Home > agile, testing > Exploratory Testing – Testers way to being agile?

Exploratory Testing – Testers way to being agile?

When I first skimmed this headline and then the post, I thought that this guy had the same thoughts on the subject as me. But reading it a couple of times made me realized that the post was not about the same as I was thinking about at the time. Although I acknowledge everything in it as good stuff, and very much on the path of DET (Developers Exploratory Testing) that my colleague Davor spoke about at Öredev in Malmö and ExpoQA in Madrid this year.

With my post, I have a slightly different perspective on it, which has been growing in my mind and discussed in some different settings with some friends.

The other day I asked a dear friend/colleague of mine what he thought of when I said the words:
“explore>learn>adapt and then explore again”
He directly responded with: “Thats agile!”

To be clear on this, he is a very knowledged and skilled developer and scrum master, but like many developers he still has the eyesheds of not looking too much at the testing perspective on things more often than sometimes.

So what is the difference then between being agile as a tester and doing exploratory testing? And why does my colleague associate the same words with being agile, and big parts of the testing community would say its ET. I dont see much of a difference actually. In James Bachs rapid software course this is the summary of what ET is: “by treating learning, test design and test execution as mutually supportive activities that run in parallell throughout the project. ” To me thats pretty much like the shorter and more concise wording I asked my friend.

In a project I am in now, I have to deliver a test specification as a product of the testing. So how do I do? Well, I explore the product in some way to learn how it works, design my tests and document in my specification and at the same time execute and adapt to my next step of exploration. I would say that in my case, I am doing ET, and those are the exact words I asked my friend about. The funny thing here is that the wording had to be neutral from the word test, for him to understand the meaning of them being agile, but for the testing context they are the same as ET, at least in my opinion.

I know that most people that think of ET, think of a scenario where the exploration is done manually through a gui, like on a web page. I acknowledge that as ET as well, but I think that this common understanding of ET comes from the simplicity of describing it like this. That kind of description I think is the most common among developers trying to understand ET.

The harder thing to understand about this, is to see the testing as the iterative feedback loop that it actually is, which responds to the feedbacks of developing with TDD or actually any agile process. The loops are just different in size and visibility. In my project some of the loops are 5 minutes and sometimes it takes a whole day. For exploring a web site, the feedback is mostly about seconds.

To conclude the post, why not just call exploratory testing being an agile process approach to testing, instead of an approach to testing within an agile process. The latter being the most common description I have seen when talking about agile testing. You see the difference?

  1. December 17, 2009 at 10:55

    “explore>learn>adapt and then explore again”
    Sounds like waterfall to me

    * First we spend a few months exploring and thinking about what is to be built. -> Writing the Requirements
    * Then we spend a few months learning -> Training our staff
    * Then we spend the rest of the year to adapt. -> Write the system.

    And after a year when we have a system, version 1.0
    And then we restart the cycle again for version 2.0 which is planned for delivery 26 Feb 2011

  2. Sigge
    December 17, 2009 at 11:48

    That completely depends on the size of your feedback loops, that you decide yourself. For me, agile means that you should strive for the shortest loop possible. Same thing with ET, the shorter loop the better.

  3. December 17, 2009 at 13:09

    What I am just trying to say is that a simplyfication of ET or Agile down to three words is pointless. Those 3 words could represent anything. It could mean hiking ( “Join the Boyscouts – explore>learn>adapt and then explore again” ) or be the new slogan for Nasa. ( “Nasa – explore>learn>adapt and then explore again” )

    That you and your colleauge had different opions of those three words is no surprise, since they could mean absolutely anything.

    To me, both ET and Agile is very complex processes and done wrong they could totally fail, but done correct they could save your project. I think trying to put them into 3 words is an insult to ET and Agile and everybody who has spent years/decades to develop the methods.

  4. Sigge
    December 17, 2009 at 13:20

    Well, everything is simplified when written down. This is only one view of my thinking around the subject.

    I dont want to call either agile or ET processes, they are both approaches that can be taken on specific processes. Call it mindsets, where exploration and adaptation are key to success. In that way they are the same in an agnostic view of things.

    They are both good, and should be treated with respect, but to keep in mind the similarities instead of “running ET as a part of agile testing” which in this case just sounds so wrong.

  5. December 17, 2009 at 13:48

    In my team we are “running ET as a part of agile testing” and it’s awesome.

  6. December 18, 2009 at 10:37

    Hi Sigge
    This is the article I talked to you about yesterday at Petter’s place (Petter is mine and Sigge’s boss). It’s about the dangers of abstracting to much. The article is clever and entertaining.
    My point, and connection to this blog post is that your suggestions “ET is really like Agile” is dangerously close to over abstraction.

  1. January 15, 2013 at 22:58

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