What is the purpose of an exploratory tester?

A member of our community was recently asked by someone in their company

What is the purpose of an exploratory tester on the team?

@chrismclellan888 had some excellent points in his response!

My own 2c on this, more so if I am explaining this to someone not familiar with testing, is that testing like a jigsaw puzzle. My role as an exploratory tester is to find the missing jigsaw pieces or the pieces that have been put in the wrong place. I work to make sure that the picture we paint to our customers is as good as it can be.

What about you? How would you explain what the purpose of an exploratory tester is?

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My current take is:

  • an explorer of the unknown
  • a person with a breaking/white hat hacker mindset
  • someone who would invent the double decker couch

Exploratory testing is nothing but thinking activity.
Testing an application like discovery, investigation and learning before executing test cases.

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@sushuma could you elaborate a bit more on this?

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Hi Heather,
Exploratory testing is a type of software testing where we need to explore the application by understanding, learning with previous experience of similar application when there is no requirement documentation or with missing requirements.Testing purely depends on the testers skills.
They need to identify specific scenarios and write test cases.
During test exploratory execution we follow few steps.
.Mission of testing should be clear
.Keep notes on what needs to be tested,why it need and assessment of product quality
.Tracking of questions and issues raised during exploratory testing
.The more we test,more likely to execute right test cases for the required scenarios.
There also some drawbacks
We might misunderstand any feature as a bug
Or might misunderstand any bug as feature.


That seems to be a very thorough answer. Nice 1 :smiley:

I think in our organisation the purpose of an exploratory tester is to undertake missions of utmost danger and excitement… Perhaps slightly hyperbolic there :laughing:.

However the serious point is that the company can ask this highly experienced person to take on test work where requirements are non-existent or ill-defined or incomplete, and with minimal external feedback or guidance this person can give the organisation highly value-adding feedback on the subject under test.

The tester would generally in my experience use a time-bounded approach to maintain focus and deliver within tight timeframes. Their mission is also given focus by agreeing some key limiting way or ways to approach their testing, e.g. to go blitz testing focusing on accessibility or usability or validation etc.

The purpose of having an exploratory tester can almost at times be to save the day as few can do that job well and when their services are called for in our company generally something with ‘proper testing’ maybe hasn’t worked out…


Thanks for explaining well

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You are very welcome. Thanks also for your answer. It’s great to have a vibrant community on Ministry of Testing. #LoveTesting :smiley:


Some good answers so far about exploratory testing. I think the actual question is wrong, as exploratory testing is part of a tester’s toolkit of testing approaches and techniques, used at the right time and place in the project, and you wouldn’t normally get someone who specialised only in exploratory testing. So the question really should be ‘What is the purpose of exploratory testing?’.


There are roles that are purely exploratory testing focused so I stand by what I’ve originally asked in that context :slight_smile:

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I do exploratory testing when I have to test the fix of a bug or when I have to test a new feature. In other words I do exploratory testing every day :slight_smile:

For me the main purpose of exploratory testing is to find quickly the problems whose will degrade the feature. I can give quickly a first feedback to the team. If I don’t find problems I continue to explore the app with the risks I have identified and new test ideas.

The idea of the jigsaw pieces is cool but in my case exploratory testing helps me also to get the frame of the jigsaw puzzle (the big picture). I will use exploratory testing again to refine my understanding. I will use scripted testing if I need.


Exploring: travel through (an unfamiliar area) in order to learn about it; inquire into or discuss (a subject) in detail.

I doubt there are testers that know everything about everything in an evolving product, project working with lots of changing people(stakeholders, clients, colleagues).

If you’re not exploring, you’re not actually testing.
If you don’t do explorations it could mean that:

  • you already know the product, know the failures, know the results in an algorithmic way of all the behaviors, flows, steps you’re doing
  • and are not looking for things you don’t know about, new ways or varying ways of the product failing.

I would rephrase the question with another one:
What is the purpose of a tester that constantly learns about the product, project, people, context, new ways it works, and doesn’t, goes deep and wide to find problems and threats and unknown unknowns.

The answers could be:
It depends on the context. The purpose can range from None to Finding those specific threats to the product quality, that are important for stakeholders, that no one else could.

Some examples:

  • There are testers that think they are doing explorations, but aren’t…
  • There are testers that are bad at explorations, and only scratch the surface of the iceberg before getting bored and stop exploring any further;
  • There are testers that exagerate with explorations when there is no time/budget/low-risk and impact areas;
  • There are very good explorers that are sought after for each risky product feature; they can dive deep, fast and find those problems that the product managers are interested in;
  • There are projects where there’s no need for explorations due to no or only very small changes of circumstances;
  • There are projects where the threats resulting from explorations don’t matter - as there have been multiple backup solutions or the company is fine to fail…

To find the most critical bugs :wink: I posted something on twitter about this. A colleague spoke about how we find the most critical bugs when we go off script. It then made me think about what the purpose of test scripts are in the first place (possibly ensuring baseline quality per release - depends how flakey/intertwined the code is).