My former manager and esteemed colleague asked me to teach a two hour class about Session Based Testing (SBT). We had tried SBT a couple years ago, when I was fresh out of Michael Bolton’s excellent Rapid Software Testing course.

I was nervous as hell about the class because most of the testers I work with were signed up and I knew this was an opportunity to either inspire some great testing or look like a fool. So I spent several weeks researching and practicing what I would teach. I decided an Exploratory Testing (ET) primer was necessary for this audience before SBT could be explained properly.

ET proved to be the most intimidating subject to explain. Most of what I found was explained by members of the Context-Driven School (e.g., James and Jon Bach). Nearly everything I found NOT explained by members of the Context-Driven School was heavily criticized (by members of the Context-Driven School) for not being true ET. With all this confusion over what ET actually is, one wonders how well the Context-Driven School has actually explained what they mean. I found various statements from videos, blogs, papers, and my RST courseware that ranged from...

  • It’s a technique…no it’s a method…no it’s a “way of testing”.
  • It’s the opposite of scripting…no, it can used with scripting too, even while automating.
  • All testers use ET to some extent…no wait, most testers aren’t using it because they don’t understand it.
After (hopefully) explaining ET, I was easily able to transition into SBT, making the case that SBT solves so many of the problems introduced by poorly conducted ET (e.g., lack of artifacts and organization). I explained the essential ingredients of SBT:
  • Time Boxing
  • Missions
  • Capturing Notes, Bugs, and Issues
  • Debriefing
Then I demonstrated my favorite SBT tools:
In the end, about half the audience appeared luke warm while the other half appeared skeptical to confused. I blame it on my own delivery. I think more light bulbs went off during the ET section. SBT takes a bit more investment in thought to get it.

For myself, however, the class was a success. Ever since my research, I’ve actually been using SBT and I love it! I also have some better ideas on how to teach it if I ever get a second chance. Special thanks to Michael Bolton and James Bach, who continue to influence my testing thoughts in more ways than anyone (other than myself).


  1. PooFonduKnowsNoBounds said...

    Wonder if "SBC" (session based coding) would do me any good. This sounds a little bit like using the Pomodoro Technique to time yourself, so your goal turns something boring into a game of sorts to beat the clock.

  2. Alex said...

    I'm glad I was able to prod you to do this. I know I, and those that report to me, got a lot out of it. It sounds like the research helped you out too!

    Everyone else...well, one day at a time.

  3. Christine said...

    Hi Eric,

    I wonder if you have any presentations materials that can be shared? I am going to conduct Exploratory testing class in my company too. Would be really grateful for any materials.

    Of course if that's permitted by your company policies, etc.

    Thanks a million,

  4. Eric Jacobson said...


    Yes, I'll be happy to send you my presentation. Just submit a comment with your email address (I won't publish your comment).

  5. Eric Jacobson said...


    I had never heard of the Pomodoro Technique. Yes, it is somewhat similar. However, SBT goes beyond that by providing a structure to create artifacts.

    You devs are lucky, after an hour of work you've got code to read. Us testers do something more abstract. After an hour of testing, some of us have absolutely zero concrete entities to show for it. We may have our memory of what we tested. We may have a bug, if we found one. We may have a pass or fail status on a test case if we had one. SBT helps us capture what we actually did while we tested.

    While your goal is working code, ours is telling you as much as we can about how well that code works.

  6. Michael Bolton said...

    Hi, Eric...

    I don't remember you asking for help on the presentation. Why not? :)

    ---Michael B.

  7. Eric Jacobson said...


    Ah yes, there you are... Why didn't I ask you for help? This was Eric Jacobson's class, not Michael Bolton's class. (I know you're only kidding.)

    I am going to email it to you, however. I'm not sure how you'll react. Check your inbox...

  8. axis tech said...

    Hi, I found it interesting to learn more about session based training. Its a good effort to inspire other professionals for this type of training.

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