In the pantheon of software testing methodologies, exploratory testing ranks among the most interactive and dynamic. However, amongst experienced testers rages an ongoing debate over whether or not exploratory is superior to structural methods of testing (e.g. scripted). In truth, both have pros and cons, making the overall debate somewhat flawed. When given a choice, structural and exploratory testing should be pursued in tandem to achieve optimal results – both for the end-user and for any team that must conduct such tests using limited resources like manpower, time, and technology. Pitting the two against each other is like forcing one to choose between long-lasting medication and fast-acting medication. Both serve a purpose.

Before exploring the contrast, it is important to understand what exploratory testing actually entails. Described as more of a mindset or “way of thinking” about testing than an actual methodology itself, exploratory testing directly engages the user, requiring that he or she continuously revise the types of “tests” run through the software based on the results of the most previous run through. Exploratory testing is an ad hoc approach in which the analysis perpetually evolves as new data are gathered and new types of questions or potential problems arise. In effect, this approach to software management demands a much greater degree of deductive reasoning and logic as the user and his or her needs continue to develop over time in the face of new information.

Exploratory Testing – Not for the Faint of Heart?
On the surface, you might imagine that exploratory testing is the sole province of only the most experienced of analysts. After all, one must be well versed to know what changes or updates are necessary to analyze during additional iterations of a given test. In fact, Jonathan Bach, seminal writer on the subject, lists key characteristics of a successful exploratory tester, highlighting the importance of modeling, resourcing, questioning, and chartering – skills typically within the realm of the more experienced set.

However, to the contrary, exploratory testing favors nearly every level of user, with advantages available to even the most untrained of software testers in the field. That being said, you do need to understand the underlying logic of the software in order to anticipate the myriad needs that might arise amongst end-users. To wit, as the exploratory tester, you must be able to place yourself in the shoes of the end-user and predict all of the potential scenarios, problems, or functions that he or she might encounter in using the actual software itself. This approach does not necessarily require technical expertise on you the tester, but it does require that you bring a fairly flexible business and product understanding to the analysis in order to remain a few steps ahead of potential forks in the road. You have to know what answers to seek in order to know what questions to ask.

Two-Pronged Approach to Optimal Software Testing
When combined with more traditional methods of software testing (e.g. scripted), exploratory testing provides a much wider range of analysis, allowing you to provide more coverage for your product, thus, creating superior end results than using any single testing methodology in isolation. In truth, nearly all testing approaches use a combination of methodologies, even if any single approach borrows its “naming” from one methodology over another. Similarly, the US is not strictly a capitalist country – it has social underpinnings with a robust welfare state. And the former Soviet Union was not strictly a communist country – market forces drove much of its economy.

That being said, exploratory testing is not without its pitfalls. In the hands of a novice, or worse yet, someone who is unfamiliar with the product or the needs of the end-user, exploratory testing can lose focus and leave gaps due to the unstructured nature inherent in “spontaneity.” And thus, exploratory testing should rarely be the sole approach to debugging – especially when someone with little or no product knowledge is at the helm.

Testuff Special Features for Exploratory Testing
For optimal results, you should look for testing management systems that provide the flexibility and ease of both major paths – exploratory and structural. Each methodology yields different results for the simple reason that each methodology achieves slightly different goals. In using Testuff suite, you can easily switch back and forth – using scripted software testing when you need broad strokes of the pen and more global analysis; exploratory testing when isolated problem-solving and discrete bug fixes are required.

Moreover, Testuff offers an industry-leading approach to exploratory testing, enabling the user to video record each run through, thus, making it easier to report defects and isolate bugs as they crop up. In addition, when using Testuff, you can edit each test while running it, rather than waiting for results to analyze after the fact. This simultaneous approach to documentation and discovery allows you to log your actions, and take corrective measures on-the-fly.