Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Chartering for Exploratory Testing

As exploratory testing is framed around learning and discovery, done by a person, it is unnatural to split it as per test cases and instead we use time, often referred to as session. Some folks have given suggestions that a session (time-box) is uninterrupted and focused, and that is quite natural thinking of the learning nature of exploratory testing. If you find yourself distracted and interrupted, the likelihood of doing the same starting work many times and not making much of a progress is high. There's different ideas of what the uninterrupted time can be, and also on what types of interruptions really matter so much that you need to break out of your reporting unit.

Some talk about doing a pomodoro - 25 minutes referring to research on how us people can focus. Some talk about at most 2 hours. My personal preference is to deal with a unit of "days of work" or at most "before lunch" and "after lunch" half days and mind a little less about the interruptions.

With session as the unit, before going into that unit of time, it makes sense to stop and think about what would you be doing. Since test cases make little sense, in exploratory testing we've come to talk about charters. Charter is an idea guiding you while you are going into exploration. What would you try to do? What would you focus on? How would you tell if you're done as in task completed, or done as it time run out?

Elisabeth Hendrickson proposed in her book Explore IT a template that would be helpful in agile all-team sharing exploring type of context in sharing the ideas of what needs to be tested with charters. The template to help thinking is:
Explore . . .
With . . .
To discover . . .
I’ve not cared much for the charter template, and rather than looking for a particular form of a charter, I rather think of the timeframe and goal setting for myself. I have no issues of using a user story as my charter, and even using the same user story with an idea of paying attention to a particular perspective on consecutive sessions. A lot of times I cannot even say I have a charter for a specific session other than “get started with testing, figure out what you got done”.

Today, my team’s tester brought in a list of features and perspectives. They were not organized as charter, but it was clear that they could have been. But that would have meant then they would be fixing their ideas of how they combine them prematurely. Sometimes the need to charter (in writing) in agile teams is creating this idea of “check this, done”, where each of them is an open ended quest for information, and can / should both create new charters and transform older charters into something better using the learning the testing done is giving.

If I write charters, I write one for each who is testing, and debrief to create the next ones after the first ones are completed.

A lot of times I don’t need to share charters exploring with others. I need to share questions, ideas of documentation (automation), and and bugs.

There is a problem before chartering where a lot of testers stumble, as per my observation - having the skills to generate versatile ideas. I was watching a candidate for a job today test in front of my eyes and slightly surprised on the low number of ideas they would consider given an application, expecting a specification to prompt them for all things relevant. At best times, spec exists and is useful, never complete. Charters are only as good as the ideas we have to put into them. 

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