Friday, April 19, 2013

The miseducation of Exploratory Testing

I've been noticing a phenomenon lately, that is the over/misuse of the term Exploratory testing. As many testers seems to have kind of settled for the Exploratory testing paradigm and have moved to new frontiers like checking vs testing, it seems many other parties are really getting into it, and of course understanding it in different ways.

Couple of examples of this phenomena:
1. In my final days as a consultant one of our sales people, had visited a customer who had no experiences about testing, but specifically requested the sales man to give a offer on Exploratory testing
2. I just looked at the program of Agile testing days 2013, and really many of the testing related talks were labeled about Exploratory testing, although to me many seemed to talk/practice testing in generally

It's nice that the Exploratory testing is gaining momentum, but I am also a bit worried about it. The examples listed above could be supported by many others, which kind of give me the impression that ET is becoming another buzzword, (just like Agile).

I think talking&learning about Exploratory testing is a great thing, and if you are involved with testing and are not that familiar with the concept I definitely suggest to start learning about it. Reading stuff from James Bach and Michael Bolton is not a bad start at all. But whilst getting into it, I would want to remind you about a couple of things I had to learn the hard way.
1. Exploratory testing != unplanned testing
2. There is no such thing as unexploratory testing
3. Exploratory testing != good testing

If you want good testing to be done, or if you want to talk about good testing, I think there's nothing wrong in calling it by the name of Good testing. In case everybody might not still agree on what Exploratory testing means.

Just a thought.


  1. Hi, Anssi...

    I'm glad you've raised this point. The idea of exploratory testing is no longer prohibited speech, which it used to be in certain circles. At the same time, the idea shouldn't be watered down, either.

    I agree when you say that exploratory testing doesn't mean "testing", or "good testing". It means something more specific. I've written some things about that here and here. Cem Kaner, who coined the term, has reflections here. Citing what James Bach has written would take too much time, but this post—an interesting challenge to your remarks—is a highlight from this list.

    The conversation continues. I'd encourage you to keep posting your own reflections on the subject.

    ---Michael B.

    1. Hi Michael,

      Thanks for the (requested :) ) comment.

      There's a lot of stuff to read from you guys, stuff which I already have read before, but I still seem to find new stuff when reading it. Thinking either you constantly change your articles, or then I have changed in the mean time..

      Problem I see, when talking with bloated terms like Agile or (not perhaps so bloated but perhaps in danger of becoming one) Exploratory testing, is that people may have their own idea on their meaning, which often may be really different from other people's ideas. Which again leads to many other problems.

      I'm slowly giving up using that phrase, but most definitely will not give up asking what other people mean when they use it.

      I also took the challenge you referred to and commented on James' blog post.