3 ways to get the most out of your exploratory testing sessions

June, 9th 2016Simon Tomes

"I liked it. You played well and the crowd seemed to get into most of your tunes. At one point there was a problem with the vocals cutting out but I can't remember which song."

Ciara tilted her head to get a clearer view of the email. What does Ali really mean? What songs were the crowd into? Why didn't I realise the vocals had cut out?

She longed for useful feedback, something she could use to improve her band's performance.

Her faced widened as Bob's email blinked on her phone.

I like Bob, he's an awesome tester. He'll give it me straight!

Sharing can be tough

It's difficult to capture and share learnings whilst exploratory testing. It can be just as difficult on the receiving end of those learnings.

I'll share some thoughts on why it doesn't have to be so difficult.

Here are three ways you can make the most out of your exploratory testing sessions:

1. Be inquisitive

"What are the most important elements of your performance? What audience are you trying to appeal to? Is there anything in particular that you'd like me to look out for?" With 72 hours till showtime Ciara felt comfort in Bob's questions.

Ask questions before, during and after your exploratory testing session. Create a conversation with others to understand the intention of the product under test.

Show eagerness to learn from others and it'll be easier for others to learn from you.

The foundation for a successful exploratory testing session is the ability of others to share thoughts about what you discovered.

Sometimes there's no need to verbalise with someone else. Let your natural inquisitive mind create questions in your own head. Explore where that question might take you. Perform an actual or thought experiment on your product.

2. Have compassionate empathy

Bob smiled. It's great to understand the audience you want to appeal to. I might not be that exact audience but I'll do my best to step into their shoes as I watch you play.

"With this kind of empathy we not only understand a person’s predicament and feel with them, but are spontaneously moved to help, if needed." — Daniel Goleman on compassionate empathy

Exploratory testing sessions provide a great opportunity to be empathic.

Remove yourself and your bias from the session and become your end user. This might be more than one user. Either way, imagine what they're feeling and what problems they are trying to solve. Let this influence how you capture and share your learnings.

3. Embrace mindfulness

Ali checked her phone for the umpteenth time. She thought about taking notes and concluded it would be a distraction.

Beams of light blasted off Ciara's bass guitar.

Meanwhile, Bob's phone lay cold in his pocket. He knew to capture notes on everything he experienced. Scribbling another thought he noticed a drop in volume of Ciara's vocals. Better capture that as a problem!

Be present and focus on what you're exploring. Discover what your product actually does instead of what it was intended to do.

It's hard to avoid getting caught up in our own thoughts and opinions whilst testing. It's important to capture thoughts and important to be aware that those thoughts are yours. No need to judge them and no need to judge others.

Exploratory testing sessions create better software

Give yourself and others the permission to explore and defend the value of your product. Share learnings. Create conversation within the team. Use exploratory testing to anchor your team around your product.

Next time you're testing, be like Bob.

Over to you

What has helped you get the most out of your exploratory testing sessions? What was successful and in what context? Next time, I'd love for you to consider the three ways. How did you get on? What worked and what didn't?