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How To Explain #ExploratoryTesting in 15 Minutes

Every other week I explain basics in software testing, one of them is exploratory testing. It depends from group to group, but sometimes I have only 5-10 minutes on the topic. I love challenges! But I am also aware that I am still learning myself. This is why I asked my peers during Exploratory Testing Peer Conference: how to explain exploratory testing in 5 minutes?

How Did I Explain It So Far

Because I give trainings frequently, I experiment a lot with explanations and observe reactions of students. This is what I have used so far:

+ I used to start the topic with question if they are doing exploratory testing, if yes, then how? Sometimes I needed to interrupt and explain that monkey testing a.k.a. klicki bunti (German expression for mindless clicking) is not exploratory testing. Some students felt bad to find out the difference between their approach and real exploratory testing, so I stopped to ask for student’s experience.

+ my favourite example is sightseeing in unknown city and following unexpected events on the way to planned location. Students seem to benefit from it as well. But one thing I am missing in this case – note taking. Now I mostly use sightseeing as light introduction to the subject. Works well if I traveled to unknown city and day before had time for sightseeing, or if students traveled to unknown city and are planing to have time for sightseeing, or simply several people in the group are open-minded travellers.

+ for in-house trainings once I tried to apply exploratory testing on their system, it didn’t work well. I had not enough information what the system should do and I needed time to gather information. Mission impossible if you have only 10 minutes for the whole thing.

+ once I had group of 14 and almost everyone was somehow involved with football. I used it to encourage the group to look for similarities with exploratory testing. It worked very well, but again almost none of students mentioned or thought about note taking. I retired this analogy for explorative testing, but started to use it to explain test levels.

+ job interview is example which is used by my colleague. It works very well for him, because we can use several techniques, note taking inclusive. This piece almost always cracks up the group, because we use exaggerated situations like:
A: can you please tell us, why did you moved to Australia?
B: I always wanted to live aboard. Besides I hade trouble with mafia in Europe, so I thought why not to develop software somewhere far away!

+ in case I used example without note taking, I explained it separately. I some trainings I showed notes, I took for my group during Anne-Marie‘s exploratory testing workshop with BigTrak robots. Because it takes additional time, I prefer to choose examples with note taking.

I always suggest my students to read “Explore it!“, but I definitely needed more ideas what I can use during training!

Peer suggestions

This is what I got suggested during my session. Most of the ideas are still raw. To visualise authors idea from my comment, I used italic and named the author, who suggested it. The one I started to use in my trainings I listed up as the last one.

Exploratory testing as performance

Jokin: I could explain how to play guitar vs I can show how to play guitar.

I love this approach! I use it with something else, not guitar playing, but in our Berlin office we have a guitar and some of my colleagues really play it.

Lightning talks

Rick had idea to present exploratory testing in lightning talk. I cannot imagine how I could use it in my setting, but may be this could be useful for others.

Flow charts

Alex made her own flow chart, it’s always going back to exploratory testing, showing that you have to learn it anyway.

You can read about it more here.

Selective Attention

Maaret reminded about gorilla videos where you are supposed to count the passes so you don’t see the gorilla, and if you see the gorilla you cannot count the passes. In my topic introduction I forgot to mention that I have used this few times and stopped because too many knew the videos already.

unexpected truth

James on the spot sales pitch: “Systems are weird. Are you looking for trouble? ET can help you to find unexpected truth, about what you really got.”


Ash used go-karts a lot with you people; many were excited about them; planned a lot which car to take; interesting things happen when you’re actually in the car. Lisa used Black Stories.

Improv game

Mel: there are so many improv games to use, can get even physical; “What’s next?” I know people who are practising improv, they say it is their life mindset. I understand the idea, but I do not use it, because I am not really into it.

Get the chocolate

Alex: two groups, goal is to get the chocolate on the other side of the room; 1) write down all steps to get the chocolate, 2) allow them to go directly; then put the chocolate to another place; mean but it will stick. I used similar approach for test automation and we have another game which we play to explain agile approach and team dynamics.

Autonomy / mastery / purpose

Anne-Marie: this concept is often appealing to people.

Escape rooms

Mor: describe exploratory testing using escape rooms; looking for riddles, paths.

Don’t teach it

Martin: you have a room full of tired people, don’t teach exploratory testing; just keep referencing to it! When I heard this I started to laugh, because this is exactly how I am building my next training.

testing mathematics

Maaret suggested puzzle with two ways to solve it – scripted and exploratory. Approach is based on children game where you think of one thing, write it down and hide(fold the paper); people can ask question, you can only answer yes/no; either have them write down all questions in advance, or have them ask, hear the answer and formulate the next question based on the answer.

What I am using now

I never have two identical trainings because there are no two identical groups. Testing mathematics has become my favourite way how I explain exploratory testing. I set it in timebox and limit number of questions. After first round I encourage people to analyse how they did and and how they could do it better, I also give feedback which my observations. Then we have the second round where they can apply the learnings. At the end I explain how they can transfer this approach for software testing.

Besides sightseeing and job interviews I started to use another examples. Both were inspired by Mor’s idea of escape rooms – investigative journalism and crime investigation.

In November I will be presenting “How to explain exploratory testing in 10 minutes” at Agile Testing Days. Come and see me explaining it!

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