Exploratory Testing FAQs

I’ve come across a number of Frequently Asked Questions about Exploratory Testing and I’ve got what I hope are pretty good answers.

Exploratory Testing FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions about exploratory testing. Got a quick question? Get a quick answer.

Yes, there are many examples where people have used tools to enable and enhance their exploratory testing.

Is all testing exploratory?

No. Not unless you change the definition of testing to specifically exclude testing done by machines.

What is Exploratory Testing?

ET is an approach (or style) to testing that emphasizes the individual tester focusing on the value of their work through continuous learning and design.

Is Exploratory Testing used in Agile teams?

Yes. ET is about optimizing the value of your work given your context and so it’s a natural fit in agile projects and agile teams.

What is the definition of Exploratory Testing?

Exploratory Testing is a style (approach) of software testing that emphasizes the personal freedom and responsibility of the individual tester to continually optimize the value of her work by treating test-related learning, test design, test execution and test result interpretation as mutually supportive activities that run in parallel throughout the project.

Is Exploratory Testing a test design technique?

No. You can design tests in an exploratory or scripted way (to a degree each way). This is why it’s called an approach. But ET itself is not a technique (a way to group, design and interpret results of similar kinds of tests).

Does Exploratory Testing require charters?

No, but charters can certainly be helpful.

Does Exploratory Testing require a timebox?

No, but a timebox can help you create similarly sized sessions for Session Based Test Management.

Over time I hope to add to these.

Last Updated: 03/07/2022

Exploratory Testing Charters

An exploratory testing charter is a mission statement for your testing. It helps provide structure and guidance so that you can focus your work and record what you find in a constructive way.

How to Write an Exploratory Charter

My favorite way to structure exploratory testing charters is to base them on “A simple charter template” from Elisabeth Hendrickson’s awesome book Explore It!, Chapter 2, page 67 of 502 (ebook).

Explore (target) With (resources) To discover (information)

  • Target: What are you exploring? It could be a feature, a requirement, or a module.
  • Resources: What resources will you bring with you? Resources can be anything: a tool, a data set, a technique, a configuration, or perhaps an interdependent feature.
  • Information: What kind of information are you hoping to find? Are you characterizing the security, performance, reliability, capability, usability or some other aspect of the system? Are you looking for consistency of design or violations of a standard?

Examples of Charters

While this is my favorite way to structure exploratory testing charters (I think its a really straightforward template) it isn’t the only way. As a way to learn I’ve complied a list of example charters you can look at that can be found on my Guides Page.

A few examples include:

  • Explore input fields with JavaScript and SQL injection attacks to discover security vulnerabilities.
  • Check the UI against Apple interface guidelines.
  • Identify and test all claims in the marketing materials.

You can see some use the template and some don’t.

How do charters relate to Session Based Testing or Session Based Test Management?

Exploring can be an open-ended endeavor which is both good and bad. To help guide those explorations you can organize your effort with charters and then time-box those charters into “sessions”. You can use sessions to measure and report on the testing you do without interrupting your workflow; this is called Session Based Test Management.

You can use exploratory charters without using Session Based Test Management. I’ve seen many examples of people using Charters in JIRA stories as part of the testing criteria for sign off for testers, developers and product managers.

The Future of Software Test Engineers and Codeless Tools

A few months ago I was chatting with Evgeny Kim about some of the reservations I had while exploring a new codeless test automation tool. He was also exploring some codeless tool options and so he invited me onto his podcast to talk about it. We chatted about a wide range of things such as challenges faced by software test engineers, the role of codeless tools and hiring problems.

It was a fun podcast with some interesting topics so I had the video translated. Watch the video or read the transcript whichever you prefer. (Sorry in advance for any mistakes.)


EVGENY KIM: All right, guys. Thank you for joining for today’s podcast session. We have a guest, Chris Kenst. He’s a QA Engineering Manager at a company, Promenade Group. Also, he’s a president of Association for Software Testing. And we’re going to talk today about the future of software test engineers. Thank you, Chris. Hi.

CHRIS KENST: Hey, thanks for having me.


Good Tests vs Bad Tests and why you shouldn’t repeat them

A little rant on this concept of Good Tests vs Bad Tests and whether a good test (case) is a repeatable one.

Here’s the imperfect transcript:

Hi everyone, Chris Kenst here.

So my topic today is I want to talk about the difference between a good test and a bad test.

There’re two reasons that I bring this up today:

  • One I saw yet another article talking about how to create effective test cases and then going on to say they should be repeatable, which is of course, wrong your test should not be repeatable.
  • Two I have been asking this question as I hire for my third software tester here at Promenade group.

I am hiring somebody that’s going to be a senior tester. And I think one thing that a senior-level person should be able to do is differentiate between what makes a good test good and a bad test bad.

But so far in the, I want to say 15 or so, maybe 20 at this point candidates that I have asked this over email, very few have been actually able to describe what makes a good test and what makes a bad test. Most candidates seem to fall into this trap of what I saw in this article which is just bad advice where every test is a scenario regardless of what it is that you’re doing.

And this strikes me as very odd because it’s deeply violates this understanding of providing value.

So if you were to hire somebody to do a job and regardless of how the job changed over time, they were to do it the exact same regardless of changing circumstances, you would think that’s a bad candidate. Somebody wouldn’t want to hire.

It’s the same thing with test design. A good test versus a bad test is about value and it’s about focusing on what that test is going to do: its Mission. And so you can’t have the same approach to every kind of test because that means you’re not providing value. You’re not actually aiming to achieve your mission with the testing.

So if you see advice, or you read advice about good test versus bad test and it’s like you should make sure that all your tests are repeatable that’s just not the case.

For example, with boundary analysis and equivalence class partitioning, you don’t want repeatable test because they’re not built to be repeatable. Sure you could repeat them but now that test is no longer very useful and it’s probably not worth running again.

So it’s really challenging.

I will probably write an article about this too but if you’re ever thinking about how to write good test versus bad test, think about the value and think about the mission of the test itself. Then, try and think of all the different types of attributes that might make something valuable now, and something less valuable.

And then focus, on those things that deliver value, whether their power, whether the repeatability, whether they’re easier for coverage, for understanding that, because the better that we get as a community and better, we become better at testing will see that there are lots of different ways we can run tests.

And the more we understand that the more skilled and knowledgeable about our craft would become and this other kind of cool thing is that you can really set yourself apart from other people who may be interviewing.

If you can easily tell someone what a good test isn’t a bad test. If you are looking at someone’s test and going these are all scenario test you built the same thing just over and over again. How come you’re not varying anything?

All of a sudden you are in a much better position, out of all the other candidates because you can easily differentiate your work from their work and you can tie it to value.

So, that’s my rant today about good test versus bad test.

Have a great day, everyone.

Testing Community of Practice (CoP) Experience Report #1

I published an audio experience report about running my first Testing Community of Practice (CoP) at work. tl;dr it was a really good exercise that I intend to run regularly.

Here’s an imperfect transcript:

Hello everyone, Chris Kenst here, I wanted to talk about running my first community of practice.

So for a little context, I work for a company called Promenade group.

We have 4 verticals or businesses basically that we support. And so as a QA engineering manager, I have testers across two of those verticals.

So I have a tester across our vertical called BloomNation which helps florists sell flowers online, individual small businesses sell online.

And then we have a business of vertical called Swigg where I also have a tester.

So we have built out this team. Only two people hiring my third And so, as a part of a growing team, what I wanted to do was bring my testers together and just talk about the things that we’re doing. Because as we scale up, as we add a third tester in, perhaps a fourth one, each person kind of works in their own isolated business, tackling the challenges for that particular business.

And, so I really wanted to get this kind of cross collaboration system going.

So I thought a community of practice would be the right thing for it.

And frankly after I set up a calendar time, last Friday, I told my people about it, two weeks in advance, I asked to present something.

So they would present something and I would present something. I set an agenda for it and kind of got their feedback and nobody really knew what to think about it because they have never really done one. I have never really done one.

So we kind of all agreed to it and then on Friday we had it, I set up two hours on the calendar, and we use that whole two hours for just three people.

And so this is kind of how it went:

  • The first thing we did was I had each of my testers present, what they were working on.
  • So what have they worked on recently?
  • What challenges have, they had what things have gone well and what things happened?

And even only having two testers that I, of course, have one-on-ones with what happened, is having them discuss the things that they work about and the specific problems unique to the businesses that they support, it was actually really eye-opening even for me,

One of my testers works on our BloomNation business and that’s a pretty stable mature business. So she works on all these different things, spanning all these different features that don’t exist on our Swigg vertical. And so part of her discussion about what she’s working on is actually, educating the other tester about, hey, these are the unique things that we do over here.

And it’s like, no we don’t and then it was the vice versa.

It was the tester I have on our Swig vertical showing going like, oh listen, you know, we’re changing our checkout flow, we’re cleaning this up.

We’re integrating with this new partner that can help us do deliveries and so just having the two distinct teams talk about what they worked on it actually highlighted a whole lot of things that I have taken for granted because I have worked on Both platforms and so just kind of allowed a bit more common sharing.

It was also really impressive to see them, put together like a little presentation. Some with slides, some not with sides but it was really on point. Everyone was able to kind of talk to the things that like went.

Well, it was a little bit harder to kind of dig up dig deep and understand things that didn’t work well.

But I like the idea of at least getting I am thinking about hey what isn’t working well, because, you know, are these things that we need to fix within the verticals self, or are there, are there lessons that we can pick up and address just ourselves.

So like one of the things that we can do ourselves that kind of came out of this was, you know, we just need more documentation around some of the things that we test that are across both platforms. So that make sense. like we can create some, some Asks, and write a bunch of documentation, like, that’s something I can do.

And, so I think my feedback might my thoughts after going through it was clearly, it has value to do to have a small community of practice.

It would probably only run it every few weeks. Sorry every few months. Once a month would be too frequent. So probably every other month is good, there are clearly lessons and ideas to be shared.

One of my testers, I noticed is doing much deeper work because they’re focused on say an EPIC at a time, or my other testers doing much more broad things. So, they’re very different in terms of, you know, even within the same company on different teams, just very different kinds of work.

You know, one of my testers is more likely to look into New Relic logs for the things that she’s doing. And my other testers more likely to look into the third party logs. Because that makes sense, it’s just all kinds of very interesting things that I pull.

I came away with the other thing I noticed is that, of course I like to use zoom because it has better pictures better? It’s just better visual like you can see people better but it just doesn’t work when you only have 43 minutes and you have a two-hour meeting. So that was a take away from me.

Yeah, and so overall I think things worked really well. I hope to be able to run this again.

Do something similar where we talk about the things that worked well and the things that don’t and I think just as we grow community of practice and getting each other talking to one another, about the things that were working on and struggling with I think well, We will definitely have more benefits.

So, I will update you when I do my second one. Thank you.

Better Tester Training Materials

Last month the Association for Software Testing (AST) announced a new partnership with Altom, the owner of BBST®, that enables the AST to refresh our curriculum lineup with the new BBST® Community Track and help fund the future growth of the materials. This partnership and refresh are a huge milestone for the AST. 

For some perspective: Cem Kaner developed the BBST courses over a long period of time, starting with Hung Nguyen in the 90s. In the 2000s after Cem Kaner was recruited to Florida Institute of Technology he and Becky Fielder received grants from the National Science Foundation to adapt them into online courses. Some time later Cem began collaborating with the AST to teach and develop the courses further. Those courses became known as AST-BBST to differentiate the way they developed and were taught (by passionate volunteers). Eventually Cem formed his own company, developed BBST® further and sold it to Altom after he retired. 

BBST® classes are well known for their depth of core testing knowledge and focus on improving through peer review work. That’s great for students but frankly it’s a maintenance challenge. Long before I started with the AST the problem has been, how do we properly maintain and evolve the materials and classes?


Hiring a Software Tester, an Analysis

In May of 2020, back when Promenade Group was still called BloomNation, I opened a job posting for a Software Test Engineer. This was to be the first of many test positions we eventually hire for. After going through the whole process of hiring a software tester, I thought it would be useful to analyze the applicant data with the idea of learning something about how I hire and about the applicants who applied.

About the data

Some of this data was collected through our recruiting system and some was manually entered in by me. I spent a good deal of time crunching through raw data in Excel, then coming up with new questions and going back to find more data. Some of the data wasn’t captured at all and so I made guesses / assumptions. Specifically I did this for the applicants location and gender. I don’t hire based on gender, but I was curious to see how this might have effected the final outcome. Despite having 142 submissions, I ended up pulling data on only 107 resumes.


I’m Speaking at TestFlix

It’s true, I’m speaking at TestFlix on November 28th, 2020. You should sign up to join; it’s free to register!

I recorded and submitted my 7 minute talk on “Using Test Idea Catalogs for Better Testing”. The premise is:

Testers can develop a set of tests or test concepts for a specific object or risk and re-use them in similar projects or products. Catalogs come in many shapes and forms, they can be lists or more detailed. They can be public or private. They can be developed by individual testers or as teams within companies. But they all help you test better!



I plan to write more on the topic of Test Idea Catalogs in the near future but I mentioned a few in the presentation that I’d like to call out here:

The TestOpsy

Back in January I hosted James Bach and Michael Bolton for an AST webinar on the concept of a TestOpsy or a way to learn about the testing you do by dissecting it. Below you’ll find not only a description and the webinar video but a transcription for what I hope is easier reading.

By looking very carefully at what you actually do, identifying your own heuristics, and putting that process into descriptive, evocative words, you can discover surprising depths in each act of testing you perform. In a testopsy, you build your skills of observation, narration, and test framing. You may even discover a technique no one yet has written about. And if you do it with a colleague, it stimulates discussion on test design.

James Bach & Michael Bolton

What do we mean by a Testopsy

We are talking about an autopsy for testing. We are talking about taking a very close look at a session of testing and you can do a testopsy based on just a few minutes of testing.


I’m running for the 2020-2022 AST Board of Directors

Elections just opened for the Association for Software Testing’s Board of Directors for which I’m a candidate. If you are a voting-eligible member of the AST I’d appreciate the consideration as I run for my 2nd term.

For those who are voting (or possibly just interested) I completed a list of candidate questions. For fun you can compare them to my answers from 2018.

I did want to highlight a few questions that I think are important: