By Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition:
explore; exploring; exploratory
: to investigate, study, or analyse : look into
According to the ISTQB official definition:
An approach to testing whereby the testers dynamically design and execute tests based on their knowledge, exploration of the test item and the results of previous tests.
Exploratory testing is a technique that can be utilised in a plethora of situations. Conventionally, most testers will use exploratory methods of testing in critical moments where time is a limited commodity. Where time-boxed testing is dictated, exploratory testing is a recommended option because initially, only residual amounts of planning is necessitated. On the contrary, the main concept here is to attack the execution element of testing.
To test successfully via exploratory means, scope needs to be declared as a minimum as well as anticipated testing duration. From here, the environment needs to be secured, with all and any development behind the scenes ceasing until all execution activities are complete. This may seem counterproductive to some, but actually, it protects the validity of the testing. For example, if changes are made to data or configuration within the system in focus during a round of test execution, this could potentially invalidate any previous results produced.
Whilst this approach relies upon the testers’ previous experience, knowledge of the system and natural intuition, there aren’t too many entry requirements as previously discussed. Once execution is complete, there is always the opportunity to backfill and record tests conducted, however, this very much depends on the luxury of time and resource available to you, as well as the testing mantra implemented throughout your business.
Exploratory testing is learning and reporting in equal measure. It requires skill and creativity, to think objectively but to think outside of the box and outside of any normal realm of ‘standard’ – though not to be confused with ad-hoc testing (AKA random or monkey testing). Exploratory testing can produce great discussion within teams; people learn of new scenarios and stories that open up other possibilities and interpretations of the system.
Though only one, singular technique of testing – and only a small insight at that – you can see the value in adopting this approach from time to time. It won’t always replace logical, planned and scripted events but certainly serves a purpose by casting an eye over rigid processes and injecting them with innovation and ingenuity.