What is Exploratory Testing?

Exploratory Testing Definition
Exploratory testing is the process of learning the product, designing test cases, executing test cases and interpreting the test results at the same time. Agile teams use exploratory testing to evaluate how the application actually works from the perspective of the end user.  With exploratory testing, the traditional bottom-up verification of requirements (i.e., whether the acceptance criteria outlined in the requirements/user story are met) is supplemented with a top-down assessment in an effort to protect the user experience across frequent releases.

What are the challenges of exploratory testing?

According to a recent Tricentis survey, the main challenge of exploratory testing is the pain of recording test actions. 91% of respondents noted that they acquired an exploratory testing tool because the high level of manual test documentation diminished the time and resources available to dedicate to testing. 71% stated that they acquired an exploratory testing tool to address the challenges of planning, monitoring, measuring, and recording tests for post-reviewing-processes (e.g. debriefing), especially when multiple persons were involved in the test.

Why is exploratory testing important?

The adoption of agile and iterative development processes is forcing testing teams to complete testing within significantly shorter time cycles. Teams that previously had weeks or months to test must now accelerate testing to deliver even more comprehensive test results in a matter of hours or days. As such, testing must be performed under intense time pressure — often with reduced resources and budget.

Exploratory testing is increasingly being used to evaluate how the application actually works from the perspective of the end user. It is often contrasted with formal testing, which solely focuses on verification (i.e., whether the acceptance criteria outlined in the requirements/user story are met). Formal testing monitors known risks, whereas exploratory testing mainly focuses on analyzing potential risks.

Using exploratory testing, this traditional bottom-up verification of requirements is supplemented with a top-down assessment in an effort to protect the user experience across frequent releases. This means that exploratory testing completes the testing approach by focusing not just on verification, but also on validation. Verification and validation are independent procedures used jointly for checking that a product meets the requirements and specifications, and that it fulfills its intended purpose.

Since exploratory testing does not require laborious planning upfront, teams commonly use it to start testing new functionality as soon as it’s completed. This promotes rapid defect detection within short development cycles. Moreover, because exploratory testing encourages branching and exploration of different test ideas in a way that simulates the end user’s perspective, it tends to uncover more critical defects than formal testing.

What are the benefits of exploratory testing?

  • Exploratory testing exposes types of defects overlooked by formal testing techniques, including:
    • Usability issues (e.g. confusing interfaces, inconsistent usage patterns).
    • Missing requirements (i.e. functionality that is critical for the end user experience, but was not specified).
    • Problems with functionality that was implemented beyond the boundaries of specification (and therefore not covered by specification-based tests).
  • Exploratory testing helps you discover what dangers might be lurking beyond the primary application paths (including territory that’s not accessible to test automation).
  • Exploratory testing is perfect for performing a quick sanity check on new functionality and its impact across an application.
  • Exploratory testing helps teams assess and improve software quality with the least possible effort — ensuring prompt exposure of important defects that fall beyond the scope of test automation.
  • Exploratory testing accelerates agile development cycles by involving multiple roles (developers, product owners, UX designers, business analysts, and support engineers) and providing feedback as quickly as possible. It maximizes risk reduction even with limited time, budget and resources.