Human-Centric Exploratory Testing

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Unlike traditional testing methodologies - that rely heavily on pre-scripted tests and automated tools - Human-Centric Exploratory Testing (HCET) is a dynamic and flexible approach that leverages creativity and critical thinking, allowing interaction with the software in ways that automation simply cannot replicate.

Below, we explore Human-Centric Exploratory Testing, its benefits, challenges, how to mitigate them, and the best practices for successfully implementing it.

Xray Exploratory App for exploratory testing

What is Human-Centric Exploratory Testing?

Human-Centric Exploratory Testing (HCET) is a testing approach that emphasizes our involvement in discovering defects and issues within a software application. It is also an unscripted and flexible approach, as opposed to strictly following predefined test cases or automated scripts.

Some key characteristics of Human-Centric Exploratory Testing are:

- Increased exploration by allowing you to freely investigate the application using creativity and critical thinking.

- Real-time learning about the application, and adapting your strategies based on findings to uncover more nuanced and complex issues.

- Need for documentation, so you take detailed notes, record sessions, or use tools to log your observations.

- Focus on user experience, helping to identify usability issues and other user-centric problems.


Benefits of Human-Centric Exploratory Testing

HCET leverages the unique perspectives of individual testers, enabling the uncovering of issues and nuances that automated or scripted tests might miss.
Let's dive into its some of the advantages:

- Flexibility: you are free to explore the software intuitively, following new paths and investigating areas that appear problematic during testing. Its iterative nature means that as you learn more about the software, you can adjust our approach in real-time, ensuring a thorough and responsive testing process -  critical issues are identified and addressed promptly;

- Efficiency: in many contexts, human-centric exploratory testing can be more time-efficient than traditional testing methods. This efficiency stems from the possibility of focusing on high-risk areas and following your instincts. By prioritizing areas that are most likely to contain defects, you can quickly identify and resolve significant issues without spending time on less critical functionalities; 

And, the most important benefit…

- Improved User Experience: this focus on the human aspect of software interaction enables you to evaluate the application from the end-users' perspective, uncovering obstacles that could hinder a smooth and intuitive experience. You can identify complex and unexpected issues that might otherwise go unnoticed. The insights gained from this approach allow developers to make targeted improvements that enhance the overall usability, accessibility, and satisfaction of the application.


Challenges of Human-Centric Exploratory Testing (and how to mitigate them)

While HCET offers numerous benefits, it also presents several challenges that testers and development teams must be aware of to ensure its effectiveness:


  1. Lack of structure and documentation:

   - Challenge: exploratory testing is more spontaneous and less structured than scripted testing, which can make it difficult to track what has been tested, what issues have been found, and ensure comprehensive coverage.

   - Mitigation: to address this, you can use planned charters and, eventually, session-based test management (SBTM) techniques, where exploratory testing sessions are time-boxed and documented, summarizing the areas tested and any defects discovered. Some tools, such as Xray Exploratory App, can be used to define and plan charters, document findings and take notes properly categorized.

  1. Reliance on skill and experience:

   - Challenge:  the effectiveness of exploratory testing depends on knowledge, experience, and intuition. Inexperienced testers might overlook critical areas or fail to recognize subtle defects.

   - Mitigation: pairing less experienced testers with veterans, and fostering a collaborative testing environment can help mitigate this challenge. Additionally, creating guidelines and sharing best practices can enhance the skills of the entire testing team.

  1. Inconsistent test results:

   - Challenge: due to its unscripted nature, exploratory testing can lead to inconsistent results, making it difficult to replicate issues or measure progress over time.

   - Mitigation: taking detailed notes and using consistent reporting formats can help improve consistency. Recording exploratory sessions using tools that capture screen activity and inputs can also aid in reproducing and understanding issues.

  1. Difficulty in measuring coverage:

   - Challenge: ensuring comprehensive coverage is demanding in exploratory testing because there are no predefined test cases to confirm all areas have been examined.

   - Mitigation: using coverage metrics, such as code coverage tools, and mapping exploratory testing efforts to specific requirements or user stories can help ensure all critical areas are tested.

  1. Balancing exploratory and scripted testing:

   - Challenge: finding the right balance between exploratory and scripted testing can be difficult. Over-reliance on one approach might lead to gaps in testing coverage or missed opportunities for defect discovery.

   - Mitigation: integrating exploratory testing into the overall testing strategy, using it to complement rather than replace scripted testing, ensures a more comprehensive approach.

  1. Subjectivity and bias:

   - Challenge: exploratory testing is subjective and influenced by different perspectives and biases. This can lead to variation in the identification and prioritization of defects.

   - Mitigation: encouraging diversity in the testing team and rotating testers across different areas of the application can help reduce bias. Peer reviews and collaborative testing sessions with members outside the QA team can also provide multiple perspectives, enhancing the overall objectivity of the testing process.

By understanding and addressing these challenges, you can maximize the benefits of Human-Centric Exploratory Testing while minimizing potential drawbacks, leading to more effective outcomes.


Best Practices for Human-Centric Exploratory Testing

Some strategies you can implement are:

  1. Define clear goals: while the testing process is flexible, having clear objectives helps guide the exploration and ensures that critical areas are covered;
  2. Use Session-Based testing: break testing activities into time-boxed sessions with specific goals, and document findings after each session;
  3. Leverage Test Charters: provide testers with charters that outline specific areas or functionalities to explore, without prescribing exact steps to follow;
  4. Foster collaboration: encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing among testers to benefit from diverse perspectives and insights;
  5. Utilize tools: use tools for capturing test sessions, logging defects, and documenting findings to improve traceability and communication with the development team.


The Future of Quality Assurance

Human-Centric Exploratory Testing can help you leverage the strengths of human intuition, creativity, and experience to uncover hidden defects and improve user experience. 

Additionally, focusing on real-world scenarios and integrating testing tools improve the effectiveness of your exploratory testing efforts - therefore, staying ahead of potential issues and delivering high-quality applications that meet the needs of your users.

Xray Exploratory App for exploratory testing

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