Whitepaper and Slides: Dynamics of Exploratory Testing

(This paper supports Jon Bach's presentation at PNSQC 2006 titled "Exploratory Testing as Competitive Sport.")

Copyright 2006, Jon and James Bach


Two decades after the term "exploratory testing" was invented, many people don't understand it. Some even call it "monkey testing" -- clicking around the screen with only a primal intelligence, hoping to stumble on to a bug. They decry its efficacy because they say the testing steps aren't precise or repeatable.

And no wonder - to the untrained eye, exploratory testing may not look very understandable or reproducible, especially in relation to scripted tests like test cases. It may look like the sport of curling, for example, where a person at one end of an ice rink slides a rock to the other end, hoping to hit the opponent's rocks in the process. To the untrained eye, curling may look unskilled, and that's at the root of many misunderstandings of exploratory testing. But it's not a question of how it looks, but how skill is cultivated and used.

In this paper, I'll discuss an emerging set of tactics and skills that when understood, can be used to narrate a tester's exploration, just as sports commentators provide play-by-play and color commentary during curling matches. With this evolving language, testers can explain their own exploration so it can be seen not as "monkey testing", but as the thoughtful, "brain-engaged" style of testing that keeps it such a widely used approach, just as Olympic sports - yes, even curling - are a showcase for all kinds of athletic skill.

Download the full paper (PDF)

Additional article and slides from Jon's "Exploratory Testing as Competitive Sport" talk at PNSQC in October 2006:

Inside the Spectator Sport (PDF)

Supporting Article (PDF)

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