Clear communication is the cornerstone of any successful endeavor. Without it, even the simplest tasks can quickly become complex and convoluted. Consider a scenario where two people are trying to discuss the same thing but in different ways. This case can lead to confusion, misunderstandings, and even conflicts.
Now imagine a team of 15 people working on a software development project. Each person brings their unique perspective and understanding to the table. Without consensus, each team member may interpret a feature differently.
Thus, clear communication between the clients and developers is vital for creating products that meet all user expectations and industry standards. But how can you clearly and effectively explain to all team members what exactly they need to do and how each feature should work without adding confusion?
Let’s say you’re building an e-commerce platform and want users to search and explore all the available products. Still, developers add only limited search capabilities without product categories and a hierarchical system. There could be only one conclusion: you must improve communication when you or the project manager explain the task using User Stories. Developers use Users Stories with well-defined acceptance criteria in Agile or Scrum software development methodology to prevent such situations.
Acceptance criteria clearly define what is expected from Scrum user stories, enabling the team to focus on delivering the right solution. User stories capture requirements in a simple, concise format that is easy for everyone to understand. However, user stories can only be interpreted with precise evaluation principles, leading to clarity and preventing delays and miscommunication.
At IntelliSoft, we believe in the power of Agile development and the value of user stories with clear acceptance criteria. We widely used this approach when working on the custom fleet management platform for Ingram Barge. By leveraging our expertise in software development and our commitment to delivering quality solutions, we help our clients stay ahead of the curve. Let’s discuss how we may help you make the work on your project more streamlined and problem-free by using user stories and acceptance criteria that accurately represent the demands of your customers and requirements.
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What Are Acceptance Criteria? What Role Do they Play in Projects?
Acceptance criteria and user stories are critical for successful project delivery for any software development project. They are essential for documenting expectations from a product or solution and how the test team can evaluate it for acceptance. Let’s look at the definition of acceptance criteria, their connection to user stories, and their role in project success.
Definition of Acceptance Criteria
Acceptance criteria are the conditions a product, service, or feature must fulfill for the customer, user, stakeholders, or other systems to accept. They are pre-established standards or requirements that a product or function must meet to satisfy the users’ or stakeholders’ expectations. They define how each system component should work in a given scenario from the end user’s perspective and are unique for each case.
For example, imagine you’re working on a software development project for a client. The client has specified that the solution needs to be able to process 1,000 transactions per minute, have a response time of under two seconds, and have a user-friendly interface. The system must meet all these criteria to be considered acceptable.
Connection to User Stories
Acceptance criteria establish a close connection to user stories, which capture requirements in a simple, concise format that is easy for everyone to understand. User stories typically follow an “As a [user], I want [functionality], so that [benefit]” format and they help to define the scope of the project and the desired outcomes.
You need to define clear principles of evaluation, to prevent opening user stories to interpretation, thus preventing confusion and delays. Acceptance criteria are the specific conditions that the system must meet to complete the user story. They define the boundaries of the user story and provide a comprehensive review of what consumers anticipate from the reviewed feature or system.
The Main Purposes of Acceptance Criteria
Acceptance criteria serve several essential purposes in software development projects. To put it simply, you need them to:
- Help specify what developers need to achieve
- Communicate with stakeholders
- Outline boundaries for user stories
- Prepare for negative scenarios
- Provide a basis for user story acceptance testing
Let’s explore the primary functions of acceptance criteria and their importance in ensuring project success.
Specifying Exact Requirements for What Needs to be Developed
One of the primary functions of acceptance criteria is to specify the requirements for the development team. Managers use these criteria to outline the product’s features, functionalities, and quality attributes, which allows splitting user stories into tasks with clear and achievable goals. By specifying the exact requirements, the project team can avoid misunderstandings and prevent scope creep, ensuring the project stays on track and within budget.
Facilitating Communication Between Stakeholders
Another critical function of acceptance criteria is facilitating stakeholder communication, ensuring the development team understands the client’s vision. Acceptance criteria are a communication tool between project team members, customers, and other stakeholders, ensuring everyone is on the same page regarding the project’s goals, objectives, and deliverables. By clearly understanding the acceptance criteria, the stakeholders can provide valuable feedback and make informed decisions, leading to better outcomes.
Establishing Clear Boundaries for User Stories
Acceptance criteria also help to establish clear boundaries for user stories. Through user stories, it’s easier to define the product’s features and functionalities from the user’s perspective. Well-defined criteria outline these features’ specific requirements and conditions, ensuring the development team delivers the desired outcomes. By establishing clear boundaries for user stories, the project team can prevent scope creep and ensure that the project stays on track.
Describing Reaction to Negative Scenarios
Another essential function of acceptance criteria is to describe the reaction to unfavorable scenarios. These criteria outline how the product should behave when things go wrong, ensuring the development team is ready for any eventuality. Invalid user inputs or unusual behavior are typical negative scenarios. By defining these scenarios and their expected outcomes, the project team can prevent system failures and other issues that may arise during development.
Setting a Basis for User Story Acceptance Testing
Finally, acceptance criteria serve as the basis for user story acceptance testing. Developers use acceptance testing to determine whether the product meets the stakeholders’ expectations and whether it is ready for release. By defining the acceptance criteria, the project team can ensure that the user story acceptance testing is objective and consistent, leading to better outcomes.
By understanding these purposes, the development team can avoid ambiguity, ensure the project’s success, and deliver products that meet everyone’s expectations.
Types and Structures of Acceptance Criteria
In this chapter, we’ll explore the different types and structures of acceptance criteria and how to use them to ensure project success.
Functional and Non-functional Criteria
Functional acceptance criteria refer to the set of conditions that a system or product must meet to fulfill its intended purpose. They focus on the system’s functionality, behavior, and ability to perform specific tasks. These criteria are generally straightforward and measurable. For instance, a functional acceptance criterion for a web application might be that the system should be able to allow users to create user accounts, log in, and leave comments.
Non-functional acceptance criteria, on the other hand, deal with the system’s qualities that are not directly related to its functionality. They are also sometimes called quality attributes. These criteria focus on performance, security, usability, reliability, and other aspects of the system. Examples of non-functional acceptance criteria include response time, load capacity, accessibility, and ease of use. Non-functional criteria often depend on user experiences and opinions; therefore, they are more subjective and difficult to measure.
In short, functional criteria ensure that the system or product performs the intended tasks, while non-functional criteria describe its performance at an acceptable level regarding quality, security, and usability. A project that meets both functional and non-functional acceptance criteria is likely to be successful and meet the needs of its stakeholders.
Acceptance Criteria Based on Rules
Acceptance criteria based on rules are meticulously structured criteria that resemble the Product Requirements Document (PRD) in conventional Waterfall development environments. They define what is acceptable or unacceptable for a particular feature or functionality. Rule-based acceptance criteria are especially beneficial when dealing with complex systems or functionalities requiring specific conditions.
Here’s an example of how you can use rule-based acceptance criteria:
Let’s say you are working on a system allowing users to create and customize their products. One of the system’s features is the ability for users to choose colors for the product. To ensure that the system works properly, you might create a set of rule-based criteria that looks something like this:
- The color palette should only display colors available to customize a particular product.
- The system should prevent users from choosing the same colors for different product parts.
- The system should prevent users from choosing clashing colors (e.g., light font color on a light background).
- Users should be able to preview the product with their selected colors before finalizing their customization.
- The system should store the chosen colors and apply them correctly to the final product.
In this example, the team based acceptance criteria on rules that ensure the color customization feature work correctly. By defining these rules, you can ensure that the feature meets the needs of the stakeholders and that the system works as expected.
Rule-based acceptance criteria can be a powerful tool for ensuring that complex features or functionalities work as expected. It’s important to note that this variant of criteria is only sometimes necessary for some features or functionality. You would only want to use them when the system component needs to meet specific conditions to work correctly.
Rule-based acceptance criteria can be a powerful tool for ensuring that complex features or functionalities work as expected. By defining rules or conditions, teams can create evaluation principles that accurately reflect the stakeholders’ needs and ensure their projects’ success.
Acceptance Criteria Based on Scenarios
Scenario-based acceptance criteria take into account specific scenarios or use cases. They help teams understand how users interact with the system in different situations and ensure it works correctly.
Here’s an example of how to use scenario-based acceptance criteria:
Let’s say you are working on an e-commerce project allowing users to purchase online. One of the system’s main features is the ability for users to add products to their cart and then check out. To ensure that the system works properly, you might create a set of scenario-based acceptance criteria that looks something like this:
This user story acceptance criteria example describes specific scenarios users might encounter while using the system. By defining these scenarios and their corresponding acceptance criteria, teams can ensure that the system works correctly in each situation and meets the needs of the stakeholders.
It’s important to note that scenario-based acceptance criteria should be based on realistic scenarios and use cases. They should reflect the stakeholders’ needs and the users’ expectations.
How to Choose the Right Approach
It is essential to choose the right approach to creating acceptance criteria. Here are some factors to consider when selecting the type and structure of acceptance criteria:
The complexity of the feature or functionality: Rule-based acceptance criteria can be helpful when working on complex components or functionalities. Scenario-based acceptance criteria may be more appropriate for simple systems or functionalities.
Needs of the stakeholders: It is crucial to understand the needs of the stakeholders and ensure that the acceptance criteria reflect those needs. If stakeholders are concerned about specific scenarios or use cases, scenario-based acceptance criteria may be the best approach.
Expectations of the users: Acceptance criteria should reflect the users’ expectations. If users have specific requirements for a feature or functionality, you need to add those requirements to the list.
Project timeline: The timeline for the project can also impact the choice of approach. If there is limited time to create acceptance criteria, a more straightforward process may be necessary.
Development methodology: The type of development methodology can also impact the choice of approach. For example, scenario-based acceptance criteria may be more appropriate if the team uses an Agile methodology.
Choosing the right approach to creating acceptance criteria depends on many factors. Consider them carefully and select a method most accurately reflecting the stakeholders’ needs and the users’ expectations.
General Rules on How to Write Acceptance Criteria
Five commonly used rules can help you address problems with acceptance criterion phrasing. These principles will save time while establishing better communication between the product owner and the development team. Here are some general rules to follow when writing acceptance criteria:
- Avoid “not”
Use positive language instead of negative language when writing acceptance criteria. Avoid “not” and focus on what the product or feature should do. For example, instead of saying, “The product should not crash,” say, “The product should function without any crashes.”
- Use active voice
Use active voice when writing acceptance criteria. It makes it easier to understand and helps to identify who is responsible for each action. For example, instead of saying, “The product should be tested,” say, “The testing team should test the product.”
- Avoid using pronouns
Use specific nouns instead of pronouns to avoid confusion. For example, instead of saying, “They should test the product,” say, “The testing team should test the product.” It is crucial when multiple people or teams are involved in the project.
- Avoid conjunctions
Avoid using conjunctions like “and” or “or” in acceptance criteria. It can make the requirements ambiguous and hard to understand. Instead, break the statement into separate parts. For example, instead of saying, “The product should be fast and easy to use,” say, “The product should be fast. The product should be easy to use.”
- Avoid unattainable absolutes
Avoid using “always,” “never,” or “100%” in acceptance criteria. These absolutes are often impossible to achieve or test, leading to confusion and frustration. Instead, focus on what is achievable and measurable. For example, instead of saying, “The product should always be perfect,” say, “The product should function without any errors.”
Look at well-written acceptance criteria examples:
- The login page should allow users to enter their email addresses and passwords.
- The search function should return relevant results based on the user’s query.
- The checkout process should enable users to enter their payment information and complete the transaction without errors.
- The product should load within 3 seconds on a 4G network.
- Once users register, they should receive an email notification to their s email address.
Ready-to-use Acceptance Criteria Templates
Writing acceptance criteria can be time-consuming and challenging, especially if you’re new to the process. Available templates can help streamline the process and ensure that you cover all the necessary bases. But first things first: we need to create user stories.
Creating User Stories Templates
User stories are a crucial aspect of agile software development, as they provide a simple and effective way to capture the needs of the stakeholders.
As a [user], I want to [action] so that [benefit]
It is one of the most commonly used user story templates. It’s a straightforward way to describe the needs of the user.
Here are a couple of user story examples written using this template:
- As a customer, I want to search for products by keyword to find the products that interest me quickly.
- As a mobile app user, I want to be able to save my search filters so that I don’t have to re-enter them every time I search.
Given-When-Then Acceptance Criteria Template
The Given-When-Then (GWT) template is a popular and effective way of writing scenario-based acceptance criteria. It’s a simple format that breaks down the criteria into three parts:
Given: This describes the initial conditions or state of the system before the user action.
When: This describes the user action that triggers the system to perform a function.
Then: This describes the expected outcome or result of the user action.
Here’s an example of acceptance criteria written using the GWT template:
Given that the user logs into the system,
When the user clicks the “Add to Cart” button,
Then the system should add the item to the user’s cart.
You can see the similarities of this approach with behavior-driven development (BDD). It uses natural language to describe the expected behavior of the system. You can add the “And” element to the account for other conditions or outcomes in more complex scenarios. For example:
Given a registered user is on the product page,
When the user adds the product to the cart,
Then the product should be added to the cart,
And the cart should display the updated total.
Comprehensive Acceptance Criteria Template
You can use a template that covers all aspects of acceptance criteria. It includes the following additional elements:
It describes the feature or functionality from the user’s perspective.
It describes the situation and user behavior.
Here’s an example of comprehensive acceptance criteria:
User story: As a registered user, I want to be able to view my order history.
Scenario: Trying to view previous orders.
Given a registered user logs in,
When the user enters their profile page,
Then the link to order history is visible,
And if the user clicks on the link,
Given the user made previous purchases,
When the page opens,
Then the list of prior orders is displayed.
These templates can be beneficial for teams that are new to writing acceptance criteria. However, it’s important to note that templates will work only for most projects or teams. Feel free to modify the templates or create your own to fit your needs.
Best Practices for Writing Acceptance Criteria
The product owner or project manager usually writes acceptance criteria, but the process can involve the development team’s input. We recommend following several best practices to ensure that the requirements accurately reflect the stakeholders’ needs and the users’ expectations.
Tips for Writing Acceptance Criteria
Start as soon as possible:
Before the software development process starts, you should define all acceptance criteria so your team can know their goals.
Keep them specific and measurable:
Acceptance criteria should be specific enough that anyone can understand them and measurable so that you can test them.
Use clear and concise language:
Use language that is easy to understand and avoid ambiguity, confusion, or misinterpretation.
Collaborate with stakeholders:
Please work with the stakeholders to ensure the acceptance criteria accurately reflect their expectations. They should be involved in defining these criteria and providing feedback to ensure it can fully satisfy their needs.
Keep them up-to-date:
As the project progresses, the acceptance criteria may need to be updated to reflect changes in the system or stakeholder needs.
Use templates to help guide the process and ensure the inclusion of all necessary elements.
Focus on essential details:
Acceptance criteria should focus on essential details necessary for the software to meet the users’ needs. Avoid including unnecessary information to ensure clarity in determining if the software meets the acceptance criteria.
Make them achievable:
Additional details and unnecessary functionality can clutter the backlog and become a developer problem. Define the most crucial features first to make meeting the project’s deadlines easier.
Providing examples of how the software should function can be helpful when defining acceptance criteria. It can help stakeholders and developers understand how the software should behave in different situations.
Review and test acceptance criteria:
Acceptance criteria should be ready for reviewing and testing to ensure they accurately reflect the stakeholders’ needs and the users’ expectations. It helps identify gaps or issues you must address before releasing the software.
By following these best practices, you can ensure that the software has high quality and meets the project’s requirements.
Challenges in Writing Acceptance Criteria
While writing acceptance criteria is essential to the software development process, it can also present several challenges. Here are some of the common challenges that teams may encounter when writing these criteria:
Ambiguity and vagueness:
Acceptance criteria can be challenging to write because they must be specific and unambiguous. However, stakeholders may use vague language or not provide enough detail, leading to ambiguity and making it difficult to determine if the software meets the criteria.
One of the main challenges in writing acceptance criteria is balancing scope and specifics. Writing overly complicated acceptance criteria can lead to confusion and make it difficult to determine if the software meets user expectations. It is important to focus on the essential details and avoid including unnecessary or overly complex requirements.
Defining acceptance criteria during development:
It would be hard for your team of developers to know what they should do if the acceptance criteria of features and functionality they should work on still need to be clarified. The solution: start early.
Misalignment with customer requirements:
Acceptance criteria should reflect the stakeholders’ needs and the users’ expectations. However, misalignment with customer requirements can occur if stakeholders fail to provide enough detail or if there is a lack of communication between the development team and stakeholders.
Inadequate testing and validation:
You should test and validate acceptance criteria to ensure the software meets the requirements. However, inadequate testing and validation can occur if the testing process needs to be more thorough or if the acceptance criteria need to be adequately validated.
To overcome these challenges, you can establish clear communication with stakeholders and ensure that the acceptance criteria accurately reflect their needs and expectations. Focusing on the main details and keeping the wording simple is also essential. Testing and validation should be thorough to ensure that the software meets the requirements and that there are no issues or gaps. By addressing these challenges, you can create acceptance criteria that accurately reflect the stakeholders’ needs and the users’ expectations, leading to a successful software development project.
Acceptance criteria provide a clear understanding of the needs and expectations of stakeholders and users, which in turn helps developers to create software that meets those needs and expectations.
To ensure that acceptance criteria are effective, you need to adhere to the best practices:
- Collaborate with stakeholders
- Use clear and concise language
- Focus on essential details
- Provide examples
- Review and test
Despite the challenges that may arise when writing acceptance criteria, you can overcome them with clear communication and planning.
If your team needs help writing effective acceptance criteria, consider hiring a team of IntelliSoft experts who can provide guidance and expertise to ensure your acceptance criteria are clear, concise, and compelling.
Remember, effective user story acceptance criteria are essential for creating successful products. By following best practices and addressing any challenges, your team can create software that meets the needs and expectations of stakeholders and users, leading to a successful and satisfying outcome.
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