Exploratory Testing vs. ad hoc testing

During a recent testing workshop, when we finished the exercise on learning Exploratory Testing, a very keen learner asked me this question: “This looks like we are doing ad hoc testing. Is Exploratory Testing the same as ad hoc testing?” I gave my answer about my view of the things but thought it to be interesting question that needed more discussion.

First, I took this to the collective wisdom of all Pakistani testers best preserved at a LinkedIn group and posted this question. I got some interesting thoughts.

Muzaffar mentioned this quoting the Explore It! book:

“Eexploratory testing is exploring the territory (focused on one aspect/feature/ module of software) and getting information from that test and driving the next test and keep going that way.”

Faisal added:

“Exploratory testing is exploring the application and when explore you need to be focused while Ad-hoc testing is like Walkthroughs without having planned criteria”

Arslan who is also a guest writer for this blog cited Cem Kaner:

“Exploratory testing is often considered mysterious and unstructured. Not so! You just need to know what to look for.”

Anum guided by saying:

“Exploratory testing is more structured with a test plan , test design, and test execution”

I also took this question to some of the gurus on twitter. One thought was around “what’s in the name” or “a rose will be rose whatever you name it”. But given that names matter, some insights were as followed:

Elisabeth Hendrickson said:

James Bach said:

Michael Bolton added by referring to his detailed explanation. This article says:

“Some claim that exploratory testing is “unstructured”, equating it with “ad hoc testing” or “fooling around with the computer”. In our definition of exploratory testing, such claims are false and unsupportable, and we reject them. Some may say that they are doing “exploratory testing” when they are behaving in an unskilled, unprofessional manner, but we reject this characterization as damaging not only to exploratory testing, but to the reputation of testers and testing generally. If you are not using the learning garnered from test design and test execution in a continuous and rapid loop to optimize the quality of the work, you are not doing exploratory testing. If exploratory testing is “fooling around with the computer”, then forensic investigation is “poking around inside a dead body”.”

I hope that I have managed to expand your horizon good enough here. It is not easy to sum up this discussion in easy ways but seems like skilled work, focus, analysis, self-management and adapting as you go are some key differences.

What is your view of Exploratory Testing in this context?

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10 responses to “Exploratory Testing vs. ad hoc testing”

  1. H Hamid says :

    You have put forward a very important question. During a recent presentation on Session Based Testing within our company wide test group, even the seasoned test engineers put forward the same question towards me. There are a number of convincing answers to this, however I could best narrate it to an example I read in one of the blogs by James Bach (I think!). Exploratory testing is mostly mistaken by unplanned, unstructured and ad hoc testing. Anyone who is interested in American History would know that Expedition of Lewis and Clark is considred of great value due to their exploratory nature of journey towards the west. It was an aimed exploration, well planned and well equipped with knowledge and the right skill set. They found what they found, but they didn’t randomly end up at their destination. Due to which their journey added a great value towards the purpose. So, if one can understand the difference between purposefulness and randomness, it is easy to undestand exploratory vs ad hoc testing.


    • majd says :

      Thank you Huma for adding a nice example that helps understand the difference. I liked your statement of “adding value” and that is also a good criteria to see the results of Exploratory Testing.


  2. Hanan Atif says :

    I think James Bach sums up the discussion beautifully in one tweet 🙂


  3. ridhamalik says :

    i also support james bach he nicely sum up the concept


  4. fahadshiekh1991 says :

    What i think exploratory is more toward understanding software under test .It’s for newbies on a particular software product. Something like monkey test: D

    However in ad-hoc there are more experienced guys regarding particular product who tries to figure out exceptional test cases which cannot be figured by conventional ways.

    That’s my understanding it can be wrong 😛


  5. Qamar Tarar says :

    Here are some Definitions for ETing from my doc:

    1). ET is simultaneous learning, test design and test execution.
    2). ET is creative context-driven activity that focus on finding defects & issues
    3). It is an iterative process (more rounds of tests)
    4). It is an adaptive approach instead of predictive.
    5). It is an approach, not a technique
    6). It is an Agile approach
    7). ET is not quicktesting
    8). ET is not only functional testing:


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