What is Acceptance Criteria & How To Write It?

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Feb 28, 2022

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If you are working in agile then you must be aware of user stories having acceptance criteria. Agile is one of the most commonly used approaches that is followed in the project for successful and fruitful deliverables. There are various concepts included in this and one such is user stories. The user stories form an integral part of this framework and with the acceptance criteria mentioned in them, they become very useful for all the teams involved in the project. In this article today, we are going to learn all about the acceptance criteria, their examples, why it is so necessary, and what the best practices are to write it. After you finish reading this page, you will have a great understanding of this and if you want to have a career as a scrum master in the scrum team, then going for scrum training can be your solution. So let us dive deep into the pool of knowledge here and learn more about it.

What are the acceptance criteria in a user story?

Before we are going to learn about the acceptance criteria in the user story, we should refresh our knowledge of what is the user story. When a requirement comes or new features need to be developed, a simple story is formed that states the required in brief. This is the simplest form of providing the requirement to the development team and it includes the things needed to be done. Now the requirements are clearly defined in the user story, it is time to know the set of instructions that are needed to satisfy those requirements. These requirements should meet the satisfaction and should be accepted by the product owner or the stakeholders of the projects.

These are the conditions that should be present in the software product and should be accepted by the end-users as well. There are so many advantages when the team has well-written acceptance criteria as this is going to increase the quality of the work done by the team and when the development is completed, there are fewer issues and more satisfaction from the end-users and the stakeholders in the project.

What is the need for having acceptance criteria in the user story?

The natural question that follows when we talk about the criteria of acceptance is why we even need this in the product development cycle.

Keeping expectations in check

When the requirements are defined in a story, there are certain things that need to be set so that the requirements are met in a certain way. With the criteria for acceptance in place, the expectations can be managed as they are clearly stated in each of the user stories. This will make sure that all the things that are needed to be done in the story are getting completed without an issue.

Shared understanding

One of the major reasons for defining it is to make sure that the team is always keeping the client’s expectations in check. With this, the understanding can be shared and the product developed meets the requirements of the client. The acceptance criteria in the story make sure that the client and the team have the same understanding of the product and joint efforts are put in that direction. It is seen many times that clients require more things from that feature, but when those requirements are clearly mentioned in the criteria, the chances of having any kind of confusion can be avoided.

Accurate estimates

Having accurate estimates of the work to be completed in the sprint is always a daunting task and if things are not clear in the story, then this becomes very irrelevant. But when the acceptance criteria in agile are well defined, the team will be able to know what is expected and then they will be able to provide an accurate estimate of the time needed to work on that feature and also follow all the criteria for that feature.

Better scope understanding

When the requirements are changed in between the project, the chances of having scope creep increases and if those things are not clearly defined in the story, this can fall very badly on the project and will take the cost and resources of the project with it. But when the criteria are being used in the stories, it can be made sure that the scope is very clearly defined and the team is able to deliver as per the requirements given by the clients.

Better testing in the team

Now that the things required for the feature to be developed are very clearly defined, it gives a clear picture of the functionalities that are needed to be tested once it is developed. The developers will be able to do the unit testing and see if all the criteria of acceptance are met. This is going to increase productivity and lesser bugs will come. Overall, this is going to have a high success rate in the story and then in the overall project. You can learn more about these benefits in your CSM certification training.

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When should Acceptance Criteria be written?

There are various timelines when the product owner or the manager can write the criteria. They can write it when they are going over the product backlog or even when the user story is going to be added in the sprint. But the main thing to be noted here is that it should be written before any kind of development work is going to start for the particular requirement.  Also, writing it too far early can backfire as well. We are very well aware of the fact that in agile practice, the user sorties are added in the sprint based on the priority, and with time, there are chances that the user stories that you have written it, gets di-prioritize and all the efforts that you have put go to the waste. So finding the right time to write the acceptance criteria is very important as this will make sure that the latest requirements are written and there is no waste of effort while writing it for the story.

In this case, you can just discuss the acceptance criteria for the requirement or the feature loosely and when the story is going to be part of the actual sprint, you can give due time to clearly mention them and explain them to the team as well.

Who is responsible for writing Acceptance Criteria?

This is the question that might hover in your mind but there is no right or wrong answer to it. There are many people in the team that could write the story. Usually, if we talk about the normal circumstances, the product owner or the product manager is responsible for this, but they do not have to write these in the user stories, but they should be part of the discussion at least. This is needed as they are going to provide insight into what is needed and if the acceptance criteria to be written are going to be the client’s expectations.

The customers’ needs are given the topmost priority when writing the acceptance criteria as mentioned above, so having an opinion of the product owner is very much necessary. One of the major points to know here is that if this activity is going to be completed in the group that includes the developers and QA team, then there are fruitful results to be obtained. They will be able to point out the things that might get issued by the product owner while stating them, as the developers and QA team are very well versed with the technical side of the software development and also, this will give the team a better interaction among them. This will facilitate the whole process and each team will be on the same page. This will help in getting a high-quality product without having so much time to waste.

How should Acceptance Criteria be written?

How the acceptance criteria are needed to be written mostly depends on the team and how they want to move further with this. There is no fixed way to write the acceptance criteria. There are mostly two formats that are being generally used when the acceptance criteria are needed to be written in the user story, they are:

Scenario-based format

This type of format follows the GWT (Given/When/Then kind of approach which is based on the scenarios and the illustrations related to it. This can be explained as What is given, when the actions are being taken, and then what is intended to happen. This is one of the traditional approaches that is being followed by the team. There are various acceptance criteria examples that you can learn to have a better understanding of this. For example, the requirement is that the user will get the link to reset the password when the user clicks on the forget password button on the page. Here, the given conditions are clearly defined and what needs to be done is defined and the results are also given- the link will be sent to change the password to the user which will enable him to change it.

Check list-based format

Another commonly used format is the checklist kind of format where the list of things that are needed to be completed in the story is defined very clearly. It has the verification list that is crossed by the developers as they are moving forward in their development and unit testing. This list can be used to define the pass/fail scenarios of the requirement and can be used to develop the requirement.

Best practices to write acceptance criteria

There is no right or wrong format to choose to write acceptance criteria. Today here also, we are going to share some of the best practices to make sure that your team gets the best outcome from the acceptance criteria.

Make sure the acceptance criteria for each of the user stories is unique and should not match with others. This is going to diminish the purpose of writing the well-defined acceptance criteria for the story and it will not fulfill its purpose.

Never skip writing the acceptance criteria; even if it is just one point. There are many things that might come later in the project, a well-defined acceptance criteria will help navigate the developers and make sure the requirements are developed in a productive way.

Always write the acceptance criteria before the implementation of the requirements and features. There are repercussions if the acceptance criteria are being written once the development is started on the story. It should be made sure that criteria are frozen before the work starts and there should not be any change in that.

Writing the acceptance criteria which are well defined and articulated is very much needed. If you are not going to have the acceptance criteria written in a good way, then it is going to waste a lot of time in comprehending them at each stage of development.

When the acceptance criteria focus on the end product, they are successful. Also, I should be made sure that each of the acceptance criteria is tested independently.

Along with this, one of the major things that the teams in the project should be doing is to have a meeting where these acceptance criteria are discussed along with the user stories. Just as a clear and transparent discussion is a requirement while discussing the use story, it should be done for acceptance criteria as well. This will make sure that everyone shares the same vision as the PO and meet the requirements of the client.

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Key takeaway

The use of acceptance criteria scrum is very useful as we have seen above. There are so many ways that the team is going to get benefitted from very well-defined acceptance criteria in their work. Having simple and approachable criteria is going to help the team a lot. They are dependent on the requirement and how things are done in the project so when you are going to have them, make sure that everyone is on board with that and knows what to do with the acceptance criteria. This way, the team can get the most out of it.

With Certified Scrum Master Certification, you can learn various other concepts like this and add them to your skillset. You are going to have a better understanding of how scrum works and what are the best practices to follow in the scrum. With StarAgile, you can learn from the best professionals and know all about agile and scrum. Here not only, you are going to have a wonderful grip on the theoretical concepts but also get yourself familiarized with the real-life scenarios. So give your career a learning boost now and move forward.

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