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Understanding the Importance of Exploratory Testing in an Agile Environment

When it comes to testing software products, testers follow planned and formal testing procedures. However, sometimes in order to identify defects and obtain quick feedback with minimum planning, exploratory testing is used, which allows testers to test functional aspects of a product without following a stringent test plan. Let us understand what is exploratory testing and how it is useful in an Agile environment.

Testing is no longer just a phase in the development process. With the advent of Agile methodology, testing has become more or less a culture where everyone is encouraged to test as the product progresses in the development cycle. During the course of testing a software product, various testing methods or procedures are applied to ensure that the software checks out on every quality parameter defined in a pre-conceived test plan.

Testing all components in accordance to test cases is a systematic approach. However, not all testing procedures have to follow a systematic approach. Exploratory testing is one of the most common approaches to testing products in a non-systematic and unplanned manner. Experts suggest that it is the best way to investigate a software and find areas of improvements in it.

Let’s take a look at Exploratory Testing, and see how it fits into the agile testing environments. Even though it may not seem to be the most thoughtful approach, when you have stringent timelines to release products in the market, exploratory testing can be a valuable addition to your testing process.

What is exploratory testing?

Exploratory Testing is a formal testing procedure that does not follow any set approach to identify bugs or errors. It is also known as ad hoc testing and it may often be associated with unplanned testing, as it does not follow any test plans. Nevertheless, exploratory testing is a practice that can be incorporated in a formal testing environment.

Most testers would say that it is what the name suggests, which is an exploration of the product to understand how it works and how it can be improved or fixed. The testers can randomly select the functions they want to test, and at the same time explore the features and functionalities of the software.

Exploratory testing involves very less planning and at the same time focuses on maximum execution. Since there are less or nearly no test specifications defined, it helps you test a product when the time is severely limited. However, we cannot say that there is no documentation of the procedures in exploratory testing, as planning and execution are done in parallel in order to save time. Therefore, the tests performed are recorded simultaneously while the execution is taking place. Exploratory testing can be implemented along with other forms of testing that will benefit in creating better quality products.

Benefits of exploratory testing

Saving Time for Execution: Most teams have an elaborate test plan that has to be followed to achieve the desired results. However, this may not apply to exploratory testing. As discussed earlier, exploration testing does not involve preparation of any elaborate test plans and so, it is easy to quickly test a system and identify bugs and errors without following a stringent plan. It requires limited preparation, which allows you to save time and quickly jump to execution.

Generating on-the-fly Scenarios: In Exploratory Testing, you can generate your own test scenarios on the fly, which will allow you to delve deeper into the functional aspects of the product. This will ensure higher productivity, as it allows you to go beyond a list of test cases.  It also helps you explore and investigate a software creatively, which will allow you to encounter bugs or errors, that otherwise might not have been reported.

Going beyond Automation: Automation makes life easier for testers and at the same time helps in accelerating the development process. Automated testing can help you run the same tests repeatedly, but automated testing will not give you insights into the user perspectives. For example, to understand if the UI of a product is attractive and at the same time easy to use or navigate for users may not be understood by a computer. The testers who are exploring the product can only determine the effectiveness of the UI. The use of exploratory testing can help in areas where automation may not be effective.

Making Quick Changes: It is very important to make quick changes to a software product when you have challenging release times in an Agile setup. Changes are required and have to be implemented along with adaptability so that your team can roll out quality products on time. Exploratory testing is the key to identify the flaws and make changes in the software product for improving its overall design and functioning without the need to undergo a long and planned testing approach.

Enhancing Skills & Flexibility: We discussed earlier that there are no rules attached to exploratory testing. Since it allows you to be creative, it enhances your skills in creating new test cases that will increase the scope of the testing process in future projects as well. It also allows you to be flexible in accommodating the changing requirements of a product and execute tests with challenging deadlines.

Where can exploratory testing be applied (Scenarios)?

  • It is advisable to implement exploratory testing, where you have a team of experienced testers.
  • The execution could take place at the beginning of the process before you actually learn to use the product. It can also be executed as a final check before you release your product into the market.
  • It is ideal for situations where you have limited time to test.
  • In scenarios where the scope of the project evolves and you need quick feedback on the new additions in your product.

Challenges of exploratory testing

Though Exploratory Testing has its advantages, it also has its own challenges and pitfalls that need to be streamlined in order to improve your testing process.

Lack of Traceability: We already discussed that exploratory testing does not follow any test plan and that its documentation is progressive. Hence, traceability may become a major issue. As and when testing takes place, it needs to be documented in the test report. The test report also needs to include anything that will require testing in the future.

The easy way of tackling such issues is by assigning the exploratory testing project to team members that are highly skilled and have experience. The knowledge and understanding of the scope of the project and testing, in general, play a vital role in increasing traceability, along with progressively documenting each step, and compiling the test report.

Lack of Learning: Understanding the product and the purpose of developing the product determines your approach towards testing it. When every piece is tested at will, it is vital to know the loopholes in the product and determine what scenarios a user may face. Unless there is a proper understanding of the product, it may not always be possible to go deep beyond the surface.

So while implementing testing procedures, it is always important to use skilled testers, who have the experience or knowledge of similar products. You can also incorporate pair testing, where two skilled testers can test together, which will allow you to go beyond the surface and test the product thoroughly. Another approach could be involving your testers early in the development process, for them to have enough knowledge about the product.

Not knowing the timing to run the tests: What you need to understand is that exploratory testing does not provide complete test coverage. Therefore, in scenarios where you need a complete test coverage, implementing exploratory testing may not be the best choice. Sometimes the question is not how to implement the test rather when to implement it.

Especially when it comes to regulatory bodies, where the evidence of testing is of prime concern, exploratory testing may not be the reliable mode for testing your product.

Choosing the right metrics to measure your tests: You may look for quick and accurate results from exploratory testing. However, it may not always yield perfect results, especially if you are implementing exploratory testing for the first time. You can measure your testing process with the help of metrics. Therefore, the key here would be to choose the right metrics.

Let us discuss some of the metrics to measure the results of exploratory testing.

One of the units of measurement can be the production defect. You will have to observe how the defects occurred during the production process and whether it occurred after you performed exploratory testing. There is also a need to find the right balance between exploratory testing and formal testing procedures. Initially, you may not be successful in getting satisfactory results, but with adjusting and readjusting your techniques, you will eventually yield accurate results.

Defining the severity of the defects is another metric you can use. This requires the tester to have an ample knowledge of the project. Knowledge about the project will help you identify the severity of defects and see if they are critical or cosmetic.

There are also a variety of defects that can be identified in a formal testing procedure and exploratory testing. If you are able to find just functional issues and not usability issues, then you need to widen the scope of your exploratory testing to ensure you are covering all the parameters.

The time taken to report the issues you have found and the time taken to send the feedback to the developers also need to be measured. This will allow you to streamline your testing process and improve the scope of testing in the future.

Exploratory testing involves continuous learning and needs to evolve constantly before it starts giving expected results.

How does exploratory testing fit in an Agile environment?

The main aim of implementing Agile practice in testing is to deliver high-quality products quickly by blurring the lines between disparate teams within an organization, who can work together to test a product as the development progresses. The need to roll out updates or upgrades frequently in a software requires faster development and testing. Along with faster development, there should be no compromise on the quality of the products. So, extra precautions are required to ensure that the product does not have any errors or bugs.

Since exploratory testing gives you a chance to be creative without any specifically defined approach, it gives you the freedom to test any functional part, as you want. In an Agile setup, there is always a need for faster feedback and exploratory testing yields just that, enabling easier and faster turnaround and decision-making. Automated testing is of due importance in Agile, but it does not fulfill all the parameters of testing. So, using exploratory testing helps you to explore new test scenarios that may be beyond the scope of the test plan.

Many times we see that the scope of the requirements may widen as the project progresses and in such scenarios, exploratory testing enables you to react to the newly added features and quickly test them, without having to modify the test plan. Exploratory testing assists in being able to achieve faster development in an Agile environment along with other formal procedures of testing. It can be a key factor in any Agile testing model and can assist in the development and delivery of quality products.

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eInfochips provides accelerated QA and test automation services for embedded software and applications with a strong focus on DevOps and Agile methodologies. We are also expert in testing hardware, devices, and sensors as well as new age technologies like cloud, IoT, API, and mobile. Know more about QA and test automation offerings.

Picture of Smishad Thomas

Smishad Thomas

Smishad Thomas is the Customer Experience Manager at eInfochips. He has over 10 years of experience into customer service and marketing. Smishad has completed his Masters in English Literature along with a degree in Corporate Communication.

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