What is Exploratory Testing and Why Do You Need It?

Ross Jackman
Ross Jackman | June 21, 2022
What is Exploratory Testing and Why Do You Need It?

Exploratory testing isn’t new to the world of agile software development, but far too often, it is overlooked and underestimated.

Exploratory testing isn’t limited to completing a series of steps that have predetermined outcomes. It’s an approach that allows testers to push the boundaries of their system by following their intuition, identifying edge cases that would have slipped past the scope of traditional testing and providing valuable feedback based upon them.

This article will discuss the importance of exploratory testing for agile software development teams, but we’ll begin with the basics.

What is Exploratory Testing?

Exploratory testing in software development is a broad term that describes a general approach to testing. While using this approach, testers discover and analyze the workings of a program by delving into their previous experience, knowledge and insights instead of following any formalized processes.

To put it simply, exploratory testing requires careful note keeping, like any other form of test, but is otherwise much less structured than other approaches. By recreating user stories and following paths that typical users might explore, testers try to push the boundaries of the software to find its strengths and weaknesses.

This helps testers provide feedback to the development team on the issues they find, suggest solutions, and author new formalized testing methods for the software.


When Should You Opt for Exploratory Testing?

If you have been overlooking exploratory testing, it’s vital that you reconsider.

In teams that implement agile practices, flexible planning and continuous improvement are abound. These teams adapt to change quickly and respond to it efficiently, which makes exploratory testing the ideal type of testing for them.

However, exploratory testing is better suited to some scenarios than others. Here are scenarios in which exploratory testing is ideal:

  • Your team is getting to know how an application works, what its interface looks like, and what features it offers. This is particularly helpful when you’ve brought new testers to the project who need to familiarize themselves with it.
  • Your team is combing through for all buggy functionalities in an application, particularly those that have been flagged before.
  • Your team needs to force the program to showcase all of its features.
  • You’d like to reduce the need for test script writing.
  • Your team needs to discover new information and questions.
  • Ideally, you should plan for exploratory testing once regression and system testing are complete. Additionally, make sure that the testers have a good understanding of the product.

Whenever mission-critical apps are being tested, the goal of exploratory testing is to make sure that testers find all issues and edge cases to avoid critical failures later on.


How Exploratory Testing Improves Agile Processes

As mentioned above, exploratory testing is beneficial to agile teams and their processes because it is designed for adaptive planning and constant improvement.

To give you a more in-depth look at how this approach could benefit your team, consider the following ways this approach fits in with agile methodology:

  • Improves Time Management

    Agile methodology focuses on accomplishing pre-determined tasks in fixed-length sprints. This means that testers assigned to such projects need to complete their testing within the same time period.

    With exploratory testing, testing teams can improve their time management by directing teams to focus on testing the product instead of getting lost in the details of test cases. This also allows testers to catch issues that would otherwise be missed by standard testing methods, saving the time it would take to address them later on.

  • Implements Continuous Improvement

    Continuous improvement, deployment, and testing are essential to maintain an agile team and to keep users happy with regular updates and improvements.

    With exploratory testing, testers can continually test applications, field feedback, and implement fixes and optimizations, keeping their error response time low and user satisfaction high.

  • Improves Applications

    With exploratory testing, application performances are vastly improved. Bugs or defects are less likely to reach the end-user because more stakeholders in the agile team are now involved in the product's evaluation. In addition, new features and enhancements are always being added because of ongoing testing and improvement.

    QA teams also benefit because they have more freedom to test the applications, which helps them to understand the product better. Exploratory testing allows teams to respond quickly to evolving client needs, make the changes mid-cycle, and always deliver a reliable product.

  • Helps Create Effective Test Cases

    Exploratory testing in software testing looks for flaws in new features rather than focusing on existing ones. Using the application the same way an end-user would, testers look for defects in the software in a realistic setting. As a result, it can generate test cases that accurately reflect how end users will interact with the product and uncover major issues.

  • There is More Than Just Testing

    Exploratory testing is more than just another testing process as organizations change focus from completing manual tasks to accomplishing business objectives. Using exploratory testing, QA teams can build a test management system that effectively collects and retains the technical expertise of their team members. Additionally, this allows agile teams to keep up with the rapid release schedules of their products.


Elements of Exploratory Testing

For exploratory testing to be successful, certain elements need to be present within a given project. These components are:

  • Mission

    Initiated at the start of the testing project, the mission defines the test session's purpose. It establishes the scope of the exploratory tests and the problems that need to be considered.

  • Charter

    The charter is the agenda or goal of a given exploratory test session. Charters should be created by looking at past sessions or existing test cases. Although they are prepared before testing begins, they can be added to or modified anytime.

  • Session

    The session is the given time assigned for testing. Despite having a charter, testers are free to explore other opportunities within a session. The tester generates and performs test cases and documents their progress.

  • Session Report

    After a session, the tester will write up a session report that includes all the important details, such as the test charter, the area tested, and a list of bugs.


Best Practices for Exploratory Testing

Making the most of exploratory testing means relying on the following best practices:

  • Learning

    In agile practices, exploratory relies heavily on learning. For instance, all exploratory testers need to have an in-depth understanding of how the app or website works. This is necessary to ensure that they can test their projects successfully. Knowing important details such as company background, industry awareness, and benchmark data are also vital.

  • Designing

    When performing exploratory testing, QA teams test what they think is appropriate rather than following predetermined paths or conditions. Therefore, exploratory testers must be able to design effective test cases on the fly.

  • Executing

    The last element is execution, which is a critical best practice to employ in exploratory testing. This is because testers have the freedom to perform a test according to what they see fit. Tests can be implemented as soon as they are written. As a result of the lack of predefined constraints, work can be executed more quickly and smoothly.


Advantages of Exploratory Testing

Exploratory testing isn’t an answer to all challenges facing software development. However, it does offer several advantages over other types of testing methodologies.

These benefits are:

  • Requires Little Preparation Time

    There are no predefined test plans to bother with in exploratory testing. This means that less preparation is necessary to carry them out. It also allows exploratory test teams to begin their session as soon as possible.

  • Fills in Gaps Left by Automation Testing

    Not all tests can be automated. As a result, exploratory testing is considered helpful in certain situations since it allows testers to perform tasks that cannot be completed with automation.

  • Detects Unexpected Behavior and Edge Case Defects

    Exploratory testing is not constrained by a predetermined path. This adaptability and flexibility allow exploratory test experts to identify edge case defects and other unexpected application behaviors.

  • Helps QA Professionals Learn a System

    With exploratory testing, newcomers to the team can become familiar with a given system faster. QA professionals will get to know the ins and outs of an application and pass that on to others.

  • Can Be Used as a Precursor to Automated Testing Processes

    Most of the time, exploratory testing is done when the whole process of regression testing is complete and testers have ample time to test different application scenarios. Usually, exploratory testing helps testers to identify bugs that have slipped due to change in some other module which is not part of the release. During exploratory testing, testers may stumble upon test cases that can be automated. Ultimately, this allows testers to easily switch to automated testing processes for more effective testing.



As you can see, although exploratory testing may not fall within the umbrella of traditional testing, it is nonetheless a very effective method. It offers many advantages that cannot be found in other tests.

If you need help with software testing and ensuring quality assurance is met, consider checking out QASource. We offer outsourced QA solutions that don’t come with the associated cost and hassle of bringing in an in-house team.

You can request a free quote to find out how much your upcoming project is going to cost.


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