What is Exploratory Testing in Software Testing Overview

What is Exploratory Testing in Software Testing: Overview

Software testing technique, called Exploratory Testing, is about testing and finding issues that standardized testing methods might not detect.

You must be creative and use your experience to explore the software and uncover potential defects. It is recommended to do exploratory testing for complicated software systems. Through this blog, we will try to gain a deeper understanding of Exploratory testing.

What is Exploratory Testing?

Exploratory Testing is an interactive approach that involves exploring the software program to find defects.

For example, when testing an e-commerce website, the tester would navigate the website to identify potential usability, browser compatibility, security, and other issues that may be hard to identify through formal testing techniques. This approach helps identify defects that may have escaped during formal Testing. Know more here.

History of Exploratory Testing

Exploratory testing (ET) has been around for decades, but it was in the early 2000s that it gained widespread recognition. This was partly due to the increasing popularity of agile development, which emphasizes iterative testing and learning. ET is a natural fit for agile development because it allows testers to be flexible and adaptable.

ET is a non-prescriptive approach to testing that allows testers to explore the software freely and creatively. There are no pre-defined test cases or scripts, and testers are encouraged to use their intuition and experience to find defects. ET can be used at any stage of the software development lifecycle, but it is particularly effective in early phases when the software is still under development.

ET is a valuable testing technique that can help to improve the quality of software. It is a versatile approach that can be used in various settings and is well-suited for agile development.

Here are some additional details about the history of exploratory testing:

  • The term “exploratory testing” was first coined by Cem Kaner in his 1988 book, “Testing Computer Software”.
  • ET was widely used in the early 2000s when it gained popularity to test software in an agile development environment.
  • ET is now a well-established testing technique that is used by testers all over the world.
  • Many resources are available to help testers learn about and apply ET, including books, articles, and online courses.

Why Exploratory Testing?

Exploratory testing is where testers execute tests based on their experience, expertise, and knowledge. This testing quickly identifies defects and gathers feedback about the product or application. Testers can let their imaginations run wild and find issues uniquely during this testing. Exploratory Testing allows testers to adjust their approach as they explore the software.

Exploratory Testing

When to Use Exploratory Testing?

Exploratory Testing is beneficial when you are:

  1. Testing unclear, incomplete, or frequently-changing software requirements: Exploratory Testing is an excellent approach when dealing with unclear, incomplete, or frequently-changing requirements with insufficient formal test cases.
  2. Testing complex, high-risk areas within the software system: It can help identify defects in complex, high-risk areas of the software that require non-linear testing approaches.
  3. Covering testing gaps and providing feedback: This Testing can help fill gaps in a formalized testing process and provide valuable feedback on software usability, performance, and functionality, which may not otherwise be identified through formalized Testing.
  4. Discovering new defects: This Testing is ideal for finding new and unanticipated defects, allowing testers to explore software creatively and identify potential defects that may escape formal testing methods.
  5. Saving on testing time and cost: This Testing requires less time and planning than formalized testing procedures, making it an ideal approach for situations where testing resources are scarce, and testing schedules are tight.
  6. Ensuring end-user satisfaction: This Testing helps understand the software product’s features and value, identifying potential defects that may negatively impact end-user satisfaction.

Overall, Exploratory Testing is a great approach when a systematic and rigid testing approach may not capture all software defects or functionality.

When to Say No to Exploratory Testing?

Exploratory testing can be effective with more structured testing methods, such as black-box testing, or supplementing a more comprehensive testing solution. However, it is essential to recognize its limitations and when it should not be used. 

It should not be used when projects are time-sensitive, with a tight deadline, as exploratory testing can be time-consuming and difficult to predict. It should also not be used as a primary testing methodology for projects with rigorous requirements and is only sometimes suitable for projects with stringent compliance regulations. Finally, it should not be used for projects where an exceptionally high level of detail and accuracy are required.

Importance of Exploratory Testing for CI/CD

Exploratory testing plays a significant role in the context of Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) for several reasons:

  • Complements automated testing: Exploratory testing complements automated testing by allowing testers to uncover unexpected issues, usability problems, or edge cases that automated tests might miss.
  • Early detection of critical issues: Exploratory testing can uncover critical issues or regressions immediately after code changes are integrated into the CI/CD pipeline. Testers can quickly assess the build’s stability, ensuring that only reliable and high-quality code is deployed.
  • Usability and user experience testing: Automated tests typically focus on functional aspects, but exploratory testing can evaluate the user interface, user experience, and overall usability. This is crucial for delivering a product that not only functions correctly but is also user-friendly.
  • Exploring edge cases and unpredictable scenarios: Automated tests are generally pre-scripted and may not account for unique or unpredictable situations. Exploratory testing allows testers to use their creativity and domain knowledge to explore edge cases, unusual inputs, and scenarios that automated tests may not cover.
  • Feedback loop for developers: Exploratory testing provides rapid feedback to developers. Testers can identify issues, describe them in detail, and work closely with developers to resolve them quickly. This tight feedback loop accelerates the development process.
  • Adaptation to evolving code: In a CI/CD environment, code changes are frequent. Exploratory testing is agile and can adapt to evolving codebases. Testers can start testing new features as soon as they are developed, even before automated tests are updated.
  • Detecting integration and compatibility issues: Exploratory testing can identify integration or compatibility issues with external services, databases, APIs, or different platforms. These issues can be hard to capture with automated tests alone.
  • Assessing non-functional requirements: Apart from functional testing, exploratory testing can evaluate non-functional requirements such as performance, security, and scalability in real-world conditions. This holistic approach ensures that the application meets all quality criteria.
  • Testing hypotheses: Testers can formulate hypotheses about potential issues, risks, or vulnerabilities and explore them during exploratory testing. This proactive approach can help discover issues that might not have been considered otherwise.
  • Continuous improvement: Exploratory testing contributes to a culture of continuous improvement. Testers can share their findings and insights with the development team, contributing to ongoing refinement of the development and testing processes.

Overall, exploratory testing is a valuable testing technique that can help to improve the quality of software. It is a versatile approach that can be used in a variety of settings, and it is well-suited for agile development.

Exploratory Testing Techniques

For those who are new to exploratory testing, here are five recommended techniques to consider:

  • Develop user scenarios or stories to guide your testing.

This exploratory testing technique plays a crucial role in ensuring that an application meets the needs of its users. By providing detailed descriptions of user workflows and identifying potential issues, exploratory testers help improve an application’s overall quality and usability.

  • Go beyond the happy path and explore various edge cases and scenarios.

This approach will help you uncover unexpected behavior and edge cases that may not have been considered during development. By testing beyond the happy path, you can identify potential issues that could impact the user experience or even cause critical errors. Exploring non-logical flows can help you better understand the application’s architecture and how it handles different scenarios. This knowledge can be invaluable when troubleshooting and resolving issues arising during testing or production.

  • Focus on identifying defects rather than simply confirming function.

When we use new software programs, it’s important to approach them with a critical eye. Instead of just confirming that the program works as intended, we should actively try to find defects and areas where the program could be improved. This is especially important for exploratory testers, whose job is to test software and identify potential issues thoroughly.

  • Analyze for gaps in functionality to uncover potential issues.

In several software development organizations, requirements, and design flows are mapped graphically or in written form. Graphical representations of workflows facilitate testers in identifying gaps in functionality. Using this exploratory testing technique, you can analyze the design and find missing requirements before they become defects or additional development stories. While written documentation can also be used for this purpose, it may require mapping out requirements on your own to comprehend how the complete application will function.

Mind maps are a widely used tool among project managers to ensure comprehensive project planning by graphically organizing ideas and concepts. In the context of exploratory testing, mind maps can expand considerably in size, providing testers with multiple pathways to identify defects. The usefulness of these diagrams in identifying necessary pieces of the project cannot be overstated.

Consider the scenario where a restaurant’s delivery ordering application offers many menu options, encompassing numerous combinations of individual items, payment choices, and delivery instructions.

As a proficient Quality Assurance (QA) specialist, it is crucial to establish a structured approach to test each of these options and their various combinations, considering different user workflows.

During exploratory testing, the following inquiries can be mapped out:

  1. How does the application handle the situation where the user edits an order and forgets to save it?
  2. What are the ramifications if the payment process fails?
  3. How does the application manage multiple payment options, including cash payments?

Several basic documentation tools are available for creating simple mind maps, such as Google Docs, Microsoft Word, and Apple Pages. These tools offer the ability to add various shapes with text that can be easily moved around the page. Whether you prefer one of these options or another, you can easily create a clear and concise mind map to help organize your thoughts and ideas. So, choose the best tool for you and start mapping your ideas today!

How to Execute Exploratory Tests?

To perform Exploratory Testing:

Step 1. Create a Bug Taxonomy (classification)

A bug taxonomy is a structured way of categorizing defects identified during exploratory Testing.

  1. A common approach to creating a bug taxonomy is to group defects by categories, such as usability defects, functionality defects, performance issues, and security vulnerabilities.
  2. Each type may have several subcategories, such as user interface, navigation, data input, task completion, response times, and security protocols.
  3. Another approach is categorizing defects by severity, from critical to low priority, or according to impact, such as causing system crashes or data loss.
  4. Frequency of occurrence is another useful taxonomy that enables testers to identify patterns, such as recurring defects that may require further investigation.
  5. A well-designed bug taxonomy should be flexible and adaptable to evolving project requirements, enabling testers to document and report defects readily.
  6. It should also provide insight into the root causes of defects, helping development teams to implement practical solutions that prevent future issues.
  7. An effective bug taxonomy is an essential tool for successful Exploratory Testing.

Step 2. Test Charter

A test charter is a document that outlines the goals, scope, and constraints of an Exploratory Testing session. A test charter typically includes the following elements:

1. Objective: This outlines what the test session aims to achieve, such as identifying usability issues of a new application.

2. Scope: This defines the features, functions, and components that should be tested, as well as any areas that are out of scope.

3. Constraints: These are any limitations or constraints that must be adhered to, such as time, budget, or resource constraints.

4. Test Environment: This specifies the system configurations and software versions used for Testing.

5. Test Data: This outlines any sample data or scenarios that should be tested.

6. Test Execution: This defines the testing techniques, approaches, and methodologies that testers should use.

7. Test Coverage: This outlines how much the system will be tested based on the available time and resources.

Step 3. Time Box

Time boxing is a critical aspect of exploratory Testing that helps testers prioritize their efforts and conduct testing in a structured manner. By setting a specific time limit for Testing, time boxing ensures that testers can maximize their testing efforts within the available time frame to identify critical defects and areas for improvement.

Step 4. Review Results

Testers can effectively review results by analyzing the testing metrics, such as customer feedback, usage statistics, and system performance data. Reviewing results allows testers to calculate or estimate their efforts’ effectiveness, identify system defects, and generate valuable insights regarding the product’s strengths and weaknesses. Some more ways it can help are:

  1. Recognition of gaps in the testing process
  2. Based on the results, new requirements and user stories can be created.
  3. Sometimes, the scope of the system to be developed or tested can also be modified.
  4. Results also help managers and other stakeholders to make informed decisions about the software development lifecycle and its progress.
  5. This analysis enables testers to identify patterns and trends in the testing results, which can help them predict and address potential issues in the future.

Step 5. Debriefing

Allowing testers to reflect on their testing activities and share their findings with stakeholders is defined as Debriefing. This involves gathering a team of testers in a meeting to discuss their experiences, observations, and feedback on the testing process, enabling stakeholders to make more informed decisions about project progress and the next testing phase.

During the debriefing meeting, testers share their experiences and ideas that can help to improve the testing processes for future projects or cycles. The feedback obtained during a debriefing session may include a summary of the most significant bugs identified, details of the most effective testing techniques employed, and an assessment of overall testing progress towards test objectives.

Best Practices for Exploratory Testing

Some best practices for Exploratory Testing are explained:

– Understand the software system and associated requirements before Testing

– Identify the scope and area of the system to be tested

– Set clear and concise testing objectives

– Focus on exploratory Testing for complex, high-risk areas of the software – Utilize the testing tools available for the best results

– Consider input boundary value analysis and equivalence partitioning for input testing

– Document and report any issues, insights, and observations immediately

– Continuously modify the testing approach as new information emerges

– Conduct peer reviews to gather insight from other testing professionals

– Collaborate with software developers to understand potential system vulnerabilities

– Use KPIs to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of Exploratory Testing

– Develop and enhance your testing skills and knowledge to improve your testing methods.

Exploratory Testing Example

Exploratory Testing can be applied to almost any software application; let us look at a simple example:

Exploratory Testing Example

Imagine you are testing a mobile banking application with features such as money transfers and bill payments. An Exploratory Testing approach would involve you navigating through the application to identify potential usability issues, interface defects, and potential risks.

During this process, you would experiment with the application’s functions, including executing money transfers and bill payments and exploring the menus, screens, and buttons available. You would also input different values and scenarios, such as over-drafting an account or inputting invalid values, to test the input validation mechanisms.

As a result, you may discover critical issues such as authentication vulnerabilities or minor issues such as improper labeling, data truncation, and formatting issues. Exploratory Testing aims to identify potential defects that may have been missed during formal testing and provide better insights into the application’s capabilities while improving its quality.

Pros and Cons of Exploratory Testing

Here are the pros and cons of Exploratory Testing:

Pros Cons:
– Encourages out-of-the-box thinking and creativity– Can be difficult to measure and control due to the lack of a formal test script
– Helps identify defects that may escape formal testing methods– Requires a skilled tester who can identify defects quickly
– Provides a comprehensive understanding of the software’s functionality and quality– Can result in inconsistencies if different testers employ different approaches
– Improves software quality and end-user satisfaction– It can be challenging to replicate and automate the results of Exploratory Testing
– Requires less preparation time compared to formal testing methods– It may miss critical testing requirements or fail to add extra coverage
– Efficient, allowing for quick identification of defects– Uncovering minor issues that do not impact software performance can be time-consuming.

Differences Between Scripted and Exploratory

Scripted TestingExploratory Testing
Highly structured and predeterminedLess structured and exploratory
Follows a written test planSeeks to identify issues in application or system under test 
Focuses on testing the expected Focuses on testing the unexpected
Results are predefinedResults are unpredictable
Scripted Testing is more tedious Exploratory testing is more interesting and creative

Challenges of Exploratory Testing:

Here are some challenges listed:

1. Lack of precise requirements: Exploratory testing relies heavily on the tester’s intuition and creativity, which can be challenging when no clear requirements or specifications guide the testing process.

2. Time constraints: Exploratory testing can be time-consuming, especially when the tester is trying to uncover hidden defects or issues that may not be immediately apparent. This can be challenging when tight deadlines or limited testing resources are available.

3. Test coverage: Because exploratory testing is unscripted and relies on the tester’s judgment, it can be challenging to ensure that all critical areas of the application are thoroughly tested.

4. Reproducibility: Because exploratory testing is often ad-hoc and unstructured, it can be challenging to reproduce test results or replicate issues discovered during testing.

5. Documentation: Exploratory testing does not typically involve detailed test scripts or documentation, making it challenging to track progress and communicate findings to stakeholders.

6. Skillset: Testers who engage in exploratory testing must possess strong analytical skills, think creatively and outside the box, and deeply understand the system being tested.


In summary, Exploratory Testing is a testing approach that emphasizes creativity, intuition, and flexibility. Testers design and execute tests simultaneously, exploring the software to identify defects, usability issues, and other factors impacting software quality.

The technique is ideal for identifying issues that escape formalized testing methods, ensuring end-user satisfaction, filling gaps in a formalized testing plan, discovering new defects, testing unclear, incomplete, or frequently-changing software requirements, and saving testing time and cost.

However, proper planning, metrics tracking, and appropriate training can reduce these challenges to improve software quality and enhance end-user satisfaction.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Exploratory testing white box testing?

No, Exploratory Testing is a black box testing technique, meaning that testers are not aware of the internal workings of the software.

What are the different types of Exploratory Testing?

There are different types of Exploratory Testing methods.

The first type is Freestyle Exploratory Testing, where there are no set guidelines or criteria for Testing. Testers are free to test any application functionality, feature, or aspect. This approach is ideal for quickly verifying the system’s basic functionality or identifying critical issues quickly.

The second type is Scenario-Based Exploratory Testing. This involves testing specific scenarios and functionalities to identify defects or issues related to the intended functionality. Testers can use this approach to validate the system’s behavior in different usage contexts and situations.

The third type is Strategy-Based Exploratory Testing, which involves using various testing strategies such as boundary value analysis, risk-based, equivalence partitioning, and other techniques to analyze the system’s different aspects. This approach helps identify defects that could occur under different conditions or inputs.

Is Exploratory Testing manual or automated?

Exploratory Testing is a manual testing method that requires a skilled tester to identify defects quickly. Because the approach emphasizes creativity, flexibility, and intuition, it cannot be automated completely. However, bug-tracking software and issue-management systems can assist in Exploratory Testing.

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