Category Archives: Exploratory Testing

Experiences Of a Testing Bug Bash

I’m working in a team, that’s developing a mobile application and back-end, that does not have any testers. We didn’t plan it that way, but temporarily, that’s just the way it is. While I can add my testing skills and experience to the team, that’s not the primary reason I’m there, and so I’ve been looking at ways in which the whole team can help to contribute to a quality product.

It’s been interesting. At first, when our tester left then nothing happened. Like nothing at all, tickets moved over to the ‘Ready for Testing’ column and there they stayed. Immobile, ignored and unloved. It was as if all eyes were to the left, where the fun stuff for developers was, understanding designs and coding. Although there are unit tests and some automated integration level tests for our code it clearly wasn’t enough.

Session Based Team Testing – A Bug Bash

I’ve used session based testing in the past when I managed test teams, and have found it to be a very useful way of breaking exploratory testing work into understandable pieces, and distributing that work out to the team. James and Jon Bach explain the approach far better than I can. Ministry of Testing have also got an excellent resource on SBTM.

Having read some articles from people who had broadened their approach then I thought I’d take the session based testing concept and roll it out to the whole team as a bug bash.

The key point for me was that any sort of session had to be fun. Initially I feared that not all the team were going to see the full value of such a session since it wasn’t development work per se,  so keeping the approach light-weight was key. The ideas for our first bug bash had formed.


Getting away from the everyday work was important so the bug bash took place in a separate room, close enough to our team area that it was quick to pop out and pickup forgotten devices, etc but away from the interruptions that phones, etc provide. I made sure we had enough phones, tablets, post-it notes, pens and cake to keep us going. I also brought in some popular testing books and the Test Heuristics Cheatsheet from Elizabeth Hendrikson, in case people needed some inspiration.

We use JIRA as our project management tool and since we were testing a whole Epic then it made sense to break the testing down on a story by story basis. Working with our lead developer, we took each Epic in turn and used that to form an exploratory testing charter stored as a Google doc. You can get an example version here. Using charters enabled us to define the boundaries of the testing; ensuring there was not too much overlap. It also meant that people who were not so familiar with the story were able to quickly learn about it, and areas to test, without needing to spend time reading stories and Epics in JIRA.

So, the charters were ready, the room was ready and the people were ready. Time to start.

The Bug Bash Session

We decided on two 45 minute sessions with a tea break in between. The whole team attended; PO, designers, UX, developers and myself. Everyone was a tester for the afternoon. We agreed who would pickup which charters and made a start.

I made a Google doc in which people could record potential issues which I kept projected up on the wall throughout, so that we could all see the progress that we were making and the issues that were being raised. I encouraged the team to add screenshots as well as text and this really helped to make things clear and to prevent duplicate issues making their way into the list. Discussion was also key to the success of the session; having everyone in the room at the same time meant that potential design issues could be shown to designers straight away for review.

The lead developer for the feature was also present, not testing but helping to explain architectural and development decisions, and also to fix some bugs on-the-fly.

The session went well. We got all the charters finished and the session concluded with a quick retrospective.


What Went Well
Charters give structure and prevent misunderstandings

Having structure was critical to the bug bash, given that it was a new activity for the team, and they were not experienced with exploratory testing. It also meant that we got the most from the session and people were not all testing the same thing.

Hints and examples in charters are good

By including examples, and ideas on areas to test, people had a guide to start them off. Given that they were not experienced testers then this really helped.

It is good to have charters split by story

This meant that it was clear what was to be tested and there was a clear link back to the project management tool people were used to.

Some of the bugs were fixed during the session

This clearly shows the value of group pairing for me.

What Could be Improved?
Make the charters simpler

I had hoped we would get some data on setup time and test execution time so had added that to the charters but it confused most people.

Make the process of splitting up the charters and recording who is working on each one, simpler

Although it as clear to them which charter a person was working on, we didn’t keep a visible record of who was working on what. Next time I’ll write this down and pin it up on the wall.

People could swap charters halfway through the session to give multiple points of view

For each 45 minute session one person would pick up and test against a charter. Swapping round could add value and a new set of eyes onto the area.

Aim to do this for all large stories

This was great to see since it showed that the team saw the value in the approach.

Consider pairing

This will be our next step for the Bug Bash sessions. Pairing people up could help to add more value by giving multiple viewpoints.

Going off charter was a good thing

Some charters were bigger than others. People naturally started to go off-charter once their charter was done and this gave multiple viewpoints across the whole feature.

Being away from the desk is a good thing

By being one team, with one goal, isolated from our day-to-day activities, we were able to effectively test and find many issues in the feature, without the usual distractions that break concentration and flow. Having lots of cake also helped :)


We will definitely do the Bug Bash again, and I see it as becoming a really important part of our delivery processes, even when we get a full time tester back on the team. It really helped everyone to understand the feature, to explore it and to test together, giving multiple viewpoints on potential issues.

With some guidance the whole team made a great contribution. I’d encourage everyone to try a similar approach,

Seeing the Wood For the Trees

I’ve recently been reading through my ISEB Practitioner notes, which I got when attending a course organised by Grove Consultants a few years back.

Don’t switch off yet. I know I mentioned ISEB. So before I go further, it’s worth stating my thoughts on the whole ISEB/ISTQB debate. I summed up my frustrations in a previous blog post; the fact that in the UK having ISTQB certification is practically the only way to get past the recruiters gate, but I also feel that there is some merit to the courses if taught properly, and followed up with a context driven approach such as Rapid Software Testing.

Reading back through my notes from Grove I can now see that this is what they were trying to work towards. At the time I had no idea how important the context driven school of testing was, nor the work of James Bach, Michael Bolton, Cem Kaner and others. But looking in the notes, the names are there. The techniques, albeit in nowhere near the detail that James or Michael teach in class of course, were hinted at and some approaches, particularly Exploratory Testing, are mentioned in some detail. Some slides are directly referenced from James and Michael’s work.

Unfortunately, due to the need to pass the exam, and with these areas being marked as ‘not exam’ then I didn’t pay them the attention that they warranted, and so it took a few more years to discover how and why the context driven approach can be so powerful. Which maybe shows the true problem with ISEB/ ISTQB certification after all.

Experiences of Rapid Test Management

Caveat – this is not a list of exactly what happens in a Rapid Test Management class, nor is it a list of exercises and course material. You won’t become good at Rapid Test Management by reading this post. Sometimes I forget things. If you really want to know about Rapid Test Management then you need to sign up for the class. It will be money well spent and this post will tell you a little about what might happen if you do take the class.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend one of the first Rapid Test Management classes, and certainly the first one to have been run in the UK. It was a great experience and the beginning of a lot more learning. There were attendees from a number of different areas of software testing and together I think we formed a very effective group, learning from each other and sharing experiences.

Rapid Test Management follows on from the Rapid Software Testing class that James Bach and Michael Bolton teach. I’d attended James’ class in Cambridge at the beginning of March and so, with the class material and my ideas rolling around in my head, I pitched up at the Hilton hotel in leafy Kensington (well almost Shepherds Bush actually) for two days of intensive learning from Michael.

Rapid Software Testing is a context driven technique, intended to enable testers to excel at our chosen craft. Since it focuses on testing as a craft itself, instead of merely on the production of test cases and then their use for testing (or it could be argued merely for checking) then this does put some questions in mind when considering how best to manage it. By way of some preparation, I noted down some of the questions that I had:

  • How can I best manage each testers time when adopting a Rapid Testing based strategy.
  • How does estimation fit in with the Rapid Software Testing ethos?
  • How can I sell the idea of Rapid Software Testing not only to those within my team who may be sceptical, but more importantly to those who manage me, who are most likely not only sceptical but also less knowledgeable about software testing in general?

Day 1

The class was split into two days, the first morning focused mostly on refreshing understanding of Rapid Software Testing and ensuring that, as a group, we had effectively collected our own desired outcomes from the class. It was good to spend some time going back over the methodology itself even though I had learnt it very recently. It was great that Michael seemed happy to tailor the class to the audience in any way that was necessary, taking a lot of time to ensure that everyone’s opinion could be heard.

What I found great about this class, and the RST course, are the little nuggets of information, stories and quotes that James and Michael pass on. Looking back through my notes from this class I find that’s what I mostly write down, quotes like:

 “Quality is value to someone who matters”

“Testers tell stories about products”

We also spoke in depth about the testers Elevator Pitch, that two minutes where you have to explain what testing is all about. Being able to explain and justify the role of testers and test teams is a critical skill and Rapid Software Testing gives you that skill.

When implementing any changes, such as introducing Rapid Test Management for example, then it’s critical to take into account the existing knowledge and processes that are already in use. Michael stressed the importance of ensuring that it’s not only the documented processes that are considered; in fact it’s the informal processes that are far more important to understand. He spoke about tacit vs explicit knowledge and how it is important for managers to be aware of the tacit knowledge in a test team and not merely the explicit knowledge.

We then took a look at how to put together a good team and how to train a new tester who was coming onto the team, through guidance and suitable heuristics. It was great to discuss with the others in the class about the issues they had faced when coming into a new team or bringing new team members in and also what had gone well. Ensuring that people are trained in a fault tolerant environment and gradually introduced to new tasks may seem fairly obvious stuff but it’s  often over-looked, as is the need to ensure that feedback is both given and asked for from new team members.

Day 1 concluded with a look at metrics and how important they really are, v.s. how important most organisations seem to think they are. Michael pointed us towards Cem Kaner and Walter Bond’s paper Software Engineering Metrics: What Do They Measure and How Do We Know which I would definitely recommend reading.


Find out what happened on day 2 soon…

Experiences of Rapid Software Testing

Last week I had the pleasure of attending Rapid Software Testing training, organised by The Ministry of Testing. Rapid Software Testing is a technique popularised by James Bach and Michael Bolton and hopefully is not something new to you, but in case it is then I’d recommend looking at James Bach’s website. He explains it much better than me :)

The course was in Cambridge in the UK, and after a quick and easy train ride up then it was easy to find the hotel, dump the bags, and then go out to the Software Testing Club Meetup. This was a good start to the course, an initial networking event which James also attended, as well as a lot of local testers who were not attending the course. We had some great discussions and I met a lot of new people; you can see some photos from the event which have been posted up by Rosie, the organiser.

Day 1

Then to the first day of the course itself. From the moment the course started it was apparent that this was not your typical technical course. James’ style is well—known, just search YouTube if you want to see him in action, and he carried this into the course itself. He certainly knows his stuff, and presents in typical provocative style and is capable of causing many eureka moments. It’s very enjoyable, but initially tough, stuff.

We focused mostly in the first day on what Rapid Software Testing is, and the overall philosophy of the techniques. Rapid Software Testing is most useful to encourage testers to defend and think for themselves from a position of technical authority, especially useful in periods of uncertainty. Plenty of examples were given and James was able to draw upon his many years of experience in testing, both hardware and software. The time went by quickly and there was plenty of audience participation. James’ style is very much to put the audience members on the spot and ask some very difficult and blunt questions in order to replicate the pressures that testers can feel as part of project teams. To a few this comes naturally, but to most of the audience, this was a long way out of the comfort zone. We tried to help out whoever had been picked for a particular challenge, in order that the class as a whole could benefit.

The day concluded with an exercise on testing some everyday objects. Sounds simple, right? Well no. In case you will go on the course yourself then I will not give too much away, but suffice to say that there is much more to testing something which appears simple, than one at first thinks. It’s these sorts of exercises that open the mind and help learning.

Day 2

After a good dinner with some new software testing friends, and a decent night’s sleep, it was time for day 2. Here we went into more details of Rapid Software Testing and the relevant testing models. Again the examples given were general, intended to make you think like a tester irrespective of your background, and plenty of pressure was applied to those who James selected from the audience. We looked at the differences between scripted and un-scripted testing and exploded some myths about both areas. We also talked a lot about oracles and why they are essential in testing. As an example, I was surprised to find that a person can be considered as oracle.

We also discussed heuristics a lot. Rapid Software Testing has many heuristics, the fact that James can remember and explain them all straight from his head is somewhat impressive. As with a lot of the techniques and information, a fair amount of common sense thinking was clearly applied when inventing the heuristics, but it was good to get names put to techniques that I was using already, for consistency if nothing else. There is a danger of quoting too many heuristics of course, especially when dealing with other’s within project teams and management. James’ view seems to be that by bombarding those outside of testing with information and explanations, using the relevant heuristics, that testers gain legitimacy. I do not agree with his approach to the length that he presents it – clearly testers need to be able to explain themselves – but there is a danger of losing credibility if too many heuristics are invented and then explained, which merely represent ‘day-to-day’ work. Take a look at James’ slides and see if you agree.

By the end of the day we were questioning practically everything about testing and about the way we were working. There is a danger from this course that one starts to question too much but one needs to start small and work up I think. That’s certainly what I intend to do.

Day 3

The final day of the course started bright and early with more of the same. We focused on exploratory testing again, with more details, and talked a lot about documentation, metrics and information. The idea of focusing on a particular testing task, using some heuristics, but knowing when it is not working and de-focusing at this point, was a great learning for me. We also went into more detail on exploratory and session based techniques, something which I wish we had spent a bit more time on in previous days.

The main exercise for the day was based around finding a pattern for a system based upon dice. I won’t go into too many details on this (it’s explained pretty well at Better Testing) and also I do not want to give away a potential solution to anyone. But suffice to say it was a great opportunity to put into practice some of the techniques that we had learnt. Our group were not the quickest but neither were we the slowest, and it was certainly a good challenge.

The day then concluded with a wrap-up and overview of what we had learnt. Then some brief goodbyes and swapping of LinkedIn invites, and home to try and make sense of a busy three days and how what I had learnt could be applied to myself and the team members in my teams.


If you get the chance to go on Rapid Software Testing then go. Don’t think too hard about it, the course if very worthwhile and you will get a lot out of it. It is not easy, you will most likely feel uncomfortable at times with the training approach and some of the content may well seem obvious on first pass. But once you think more, and you start to question your own approach, with the techniques, tools, and even just the words, to back-up what you already know, then this course should make you a better tester. It would have been good to have seen a little more on session based techniques in detail and more about the tools that can be used, but I understand James does a separate course on this.

Thanks also go to Rosie Sherry, the course organiser. This was the first course that The Ministry of Testing have organised and if this first one is anything to go by then Ministry of Testing has a bright future. The venue and organisation was great, there was a really friendly, small company feel about things, and it was very easy to meet new people and learn together. Definitely three days well spent.

Some Brief Words On ET for Mobiles

No not the short, funny coloured alien guy….

Yesterday I attended a exploratory testing session for the latest change that my team are testing, on new feature phones. So we’re talking mass market devices, ones where a bug let out into the field can wipe out your profit and destroy your reputation. So we like to get our QA right, you could say.

Overall the session went well. We found some bugs even though the feature under test is pretty close to release maturity now. There was a great mix of developers, testers and some of the release ops team (aka the CI guys). We like to use these sessions to bring the team together. Using Agile sdlc’s helps here anyway, but having everyone testing together and helping each other is great for the team spirit and the togetherness. It was good fun.

So here’s what went well and what to try differently next time:

* Make sure you do not limit your sessions to just the testers in your company. Get everyone together, it’s fun.
* The leader of the session is important to keep things flowing. Our test lead brought ready flashed phones. And food. That helped.
* Make sure you have a structure to the session. We used charters.

And some areas to learn from and change:

* Getting results and statistics from the session wasn’t easy. Next time we will try session based (as I’ve used in other teams).
* Get some commitment from participants and make sure they come on time. People who drift in and out break the focus of those testing.
* Make sure there are chargers and SIMs with relevant features available.

Overall it was most enjoyable. I can’t wait for the next one.

*and in the true spirit of mobile, I’ve written this whole post on a Nokia E7 using cutepress. Yep, I’m still a Nokia user, and still mobile obsessed :)