Agile Testing vs Exploratory Testing

This month I will be doing two sets of training sessions - one for Agile Testing (AT) and one for Exploratory Testing (ET). I have extensive experience with both and I enjoy teaching and coaching both activities. This is the first time that I have been asked to do both training sessions at basically the same time, so I have been giving the relationship between the two some thought.

Over the past decade I have sometimes struggled with the difference between the two. I admit that I have on occasion even described them as being the same thing. Having given it some thought, I now think differently.

The insight came to me when I had a conversation with someone about both topics recently. The courses I'm doing have different audiences, different outlines, and different expected behaviours/outcomes. Yes, there is some overlap, but not much.

I have written previously about what I believe is ET (it's an interesting post - I suggest you take a moment to read it if you haven't already). Near the end of that article, I mention Agile Software Development and the Agile Testing Quadrants, so there is some relationship between the two.

ET is sometimes described as an exemplar of the Context-Driven Software Testing community. If you read through the seven basic principles of the Context-Driven Testing (CDT) School you may see where there are similarities in the philosophies between it and the values & principles listed in the Agile manifesto. Things like:
  • CDT: People work together to solve the problem
    • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
    • ...face-to-face conversation
    • Business people and developers work together daily throughout the project
  • CDT: Projects are often unpredictable
    • Respond to change
    • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development...
    • Deliver working software frequently...
  •  CDT: No best practices
    • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design ...
    • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams ...
And we could probably make a few more connections between Agile and the CDT principles.

So what are some of the differences?

Testathon

I received an email recently about an event happening later this month in London, UK. It's the world's first official Testathon (testathon.co). The site describes the event as "like a hackathon but for testers. You’ll be testing apps in teams with some of the best testers in the world." I know some of the judges and think this will be a fantastic opportunity for those who can attend.

When I received this notice my first thought was: this is a really cool thing and I should tell people about it. My second thought was: I don't normally write about conferences so do I blog about this or not? Well, yes, I decided to blog about it.

In the "Context-Driven" Software Testing community, actions speak louder than words. That's one of the reasons that certifications (like those from the ISTQB and QAI) are treated with low regard and even disdain from some people in the testing community. The main issue here is that these paper transactions (certifications) emphasize memory-work over hands-on practice. Here's a Quick Acceptance Test: does the [particular] certification reflect (1) a level of demonstrable competence and ability in the desired field, or (2) the ability to spend money and regurgitate specific knowledge without context?

Salary Thieves

Yesterday I attended a Waterloo Agile Lean session on Story Mapping presented by Mark Levison. I had heard of Story Mapping but hadn't worked through it before. I liked the hands-on exercises approach Mark took to help us understand the process and benefits of that technique. This blog post is not about Story Mapping.

I love learning and take any opportunity I can to hear different speakers present on topics that I think may be of value. Sometimes I even attend the same talks and workshops when they are done by different speakers so that I can understand differences of style in presentation, stories, and tips/techniques for getting the ideas across to the audience/participants. Once I even attended the same topic by the same speaker 2 days in a row, and I learned something new/different the second time around! (It was a Cem Kaner talk when he was in our area a few years ago.)

Yes, I gained an appreciation of Story Mapping yesterday. More importantly, I learned a new anecdote from the speaker - one that got me thinking. At one point, Mark answered a question about managing a large backlog on a Scrum/Kanban-style (information radiator) board. The problem with really large backlogs of stuff to do (likely anything with more than 100 items in it), is that the items near the bottom become meaningless over time. You will probably never get to them because something more important always comes up.

Test Management is Wrong

Test Management is wrong. There. I said it.

I can't believe it took me this long to notice the obvious. If you are doing Software Development in any fashion, and are worried about how to manage your testing to develop a "quality" product, stop it.

Let's be clear about what I mean here. If you consider any software development life cycle (SDLC) process, you will find activities like the following arranged in some fashion or other:
  • Requirements gathering, specification
  • Software design
  • Implementation and Integration
  • Testing (or Validation)
  • Deployment
  • Lather, Rinse, Repeat (i.e. Maintain, Enhance, Fix, Mangle, Spin, and so on)

These activities aren't Waterfall or Agile or anything else, they are just activities. HOW you choose to do them will reflect your SDLC. I don't care about that right now. The part I'm picking on is the Testing bit near the middle, regardless of whether you do them in an agile, Waterfall, or some other way.

In particular, I am picking on the fallacy or myth that a good Test Management plan/process is what you need to develop and release a high Quality product.

Shuhari

When I work with teams to help them learn something new, I try to pay attention to a few things. Firstly, I pay attention to how people are learning, and secondly how I am teaching.

When I used to teach Physics and Chemistry in high school, one validation of 'success' often came from how the students left the classroom. Generally, teenagers often came into one of those classes the same way (at least at the start of the year): I don't want to be here, this isn't important to me, I'm not going to learn anything useful.

Okay. Gauntlet down. Let's begin.