Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Three Stories Leading Into Exploratory Testing

End of September, I volunteered on a small lunch-time panel on exploratory testing at the conference. I sat down for a conversation and had no idea it would be such a significant one for my understanding. The panel was titled "To Explore or Follow the Map" and I entered the session with concerns on the framing. After all, I explore with a map and follow the map while exploring. 

Dorota, our session facilitator, opened the session inviting stories like one she was about to share on first experiences to exploratory testing. 

Paraphrasing Dorota from memory, she shared a story of how her first testing experience in the industry was on a military project where the project practice included requirements analysis and writing and executing test cases to do the best possible testing she could. One day the test leader invited all the testers to a half-a-day workshop where they would do something different. The advice was to forget the test cases and explore to find new information. And they did. The experience was eye-opening to all the things the thorough test case writing was making them miss. 

I listened to Dorota's recount and recognized she was talking of exactly the expectations I am trying to untangle in my current organization. Designing test cases creates a lovely requirement to test linking but misses all too much of the issues we would expect to find before the software reaches our customers. 

Next up was Adam, who shared a story of his first job at testing. His manager / tutor introduced him to the work expected from him giving him an excel with test cases, an a column in which to mark the pass/fail results. Paraphrasing his experience from memory, he shared that after he finished the list, the next step was to start over from the beginning. The enlightenment came with a conference where he met an exploratory testing advocate and realized there were options to this. 

My story was quite different. When I first started as a tester, I was given test cases, but also a budget of time to do whatever I wanted with the application that I would consider taught me to understand the application and its problems better. The test cases gave some kind of structure of talking about progress in regards to them, and I could also log my hours on whatever I was doing outside the test cases without very rigid boundaries between the activities. The time budget and expectations was set for testing activity as a whole, and I could expect a regular assessment of my results by the customer organization's more seasoned testers. The mechanism worked so that for a new person, first "QA of testing" was feedback, and latter ones had financial penalty if I was missing information they expected me to reasonably find with the mix of freedom and test cases to start with. 

While I was given space for better, I did not do better. No one supported me the way I nowadays aspire to support new joiners. Either I knew what I was doing or a minor penalty on invoicing was ahead, I would still be paid for all of my hours. I never knew anything but exploratory testing, and the stories of injecting it into organizations as Friday afternoon sessions or rebellious use of test cases to stretch from have always been a little foreign to me. 

What the three stories have in common is that exploratory testing is part of these pivotal moments that make us love the testing work and do well with results. My pivotal moment came from my second job where I was handed a specification, not test cases and I had to turn my brain on, and I've been on the path of extraordinary agency and learning since. 

Also, these stories illustrate how important the managers / tutors are on setting people up on a good path. Given requirements to test cases, you simplify the work to miss the results. Given test cases, you do work better left for computers. Given time without support you do what you can, but support is what turns your usefulness around.