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Janet Gregory: Agile Consultant, Trainer, Advisor, Writer, Speaker

The Power of Personas in Exploratory Testing

There are many great articles and books on exploratory testing and I’m not going to try to explain what other people do better. What I do want concentrate on is the power of approaching your exploratory testing from different persona’s point of view. It occurred to me that I haven’t heard people talk much about it lately and decided to raise the awareness of this easy but powerful tool.

Exploratory testing belongs in Quadrant 3 of the Agile Testing Quadrants – Business facing tests that critique the product. You can see more about the quadrants in Brian Marick’s blog “My Agile Testing Project,” http://www.exampler.com/old-blog/2003/08/21/ or in our book “Agile Testing: A Practical Guide for Testers and Agile Teams”.

I guess the first time I heard about it, was at the Canadian Agile Networks workshop in 2005. At that time, I was very interested in the cultural aspect of agile. Jonathan Kohl’s position paper was Exploratory Testing using personas, which can be seen here http://www.kohl.ca/blog/archives/000095.html. Since then, other people have touched on it as well. For example, Elisabeth Hendrickson in her presentation http://www.slideshare.net/codecentric/exploratory-testing-inagileoverviewmeettheexpertselisabethhendrickson

I understood personas much better after listening to people like Jeff Patton and David Hussman. Read up on Jeff Patton’s website- http://www.agileproductdesign.com/blog/agile_product_development.html

Using personas is a great way to help identify requirements but they can also help us test better. When I use personas to help identify test data and test scenarios that I (as a tester) had not thought about before, it helps me get better test coverage. To do this, I need to understand our customers – both internal and external. The marketing folks are often the ones who create the external personas, but sometimes overlook internal customers like administrators.

In agile projects, we encourage testers to help define the requirements by questioning assumptions. Personas are a great way to think differently. In a recent workshop at Quest conference in Boston, Ellen Gottesdiener demonstrated how testers can truly add value by thinking about different dimensions – one being the people. If we carry those thoughts after the code is built, and approach some of our exploratory testing from that perspective, we look at the product differently. For example, if am testing a shopping website as a “hurried working mom” as well as a “senior citizen”, I will be looking at completely different perspectives and may find different types of bugs.
There are many different ways to approach exploratory testing, and I encourage everyone to try lots of different styles.

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