Monday, March 17, 2008

18 Myths Associated with Exploratory Testing ...

Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths – Joseph Campbell
Science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths - Karl Popper

Instead of writing on what is exploratory testing, to me, it looks easier to start of explaining what is not exploratory testing. For those who are hearing this word for the first time – let me remind you this is a testing approach that involves simultaneous test design and execution with an emphasize on learning. The term exploratory testing is coined by Dr Cem Kaner around 1983.

Exploratory testing as approach has a legacy. Its predecessor “Ad-hoc” testing is a perceived as spoilt kid. Until recently, I was under the impression that adhoc testing is quick and monkey type of testing (often connected with sloppy testing) where you just play with application in order to find some bugs that are out of specification. I was proved wrong during a rapid software testing workshop that I attended at Toronto. James Bach mentioned in that class that the word “Adhoc” means “to the purpose”. Most people believe (as I did initially) that Adhoc testing is undirected, random clicking of mouse and navigation. This is probably the reason, why Dr Kaner decided to name the baby differently so that the “stigma” associated with the approach of testing goes off.

I think Dr Kaner did not stop at just naming the baby, he along with James Bach, Michael Bolton, Jonathan Kohl, Jonathan Bach and others did lots of research and practice related to “exploratory testing”. Today, if many of us talk so confidently about this – it is due to the pioneering work done by these people.

Let me also remind that exploratory testing is not a testing technique but an approach and opposite of exploratory testing is “scripted testing”.

There so much of confusion, skepticism and disbelief associated with this approach to testing. Based on my interactions with people from all walks of testing world, I have drawn a partial list of myths that are associated with exploratory testing.

Let us go straight into the list of myths …

Why bother about ET?
1. ET -- every one does ET while doing testing - why bother? why have a special name?
2. ET is some kind of snake oil - people use this term to indicate some mystic thing to make money
3. ET will not work in my context - I am not even willing to give it a try as I am not convinced we should give a try. I know it for sure.
4. ET does not seem to have come under the radar of Gartner or Forrester's -- it might not be that popular.

About the form of ET
5. ET - is an unstructured, ad-hoc (meaning sloppy) process.
6. ET is nothing but doing testing without any formal test cases.
7. ET is instant bug hunting process.

About ways of doing ET
8. ET should always be done after completion of all planned scripted testing (if time permits) If you have time (while you wait for a new build), do ET to use your time productively.
9. ET is not predictable and repeatable (was it meant to be repeatable?)
10. ET shows scant respect for well established Test techniques - how can you do testing without using any of those time tested techniques

About skills required for ET
11. ET requires in depth domain expertise hence only domain experts can do it - it is not every ones cup of tea
12. ET seems to require special skills (domain, quick learning etc) - hence we do not do it.
13. ET is highly person dependent, unacceptable to us - we are resource starved industry.

About suitability of ET in a context
14. Our quality process standards require that every test effort be substantiated by a detailed report of what test cases are executed, on what platform, what data is used, how many test cases passed, how many failed etc. ET is not so good in producing such report. ET does not provide enough evidence/proof of having executed testing.

About perceived Value of ET
15. ET is not process oriented and is not methodical (requires highly skilled disciplined, responsible testers). Anything that is so “person/Skill” oriented is strict no-no in our environment (process driven)
16. ET can not be outsourced - even if it is we can not assess the progress - it is an uncontrollable process.
17. ET can not be automated - I am looking to reduce spend on testing - ET can not help me there.
18. ET seems to be useful in only in those environments where there are no requirements but ours is a very structured process. Why to use ET?

Why these are myths and not the truths – that is an exercise to the readers. I welcome each one you, the reader to challenge my claim that these are myths and lets debate …


Here comes my 100th post ...

4 Years, 100 Posts, 200+ Comments, 15+ Commentators, about 5000+ page views (statistics since Dec 2007)

It all started in July 2004, on 23rd I posted my first blog post. Why did I start blogging? I just wanted to join the bandwagon of my colleagues and make presence in blog-o-sphere. . I could not blog much in my first year. I struggled to decide what to write and often felt choked after writing few paragraphs or sentences. Mostly my initial posts referred another post or some news which I announced or made reference in my blog. I did not have any significant stuff to offer to the readers. I think this is what people call as “writers block”. I suffered with that in my initial blogging days.

Things started to change as I wrote more, attracted few best minds in our industry to my blog. As I started receiving more comments, I, all of a sudden, started to see lot more ideas to write and debate on. Many times I asked myself, why do I blog? Got only one solid voice from inside … “I wish to communicate …I have something to tell to testing world”. So, all these months and years, the notion of “idea or urge to communicate” drove my blogging. I felt very happy and satisfied after a posted a blog post. It was like winning a game, or scoring good marks in an exam. A good (in my own terms) blog post always energized me.

After posting, I would monitor my blog for comments. Depending upon the content of the post, I expect 2-3 comments in 24 hours of the post going live. Sometimes I loose sleep if I don’t comments on a post (having a content that I believe is thought provoking and interesting). I then, shamelessly send mails to my frequent readers (l have a list) asking them (explicitly) to comment on the specific post. As far as possible I avoid doing this as I feel this is similar to a well dressed girl going round and asking “how do I look” - a desperate attempt to grab attention. Usually best responses come without asking for it.

In my opinion, a success of blog can be judged in terms of the number and quality of comments. Number – because it is an indicative of number of readers of the blog who not only spent time with the blog also went further to write a comment. Most of the blog readers today use blog as one way communication tool – it is not. Some well moderated blogs like the ones from James Bach, are effective 2 way communication mechanism.

Many times, I think of getting on with “Google Adsense” …in current shape and size, my blog even may qualify for it. I am resisting … I personally do not like the blogs with “google adsense” as it distracts from reading. I see a blog as a library of interesting topics often focused on a specific area. Anything else is distraction for me. I don’t want to loose that appeal from my blog by opening it up to Google.

As a blogger I must avoid doing

without leaving any clue, stop blogging for months and then come back and say “ sorry It has been long time since my last post” … Readers tend to develop some inertia when then see a lull … So keep blogging (one in a month at least .. this time can vary from individual to individual).

Discourage or block comments or make the process of commenting too tedious. To me comments are very important as they are only available mechanism of getting feedback from my blog readers.

As blog reader of other blogs, I would not like if some one does not respond to my comment (especially where I challenge the post content). So if a reader of my blogs posts a comment asking me to clarify – that would be my first priority.

Post reference to other blogs without having your own thoughts of ideas

Short posts like “I am back or here is an interesting thing” … No short posts unless there is real need.

These are my own rules of blogging – I plan to follow them religiously and make sure my readers get best experience of reading my blog.

Benefits of blogging (at least to me)
This blog helped me in connecting many unknown faces. I have few students asking for some help on a topic on testing, I got someone asking me to do a software product review for me. I got several job offers from the readers (that were looking for hiring me), I made new friends via my blog. I have great names in testing World like James Bach, Cem Kaner, Jerry Weinberg – commenting on the posts of my blog.

My message to my blog readers –

Keep checking my blog and generously comment on the posts. You can also use my blog as a platform for debate on something other commentator said about a post. For example you might want to react to a comment posted by Pradeep on my post. I welcome that. This will make my blog as multi fold communication – a discussion forum. As far as possible avoid giving very general comments like “Great post or I liked this blog etc …” As I welcome the appreciation (at times I need it) but would like those items to be in 1:1 mail to me ( – for a reader, comments like “ I like this post or this is a great blog” not very useful. I encourage my readers to challenge me more often – critically analyze the views presented here … write about it and leave a link. I think such challenging comments are quite useful to me and other readers as it presents a different view point. Do write to me about the list of topics that you would like me to blog.

There is one contradiction that I am not able to solve. If I am blogging for myself (for my satisfaction) should I bother about my readers – their choices, likes/dislikes? Should I worry about responding to the comments?

Should you bother about me blogging or not …. What do you say – Dear Reader?