Definition of Done vs Acceptance Criteria: A Comprehensive Comparison

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Oct 03, 2023

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When we talk about Agile development and Scrum methodologies, two terms often take centre stage when it comes to ensuring the successful completion of a project: "Definition of Done" (DoD) and "Acceptance Criteria." These terms might sound similar, but they serve distinct purposes and play pivotal roles in the software development process. In this comprehensive article, we'll delve deep into the realms of the Definition of Done vs Acceptance Criteria, exploring their definitions, differences, and crucial roles in delivering high-quality software.

Definition of Done (DoD)

The definition of Done is a set of requirements that a user story must adhere to for the development team to consider it complete. It acts as a universal checklist, ensuring that every product backlog item (PBI) or user story meets specific quality and completeness standards. While "Definition of Done" is often associated with Scrum, its principles extend to various Agile methodologies.

The Main Characteristics of the Definition of Done

  1. Universal Applicability: The DoD is common for all user stories, encompassing criteria that apply to every item in the product backlog.
  2. Shippability:  In most cases, adherence to the DoD implies that the product increment is shippable. This means that it meets the quality and completeness standards required for deployment.
  3. Scrum Guide Definition:  The concept of DoD is well-defined in the Scrum Guide, making it a fundamental aspect of Scrum practices.
  4. Team Communication:  It serves as a means of communication within the development team, ensuring everyone shares a common understanding of quality and completeness.
  5. Overall Software Quality:  The DoD contributes to the overall quality of the software product by setting high standards for every user story.

Example - Definition of Done

In a software development context, a DoD might include criteria such as:

  • Code peer-reviewed.
  • Code completed.
  • Code reviewed.
  • Unit tests passed.
  • Functional tests passed.
  • Acceptance tests completed.
  • The product owner checked and accepted.

Acceptance Criteria

Acceptance Criteria, on the other hand, are specific conditions or scenarios that must be met to confirm that a user story or product backlog item (PBI) functions as expected. While they share the goal of ensuring quality, they are uniquely tailored to each individual user story or PBI, taking into account its distinct requirements.

Key Characteristics of Acceptance Criteria

  1. Story-Specific:  Acceptance Criteria are unique to each user story or PBI, as they focus on the specific functionality or features of that item.
  2. Not Defined in the Scrum Guide:  Unlike the DoD, the term "Acceptance Criteria" is not explicitly defined in the Scrum Guide. However, it is widely used in Agile and Scrum practices.
  3. Clarity and Understanding: They clarify what the development team should build before they start working on a user story, ensuring everyone has a shared understanding of the required functionality.
  4. Completion Verification: Acceptance Criteria help verify the completeness of a user story through automated tests, providing a clear indication of when the story is ready for acceptance.

Example - Acceptance Criteria

Consider a user story for an online registration form. The acceptance criteria for this story might include:

  • A user cannot submit a form without completing all mandatory fields.
  • Information from the form is stored in the registration database.
  • Payment can be made via credit card.
  • An acknowledgement email is sent to the user after submitting the form.

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Bridging the Gap: DoD and Acceptance Criteria Collaboration

While DoD and Acceptance Criteria serve different purposes, they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they often coexist and complement each other, collectively ensuring the successful delivery of software increments in Agile and Scrum projects.

Also Read: Nexus Framework

DoD and Acceptance Criteria Relationship

  • Collaborative Nature:  User stories encapsulate both DoD and Acceptance Criteria, creating a synergy between quality standards and functionality details. The DoD sets the overarching quality expectations, while the Acceptance Criteria provide detailed functional guidance.
  • Pre-Sprint Refinement: Some Acceptance Criteria may be identified during ongoing backlog refinement events before the sprint begins. This collaborative effort helps define the requirements and expectations.
  • Sprint Planning Discussions: Additional Acceptance Criteria may emerge during sprint planning when the development team engages in detailed discussions about user stories. These discussions ensure that all aspects of functionality are considered.
  • Individual Focus: While DoD is about the overall quality and shippability of the product increment, Acceptance Criteria focus on the specific features and behaviours of individual user stories.

Divergence and Convergence

While DoD and Acceptance Criteria might have different scopes and applications, they ultimately converge at the point of product increment completion. Both elements must be met to consider a user story or PBI complete, and by extension, the product increment as a whole. In essence, the software is not deemed complete until both these lists are satisfactorily checked off.

Goals and Significance

Goals of Definition of Done (DoD)

  1. Common Understanding: DoD aims to establish a common understanding within the development team about the expected quality and completeness of each product backlog item.
  2. Quality Assurance: It serves as a checklist against which user stories are evaluated, ensuring that they meet the required quality standards.
  3. Shippability Assurance: The DoD promotes the concept of shippability, emphasizing that the product increment should be in a state ready for deployment at the end of each sprint.

Goals of Acceptance Criteria

  1. Clarity and Precision:  Acceptance Criteria aim to provide clear and precise guidance on what constitutes a successfully implemented user story.
  2. Completion Verification: They help team members verify that a user story is complete and fulfills the specified requirements.
  3. Customer Acceptance:  Acceptance Criteria define conditions that, when met, indicate that the customer is satisfied with the delivered functionality.
  4. Automated Testing:  They facilitate the creation of automated tests that can be used to validate the user story, ensuring consistent and repeatable testing.

Integration into Agile Practices

Incorporating DoD and Acceptance Criteria in Agile Development

  1. Backlog Refinement: Both DoD and Acceptance Criteria play a crucial role in backlog refinement. During these sessions, the development team and product owner collaborate to define and clarify the requirements and quality standards for upcoming user stories.
  2. Sprint Planning: Sprint planning is the stage where the finer details of Acceptance Criteria are often discussed. The development team breaks down user stories into tasks and identifies the specific conditions that must be met for each story.
  3. Daily Stand-Ups: Daily stand-up meetings provide opportunities for team members to align on progress. The DoD serves as a reference point to ensure that the work being done aligns with the defined quality standards.
  4. Review and Retrospective: At the end of a sprint, the product increment is reviewed against both DoD and Acceptance Criteria. Any deviations or issues are addressed in the retrospective, leading to continuous improvement.

Also Read: How to Psm1

Challenges and Pitfalls

Challenges in Implementing DoD and Acceptance Criteria

Ambiguity: Creating clear and unambiguous Acceptance Criteria can be challenging, leading to misunderstandings and potential rework.

Changing Requirements: Agile projects often face changing requirements, which can necessitate updates to both DoD and Acceptance Criteria.

Scope Creep: Expanding the scope of a user story without adjusting the Acceptance Criteria can lead to scope creep and confusion.

Communication: Effective communication within the team is essential to ensure that everyone understands and agrees upon the DoD and Acceptance Criteria.

Real-World Applications

DoD and Acceptance Criteria in Action

To illustrate the practical application of DoD and Acceptance Criteria, let's consider a real-world scenario in software development. The development team is tasked with creating a new feature for an e-commerce website that allows users to leave product reviews.

Definition of Done (DoD)

  1. The code for the feature is reviewed and approved.
  2. Unit tests are written and successfully pass.
  3. Functional tests ensure that the review feature functions as expected.
  4. Code is integrated into the main codebase without causing conflicts.
  5. The feature is documented for future reference.
  6. The product owner reviews and accepts the feature.

Acceptance Criteria

For this specific user story, the following Acceptance Criteria are defined:

  1. Users must be able to submit a review with a rating from 1 to 5 stars.
  2. Reviews should include a text description.
  3. Submitted reviews should be visible on the product page.
  4. Users can edit their own reviews.
  5. Reviews are sorted by most recent.
  6. An average rating is displayed for each product based on user reviews.
  7. Reviews must not contain offensive content.

In this scenario, the DoD sets the quality and completeness standards for the entire project, ensuring that every feature meets these criteria. The Acceptance Criteria, tailored to the specific review feature, provide the detailed functional requirements that must be met for this particular user story to be considered complete.

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In summary, the Definition of Done vs Acceptance Criteria is like two sides of the same coin, each indispensable in its own right, yet most powerful when working in harmony to drive the success of Agile and Scrum projects. The next time you embark on a sprint, remember that the journey to a successful product increment requires both clear quality standards (DoD) and precise functional specifications (Acceptance Criteria). As Agile methodologies continue to evolve and shape the software development landscape, the importance of these foundational concepts remains unwavering, ensuring that software products not only meet expectations but consistently exceed them. So, now you know about the definition of acceptance and done and the agility we need, if you are planning to go to the next level in the world of agile and scrum, StarAgile’s PSM Certification is the best choice for you.

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