rather than following rigid rules, this discipline requires testers who are creative, flexible, and highly adaptive to change. Exploratory testing requires people who are self-managed, self-structured and cross functional.

Both of these testing methods (exploratory testing and specification-based testing) are necessary for success. We call something properly tested only once it has been checked by efficient automation based on a solid test case design, and explored by the richness of a person’s intellect.

As a result, combining exploratory testing with other good old-fashioned testing practices is one of the most efficient ways to maximize the effectiveness of your testing, increase your product quality, and decrease risk. Studies have shown that the number of critical defects discovered increase when exploratory testing is carried out alongside traditional specification-based testing.

Exploratory testing is a natural by-product of good testing

Every competent tester does exploratory testing to some extent without really noticing it. Imagine the following scenario: You find a defect and report it to the developers. Once you have received word that the defect is fixed, you will re-test it. Most likely you will start by reproducing the test actions you used in the defect report to expose the failure. Then, you might vary your testing to search for side effects. These variations are not pre-specified – they are an example of what is known as chartered exploratory testing or exploratory regression testing.

When you test, you learn about the product, the market, and how the customer might use and value certain functions and features in your product. You learn about the ways in which the product could fail, its weaknesses & strengths. You learn how to test the product. Then you design and execute tests on the product, report the problems, advocate the repairs, and finally, develop new tests based on what you have learned so far.

What does that mean? You are most likely doing exploratory testing all the time without really noticing it. Keep up the good work!

[5-minute video] Why exploratory testing matters

Watch Ingo Philipp, Tricentis Distinguished Evangelist, explain why exploratory testing is essential for software testing.

Exploratory Testing Example

Want to see a specific use case for exploratory testing? Read our exploratory testing example

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