Book Review: Explore It!

I’ve been recommending the book Explore It! by Elizabeth Hendrickson for years, because I had heard the author interviewed in a podcast, and because I was familiar with her Test Heuristics Cheat Sheet. This month, I decided it was about time that I actually read her book, and I am so glad I did!

This book should be required reading for anyone who wants to test software. It contains the most thorough descriptions I have ever read of how to think about what to test. Developers will find the book extremely helpful as well; if they would use its ideas to test their own software, they’d find bugs long before anyone else did!

The author begins the book with a discussion of the difference between exploring and checking. Checking is what a tester does when they want to make sure that the software does what it’s supposed to do. Exploring is what a tester does when they want to find out what happens if the user or the system doesn’t behave as expected. In order to fully test a system, you need to use both methods. I’ve met many software testers who just check the software. Then they (and their team) are surprised when bugs are discovered in production!

My favorite thing about the book is the testing heuristics that are suggested. These are concepts that you can apply to virtually any application, and they’d make a great mental (or physical) checklist when you are testing. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Zero, One, Many: what happens if you have zero of something that is expected, or just one of something where there are supposed to be many, or many of something where is supposed to be one?
  • Beginning, Middle, End: what if you do something at the beginning of a list or a text block? What if you do it at the end? What if you do it somewhere in the middle?
  • Nesting: for a file structure, XML, or JSON that is nested, how deep can the nesting go? Is there a point where nesting is so deep that it breaks the system?
  • Nouns and Verbs: think about all the nouns in your application, such as “file”, “message”, “record”. Then think about all the verbs in your system, such as “create”, “send”, “delete”. Try pairing the nouns and verbs in new ways and doing those actions to see if you can find any action that is unsupported and causes errors.
  • Reverse: think about the typical user workflow and try it all in reverse. See if you can confuse the system or generate unexpected behavior.
  • Files: delete a file that is expected by the application, or replace it with a corrupted or empty file. See how the system responds.
  • Stress the system: leave the application running overnight and see what happens. Or try chaos testing, either through using chaos testing software or by putting a shoe (or a toddler or cat) on the keyboard.
  • Interrupt the state: see what happens if you disconnect from the network or put the device to sleep in the middle of an operation.

Another thing I really enjoyed about the book was the stories the author told of real-world bugs she found and situations she encountered. These are always so entertaining and instructive for testers! My favorite story was the one where she had a product owner and a lead developer who she was absolutely sure were misunderstanding each other. When she voiced her concerns to each of them, they dismissed her and said they didn’t need another product meeting; they knew they were both clear about the product expectations. Finally, she got them to come to a “test planning” meeting, and when she outlined the most basic use case that the product owner was expecting, the developer said that the use case would be impossible. It was eye-opening for both of them!

Talking with product designers and developers is an important theme in the book. The author advises that it’s important to meet with designers and developers to determine what the Never and Always rules are for a feature or application. For example, if you are testing a financial app, it’s fairly certain that you would Never want a monetary calculation to be rounded incorrectly. And when you are working with a medical device, you would Always want it work, even in the event of a power failure. When you learn what the Never and Always rules are for your application, you can use that knowledge to design appropriate tests.

Explore It! was clearly written, entertaining, and filled with great advice for exploratory testing and for creating test plans. I recommend it for anyone who wants to make sure they are releasing high-quality software!

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Explore It!

  1. Soma S Alapati

    Thanks for the nice review on the great book as well as sharing the test heuristics cheat sheet. I perform exploratory testing for every release, I hope this book can help me to improve my exploratory testing skills. I liked the cheat sheet a lot. I’ll take a print out of it and paste it at my desk.

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