The Joy of Exploratory Testing

If you’re wondering whether your software is working as well as it could, I’m going to tell you how to use exploratory testing as a tool to find out.

I am Marianne Murray, QA Practice Lead at Robots & Pencils. I’ve been testing software for more years than I care to admit! I am posting here to share some of the things that bring our QA team joy in testing, and why we are so passionate about delivering a quality product.

What is Exploratory Testing?

Exploratory testing is a type of testing where the tester sets a goal or mission and “explores” to experience the product, to learn, and garner information around the state of the product and support planning detailed tests.

“There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.” ¹

Cem Kaner, who coined the term in 1984,² defined exploratory testing as “a style of software testing that emphasizes the personal freedom and responsibility of the individual tester to continually optimize the quality of their 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.”

In short, exploratory testing is all about discovery, investigation, and learning. It emphasizes personal freedom and responsibility of the individual tester.

“Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.” ¹

When do we use it?

We use exploratory testing when we want to investigate and learn. It is a quick way to probe the features and provide qualitative feedback. We often use exploratory tests as a launching point when we are testing an existing product, or to get up to speed when joining an in-flight project. We can also use this type of testing when time is not on our side and we are looking to provide quick feedback to the team.

“Anytime you learn, you gain.” ¹

What are the benefits?

A challenge that we face in detailed functional testing is that testers can get lost in the weeds. Exploratory testing allows us to view the big picture and to place ourselves in the shoes of our users. We can use it as a jumping off point for other types of testing as well. For example, we can explore negative scenarios around API testing, or explore how an app behaves in a different language and use that information to develop and refine test cases.

“It’s hard to see things when you are too close. Take a step back and look.” ¹

What are the shortcomings?

The results of exploratory testing may be harder to communicate concisely. The testing and interpretation of results are more dependent on domain knowledge and tester skill. Testers also need to take great notes around execution and steps to ensure issues can be replicated.

“If you do too much, it’s going to lose its effectiveness.” ¹

What tools are used?

Testers use the same tools to perform both exploratory and functional testing. The main difference is the level of detail in the test case and results notes. At Robots & Pencils, we use TestRail to capture our test cases. We have a separate template to capture the higher level free-flow format that is used for exploratory testing.

“However you think it should be, that’s exactly how it should be.” ¹

Who can do exploratory testing?

At R&P, our QA Robots are our testers who perform exploratory testing in conjunction with other types of testing. These tests help gather information to highlight areas needing additional testing and focus attention for deep dives.

“Talent is a pursued interest. Anything you’re willing to practice, you can do.” ¹

Each member of our QA team comes from a different background. There is no one path to becoming a tester. But what each of us has in common is the joy we find in testing. We start with the unknown. We research and learn and build our understanding of the product, while providing value and information around the software.

“You can do anything you want. This is your world.” ¹

Exploratory testing is often the right option for companies looking to quickly identify quality concerns, highlight areas for future focus, or investigate the state of a product. Want to learn more? Reach out to us at R&P to help figure out the best test plan for your digital product today at

Marianne Murray, QA Practice Lead at Robots & Pencils