Here is a conversation that I had recently with one of my manager. We were discussing about merits and demerits of “Exploratory Testing” (ET) as a testing approach. This manager is a die-hard fan of “scripted testing” and apparently swears by “Quality/Factory” school of Testing.
Me: We should propose ET for this
Manager: Why? What are the benefits?
Me: ET will extend the test coverage over traditional scripted testing, you will be able discover those bugs that are not “catchable” by scripted tests.
Manager: Why our test scripts fail to find those bugs? I trust that our specifications are exhaustive and our scripts are thoroughly reviewed and signed off by the business experts. Test scripts should be able to find nearly all bugs that I consider important to be fixed.
Me: Our scripts are based on specifications which are one narrow, fallible source of information about “intended software behavior”. Since specifications are written in English – there could interpretations/misinterpretations. Since our specifications are fallible, so are our scripts. There is a human limitation to understand and interpret specifications (objectively) and design the test cases that cover the entire test space. So, there is good possibility that scripts will not find all bugs that potentially be discovered.
Manager: What are other benefits of ET?
Me: ET helps the test coverage and provide enhanced bug finding capabilities over scripted testing – especially to nullify “Pesticide Paradox” associated with scripts.
Manager: How? What is this pesticide paradox?
Me: Just as pests in soil over a period of repeated application of a specific pesticide acquire immunity to it and fail to die or show up – software bugs become immune to repeated application of specific Test cases. Over the period of time developers are become aware of test cases that are executed and *specially* test to make sure that new build of the application good just enough to pass those tests. As result of this, there is a “false” sense of stability and quality of the application.
Manager: So... Test cases wear out … why so?
Me: Test cases wear out as they do not have any in built mechanism in them to alter themselves to changing product environment. Test scripts can not think, infer, improvise, get frustrated as intelligent human testers do. Hence test scripts can not find bugs that repeatedly than a human tester.
Manager: what else …?
Me: Quoting James Bach – “The scripted approach to testing attempts to mechanize the test process by taking test ideas out of a test designer's head and putting them on paper. There's a lot of value in that way of testing. But exploratory testers take the view that writing down test scripts and following them tends to disrupt the intellectual processes that make testers able to find important problems quickly.”
Manager: What are other attributes of ET?
Me: Cem Kaner states that exploratory tests provide
- Concurrence of cognition and execution
- Drive towards fast results
- De-emphasize archived testing materials
Manager: I heard another related term “adhoc testing” is this similar to ET?
Me: Yes and no … Yes as Adhoc testing is well known predecessor to ET. Cem Kaner coined this term ET around early 80’s to distinguish ET and Adhoc Testing. Cem thought that there were lots of confusions regarding some kind of “impromptu” testing that does not rely on predefined scripts. Ad hoc testing normally refers to a process of improvised, impromptu bug searching. By definition, anyone can do ad hoc testing. The term "exploratory testing"--coined by Cem Kaner, in “Testing Computer Software” -- refers to ET as a sophisticated, thoughtful approach to ad hoc testing.
Manager: What is specific about ET vis-à-vis scripted testing?
Me: ET is more of investigative approach where as scripted testing is more of “validation” or “conformance” oriented. In scripted Testing, the tests, the sequences, data, variations etc is pre-defined where as in ET, test design/execution and learning all happen more or less at the same time.
Manager: I heard that ET requires “experience” and “Domain knowledge”. Can an average tester do a good ET?
Me: I am not sure how you define “average tester”, “experience” and “domain knowledge”. I believe, ET requires skills like “questioning”, “modeling”, “critical thinking” among others. Domain knowledge certainly helps in ET but I do not consider it as mandatory.
Manager: Fair enough… What types of bugs ET can discover?
Me: It depends upon what kind of bugs you want to discover. ET can be performed in controlled, small time boxed sessions with specific charters to explore a specific feature of the application. ET can be configured to cater to specific investigative missions. You could use few ET sessions to develop a software product documentation or to analyse and isolate performance test results.
Manager: I notice all along you argued like a “purist” in Testing. I am more of a Business owner; I would need to relate every dollar I spent to the return or the benefit that it gives.
Me: No … I would not call myself as purist, not at least here. I bring in lots of business considerations in my recommendations related to testing. ET provides a way of optimizing testing efforts by time-boxed sessions with charters. Depending upon the nature of the information stakeholders are looking for, ET sessions can be accurately planned.
Me: Let us say you have 5000 scripts for an application and they pass all the time. Would you be worried?
Manager: Ummmm… It depends upon the context. But mostly I would not worry about it. I interpret that as a sign of enhanced maturity of those specific application areas. It is quite possible that there are no bugs that I should worry about - the “scripts passing” is a “confirmation” of that fact.
Me: What if this trend continues and next 5 cycles of testing also do not produce any bugs? Would you be worried then?
Manager: No …not at all In fact, I would reduce the size of scripts being executed to say half – 2500 as the application has become stable. This is an indication for me to "cut down" testing effort, I can possibly look at automation as well.
Me: Here is a twist, what if your ALL scripts are passing but your are seeing bugs (either detected by other means or by the customers) .. Would not you doubt your test cases?
Manager: Depends upon the kinds of bugs I see … If I were doubt something or someone at all … I would doubt test results, testers integrity and project management in general. Test scripts are less likely to be at “falult”. That would process issue - we would need to tighten the process.
Me: OK … What corrective action you would take then? What you steps will you take?
Manager: I would immediately order a thorough Root Cause analysis of the defects and identify what is causing them in the first place. Tighten the development, configuration and deployment process. I would strictly enforce the processes (improved) in Testing and mandate the testers to correctly and meticulously execute the scripts and report the relevant results correctly.
Me: What if you still find bugs outside your scripts?
Manager: That would be a “hypothetical question” – not likely to happen. In any case my focus would be to improve the testing process and strengthen Test scripts. Again, if you are finding still finding bugs – probably those bugs would be “obscure” type – I might not have to bother about them…
Manager: Good… I am still not convinced that ET can give the bang for the buck. As someone who is interested in predictability and repeatability of testing, I am interested in a test process that can scale.
Me: Ummmmm … OK… what is a testing process? Is this something that “actually happens” or “something that is intended”? Is repeatability and predictability - all you care?
Manager: You are too much … there is a limit to asking questions …I don’t think this discussion is leading to any good … Let us talk about it some other time [walks out of the room]
I am continuing my discussion with this manager and post the views and continued discussions in Part 2....
A very happy new year to all …