Exploratory Testing: How to find bugs before they find you

exploratory testing
By , Head of Quality Assurance

Are you sick and tired of chasing bugs that always seem to be one step ahead of you? Are you feeling exhausted from the frustration of watching your users encounter glitches and disruptions that could have been prevented?

If so, read our article to discover the power of exploratory testing, which is an efficient approach to bug hunting and quality engineering that keeps you ahead of the curve and delivers bug-free software experiences.

What is exploratory testing?

Exploratory testing is an ad-hoc, flexible approach to software testing where testers explore the software freely by asking questions, making observations, and adapting their testing strategies as they go along. This approach emphasizes learning, discovery, and improvisation, which makes it particularly useful for uncovering hidden defects and for gaining a deeper understanding of the software's behavior from a user's perspective. Unlike scripted testing, where testers follow predetermined test cases, exploratory testing encourages testers to think creatively and simulate real-world usage.

Imagine a detective investigating a crime scene. They don’t have a rigid checklist to follow. Instead, they meticulously examine every detail, following their intuition and asking questions along the way. This is the essence of exploratory testing, it’s a testing approach that mirrors a detective’s investigative mindset.

the importance of exploratory testing

When should you apply for exploratory testing?

PhaseObjectiveDetails and Importance
Early DevelopmentIdentify Usability and High-Level IssuesInitiate testing in the initial development phase to identify usability issues and ensure a positive user experience. Early detection of high-level bugs prevents them from becoming entrenched in the system which reduces future development costs. This phase allows testers to navigate through prototypes, pinpoint navigation challenges and contribute to the refinement of fundamental design elements.
Integration TestingValidate System Integration and CommunicationAs the software modules integrate, exploratory testing is a vital procedure for validating system integration and communication. This phase ensures that different components interact seamlessly, facilitating a robust and cohesive application. By exploring how modules communicate, testers can detect potential bottlenecks and/or data flow issues. 
After Regression TestingDetect Unintended Side EffectsAfter regression testing, exploratory testing serves as a critical checkpoint for detecting any unintended side effects of recent code changes. Testers, through exploration, identify areas impacted by any recent updates, and it provides a safety net for catching any potential regressions before they reach production. 
User Acceptance Testing (UAT)Validate User Expectations

Throughout User Acceptance Testing (UAT), exploratory testing validates the software against user expectations. Testers explore the application organically by acting as end-users and by mimicking real-world usage. The goal of this phase is to ensure that the software provides a positive a user experience by

aligning user needs and preferences perfectly.  

Agile Development CyclesFacilitate Agile IterationsExploratory testing seamlessly integrates into Agile development cycles by offering a flexible approach that aligns with the iterative nature of Agile methodology. In each sprint, testers adapt their exploration as the software evolves. This exploration ensures that every iteration meets the required quality standards. This approach allows for the continuous improvement of the software within the dynamic Agile framework.
Prior to ReleaseUncover Critical ShowstoppersExploratory testing is applied for uncovering critical showstopper bugs as a final check before the software gets released. This phase is crucial for ensuring a stable and reliable software launch because it helps prevent major issues that could negatively impact the user experience. By simulating user interactions comprehensively, testers identify last-minute issues that might get overlooked and it also contributes to a smoother release process. 
For Security TestingIdentify Security VulnerabilitiesExploratory testing is an instrumental component of security testing that identifies vulnerabilities that may have been apparent through traditional testing methods. Testers simulate real-world scenarios by attempting to exploit potential weaknesses in the application’s security infrastructure. This phase is essential for securing sensitive data and for ensuring the robustness of the software against potential cyber threats.
Post-Production MonitoringContinuous Improvement and Issue DetectionEven after the software goes live, exploratory testing contributes to making ongoing improvements. Testers explore the live environment by identifying potential issues that may arise under actual usage conditions. Post-production monitoring ensures that the software remains resilient and user-friendly, which leads to continuous enhancements. 

When should businesses not undertake exploratory testing?

While some companies may view a free-form approach to software testing as an appealing option, there are several reasons why businesses should carefully consider the potential drawbacks before they adopt exploratory testing. Here are five key considerations that might discourage businesses from implementing this kind of testing approach:

  • Unpredictable Test Coverage and Quality. Without a structured testing plan or predefined test cases, there is a significant risk of incomplete or inconsistent test coverage. This can lead to undetected bugs and vulnerabilities that might manifest later on in the development cycle or after release. This lack of predictability can compromise the overall quality of the software product and increase the risk of customer dissatisfaction.

  • Inefficient Resource Allocation and Time Management. The unstructured nature of an ad-hoc testing approach makes it difficult to estimate the time and resources required for thorough testing. Unlike scripted testing, where test cases provide a clear roadmap, this freestyle approach involves continuous exploration and adaptation which can make it a challenge to predict the duration of the testing cycles. This can lead to budget overruns and project delays, especially for larger or complex software systems.

  • Difficulties in Measuring Progress and Identifying Trends. The absence of predefined test cases and metrics in an unstructured testing approach makes it difficult to measure progress and identify recurring issues. Without clear benchmarks or historical data, it can become a challenge to assess the effectiveness of testing efforts and determine areas that require additional attention. This lack of visibility can hinder continuous improvement and make it difficult to prioritize testing activities.

  • Over Reliance on One Individual’s Expertise and Creativity. An unstructured testing approach places a heavy burden on the individual tester's expertise and creativity. Without a defined process or guidelines, testers may struggle to identify potential issues and/or uncover hidden bugs. This reliance on an individual’s skills can lead to inconsistencies in testing coverage and quality, which makes it difficult to ensure a consistent level of software quality across the development cycle.

  • Potential for Redundancy and Overlapping Efforts. The lack of coordination and structure in an unstructured testing approach can lead to redundancy and overlapping efforts, especially when multiple testers are involved. Without a clear division of responsibility or a defined testing plan, testers might end up exploring the same areas or functionalities multiple times which wastes time and resources. This can be particularly problematic for large or complex software systems with extensive functionality.

It's important to note that exploratory testing is not mutually exclusive to scripted testing. In many cases, a combination of both approaches can provide a comprehensive and effective testing strategy. The choice between the two depends on the specific project's requirements, resources, and constraints.

Best Practices for Exploratory Testing

To harness the full potential of exploratory testing, it's crucial to adhere to a set of best practices that guide testers throughout the process of uncovering hidden defects.

exploratory testing best practices
  • Define Clear Objectives and Charters

It is essential to establish clear objectives and charters that outline the scope and goals of the testing session before it gets started. This ensures that testers focus their efforts on the most critical areas of the software and avoid aimless exploration.

  • Understand the Application's Context and Risk Areas

Testers should possess a thorough understanding of the application's purpose, features, and user expectations. This knowledge allows them to identify potential risk areas and focus their testing efforts on those areas with the highest likelihood of harboring bugs.

  • Combine Domain Knowledge, User Perspective, and Intuition

The testing specialist should combine their technical expertise with a user-centric perspective. By simulating real-world usage scenarios and employing intuition, testers can uncover bugs that might otherwise go unnoticed.

  • Document Findings Effectively

Thorough documentation is the cornerstone of a successful testing process. Testers should diligently record their observations, findings, and potential defects so that valuable insights are not lost during the exploration process.

  • Collaborate and Share Knowledge

It is not recommended to complete this kind of testing by staying isolated inside a bubble. Testers should collaborate with developers and other stakeholders and share their findings, gain insights, and foster a culture of proactive bug mitigation.

  • Utilize Testing Tools and Frameworks

Utilizing a variety of testing tools and frameworks can enhance the testing process. These tools can provide useful features such as session recording, defect tracking, and reporting. These tools enable testers to capture and organize their findings effectively.

  • Continuous Learning and Improvement

Testers should embrace continuous learning and improvement because quality assurance is an evolving discipline. By staying up-to-date with new techniques, tools, and best practices, testers can refine their skills and uncover bugs with increasing efficiency.

  • Embrace a Risk-Based Approach

Quality assurance processes should be guided by a risk-based approach that focuses on areas of the software that have the highest potential impact or risk of failure. This prioritization ensures that testers allocate their time and resources more effectively.

Eight of the Best Tools for Enhancing Exploratory Testing

Testing tools provide testers with the resources they need to effectively explore and test software applications. These tools can help testers capture screenshots, record videos, take notes, and track bugs. Some testing tools also offer features such as session management, reporting, and integration with test management systems.

Here are eight of the best exploratory testing tools in 2023:

exploratory testing tools
  • Testuff is a popular testing tool that allows testers to quickly and easily create and manage test cases on the fly. It features a drag-and-drop interface, support for multiple testing frameworks, and it has the ability to capture screenshots, videos, and notes.
  • PractiTest is another popular testing tool that offers a wide range of features including test planning, session management, defect tracking, and reporting. It also integrates with a variety of other testing tools which makes it a versatile option for teams that have complex testing needs.
  • Testpad is a cloud-based testing tool that is easy to use and set up. It features a user-friendly interface, support for multiple platforms, and it has the ability to share test sessions with other team members.
  • Zephyr is a comprehensive test management tool that offers a wide range of features, including test planning, session management, defect tracking, and reporting.
  • Session Tester is a lightweight testing tool that is designed for ease of use. It features a simple interface, support for multiple testing frameworks, and it has the ability to capture screenshots, videos, and notes.
  • LucidChart is a diagramming tool that allows testers to create flowcharts, mind maps, and other diagrams for visualizing their testing plans and findings.
  • Bug Magnet is a browser extension that helps testers capture screenshots, videos, and notes while they are exploring a web application. It also integrates well with a number of other testing tools.
  • QTest Explorer is a module of the QTest test management tool that offers a range of features, including session management, defect tracking, and reporting. These are just a few of the many testing tools that are available. The tool that’s best for you will depend on your specific needs and budget.

Conclusion

To conclude, exploratory testing is like going on a wild safari through the software jungle that uncovers hidden bugs and glitches that scripted tests might miss. While it's not a replacement for a traditional testing method, it’s still a useful and functional addition to the testing toolbox. As software development continues to evolve, adopting this kind of testing is not just a good idea, it's like putting on a pair of binoculars for spotting bugs from a mile away. Exploratory testing is essential for ensuring a resilient and bug-resistant end product that provides users with a sigh of relief rather than a groan of frustration.

Frequently Asked Questions

They are related but distinct concepts. Manual testing refers to any testing carried out by human testers without the use of automation tools and it encompasses various methodologies. Exploratory testing is a specific manual testing approach where testers simultaneously design and execute tests based on their real-time exploration of the software. Manual testing is more of a broad umbrella term, however not all manual testing is exploratory, as it includes scripted testing and other methodologies.

Usually not. This kind of testing is inherently manual due to its adaptive and intuitive nature. However, some aspects of it, (like test data generation and repetitive tasks) can be automated. But core exploration, creative thinking, and adaptability are still best suited for human testers.

No, these terms are not the same, although they can complement each other. Agile testing is a comprehensive testing approach that’s integrated into the Agile development process. It emphasizes continuous testing throughout the development lifecycle. On the other hand, exploratory testing is a specific testing technique that involves simultaneous learning, test design, and execution. While exploration can be applied in Agile environments, it remains only as just one component of the broader Agile testing methodology. Agile testing methodology encompasses various testing practices within an iterative and collaborative development framework.

Yes, it is considered to be one of the types of black box testing. Testers approach the software without knowledge of its internal code or structure and mimic the perspective of an end-user. This allows for a comprehensive examination of the software's functionalities and user interactions.

The primary goal of exploratory testing is to uncover defects, vulnerabilities, and usability issues by allowing testers to explore the software in a dynamic manner. Unlike scripted testing, it emphasizes adaptability, creative thinking, and real-world scenarios. This methodology makes it a powerful method for discovering issues that might otherwise get overlooked in traditional testing approaches.

Ivan Sereda
Head of Quality Assurance
Ivan Sereda is a highly skilled tech professional who serves as the Head of Quality Assurance at Solvd. Ivan graduated from Belarusian State University and since then he's become a leader in our industry. He ensures that software applications and systems meet the highest quality standards.

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