Webinar Review: Tips for Writing Better Charters for Exploratory Testing Sessions

by Michael D. Kelly

Webinar URL:
Webinar Summary
Michael’s webinar focuses on one of the more challenging parts of charter-based exploratory testing – writing effective charters to help drive the exploratory testing process. He defines exploratory testing as simultaneous learning, test design and test execution (a James Bach original I believe) and focuses his ideas within the Session-based Test Management (SBTM) framework. He scaffolds this idea with an outline of the elements of SBTM along with some explanation about each element to help provide some context for those who are unfamiliar with SBTM. Here the following elements he includes as a part of SBTM:
     -session notes
     -team prioritization – talk about risks
     -ad-hoc test documentation – document what comes up as useful to be documented
     -ad-hoc test automation – automate what you encounter as useful to automate
     -dynamic metrics and reporting
Michael goes on to talk about the three essential elements of a charter: Defining Risk, Coverage and Timeframe. The idea being that a charter should be written in a way so that a tester can understand the why I am testing this (Risk), the what I am testing (Coverage) and how long it needs to be tested for.
The remaining part of the webinar covers Michael’s ten suggestions for creating better charters:
List specific risk and coverage targets
Mnemonics for risk and coverage ideas
Risk and Coverage Knowledge Base
Compare missions (i.e. charters)
Charter Template
Charter for smaller sessions – then possibly use affinity maps to create larger sessions
Thumb Vote
Testing Polarities
Let Charter Emerge Over Time
Tracking Metrics
The Q&A session was also helpful in several areas, especially in talking further about metrics and session debriefs.
My Take
The webinar is first-rate, full of concrete ideas that are abstracted from specific practices enough so as to be easy to apply or adapt in a variety of work environments or teams. In many ways I feel like these are details that I was missing to help guide my exploratory testing efforts to be more effective. Michael covers his ten suggestions with good detail and I found most of the ideas to very helpful, even though some of the ideas would require a team to be able to implement (since they involve ways of comparing or filtering through charters to help determine the priority or acceptability of charters). Probably my favorite suggestion for creating better charters was the template idea that Michael shared for beginning to write effective charters. As with any template, in sharing the idea one runs the risk of it being considered “the” way to write a charter, which is obviously not the case here, there are many ways to structure or write a charter. For a tester who is a novice in charter-based exploratory testing, this structure can be really beneficial in jump-starting your use of charters and exploratory testing. As my English teachers liked to tell me, “Once you learn the rule well enough to never break it, you can have the freedom to break it whenever is needed.” That’s kind of how I feel about his template idea.
As a tester who wants to improve my skills, I found Michael’s discussion around debriefing sessions and metrics to be helpful as well. The metrics may be different than some of the traditional software testing metrics, but they are robust enough to help tell the “story” about the testing that you are doing, though I can imagine it takes some time to tell that story well and help the stakeholders involved to feel comfortable with them.
In summary, I cannot say enough good things about the webinar. It was simply full of practical ideas and useful explanations to help anyone improve the charters they write to help drive their exploratory testing efforts.
My Rating
Well Worth Watching

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