March 22, 2010

Exploratory Testing

Posted in software testing at 6:32 pm by mknight1130

Last Wednesday, I went to a talk on Exploratory Testing, sponsored by the Agile group in Portland Oregon. With the need for quick turn around for testing results; exploratory testing offers some promise. Exploratory testing, according to Jon Bach’s speech, is a process of thinking, learning, and adapting while testing. The trick, however, is to obtain useful feedback in a timely way. Jon advocates using session based time-boxes (e.g. 90 minutes) resulting in a debriefings based on a series of missions. These session based testing facilitates accurate testing, flexible scheduling, and course correction. Jon Bach has additional information in his blog: http://jonbox.wordpress.com/ . This talk has prompted me to research different exploratory software testing perspectives and papers on the Internet.

An overview on Exploratory Testing, is written  by Andy Tinkham and Cem Kaner blackbox.cs.fit.edu/a/explore.pdf . Both authors teach and write at the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT). Their article, written in 2003, describes different exploratory testing perspectives among experts and the knowledge and skills applied by exploratory testers. They describe, very succinctly, the similarities and differences between different exploratory testers and offer some thoughts on how to train exploratory testing. The reader comes away from the article with perspectives on how exploratory testing may be conducted in real time projects and how to develop this as a testing strategy.

Sam Guckenheimer, from IBM,  provides an automated/programmer testing approach to exploratory testing in his interview with Brian Marick: Test-First Design, Exploratory Testing, and Agile Process: An Interview with Brian Marick http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/rational/library/2833.html . The interview contents advocates for software developers to test first and software testers to initiate exploratory testing to provide quicker and more concrete feedback on potential usability issues. The exploratory testers find the bugs that the automated tests do not find. The article concludes specifying that many more testers will need to be programmers of some sort and programmers will need to be testers. The author’s main point is that programming and exploratory testing intermingle very closely.

The two resources mentioned above and the talk by Jon Bach clearly explain how a type of testing tool, exploratory testing, works best and its role. Especially in an Agile environment, these types of tests are handy in a crunch and for programming flexibility. As mentioned in the 2 articles above Exploratory testing does have its limits; which is why other scripted test types are used (To understand the limits of exploratory testing see “How to Choose between Exploratory and Scripted Testing” by Andrew Thompson at http://www.stickyminds.com/sitewide.asp?ObjectId=6271&Function=edetail&ObjectType=ART However, my better understanding of exploratory testing will only serve me and others well as I continue to test software.

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