What is Acceptance criteria: An overview


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Praise Iwuh

May 18, 2023

What would you say is your reason for purchasing any product or service? Most likely it is to help you solve a specific need. If that’s the case, then what happens when you’ve acquired a product that doesn’t solve your problems? That’s a very frustrating situation to be in, and the last thing any buyer wants to experience.

In software development, due to the cost involved and high business stakes that rely on product functionality, there is little margin for error or miscommunication between the user and provider. Acceptance criteria(AC) is a safety measure used to ensure that these sticky scenarios are avoided. It is a concept that has been in play as long as man has traded and bartered.

In software development and project management, however, the growing popularity of agile methodology has drawn the spotlight to acceptance criteria as an important component of product development and service delivery. In this article, we define AC and explain its importance.

What is Acceptance Criteria?

Acceptance Criteria in software development is a checklist of conditions a product or service must meet to be accepted by the user or customer. It is an essential component of product development that guides providers in delivering on the customer’s exact expectations. 

Acceptance criteria outline a clear definition of how a product must function or behave to be considered complete by the user. An AC is also commonly known as the “definition of done” in agile methodology, which literally defines its purpose.

During a product’s development, team members need to understand what’s included and what’s excluded from the scope of the user story, acceptance criteria could establish a borderline that helps. The criterion of user story acceptance not only informs the product behavior in happy path scenarios, but it also guides the user experience when things don’t work as intended. Essentially, It describes what would be verified as useful by the acceptance tests. When the product owner verifies particular user story acceptance criteria and the developed feature passes it, the development of the user story is considered a success.

What is a User Story?

The easiest way to understand what user stories are is through the vantage point of users. For instance, you have an app installed on your mobile phone and would like to have an additional feature of this app. How would you describe this new feature to a developer? 

A user story within the scope of software development and product management is a description of the features of a software system, commonly written from the perspective of an end user. Usually, it is an informal description written in a natural language and maybe recorded on index cards, sticky notes, or digitally in any project management software.

In the clearest of terms, a user story is a description of a feature often told from the perspective of the person who desires the new capability. It is usually short and simple.

How do user stories relate to acceptance criteria?

For one, user stories help express what value a product feature can bring and provide a clearer understanding of the end user’s rationale for certain functionality.

While acceptance criteria deals with the specifics needed to complete a User Story, a user story is a placeholder for a conversation about meeting the end user’s needs. Importantly, the latter is intentionally vague to allow the team freedom to decide the nitty-gritty of how a product will be built, Acceptance Criteria are the actual characteristics that qualify a software development process as complete. They are unique to each User Story. 

Why Is Acceptance Criteria Important?

Some of the benefits of utilising Acceptance criteria are:

Enhances Quality Assurance

Acceptance criteria helps enhance the quality assurance process by providing clear and testable requirements. It helps ensure that the software solution meets the desired outcomes and reduces the likelihood of defects or errors.

Defines Product Features 

Primarily, the team can reach a unanimous understanding of the problem because of acceptance criteria.`Precise details on functionality help the team understand whether the user story is completed and works as expected. An acceptance checklist is equally important because it clarifies the scope of the software's features. 

Visualises negative scenarios

Imagine for a moment that the AC is designed to require the system to recognize unsafe password inputs and prevent a user from proceeding further. Invalid password format is an example of a so-called negative scenario when a user does invalid inputs or behaves unexpectedly. Without a preset checklist, it may be difficult to define these scenarios and describe how the system must react to them.

Sets up Communication

Acceptance criteria help provide clarification on the product development details prior to the Team’s commencement of work, thus synchronizing the visions of the client and the development team, thus placing all parties of the requirements: Developers know exactly what kind of behavior the feature must demonstrate, while application development stakeholders and the client understand what’s expected from the feature.

Streamlines acceptance testing

User stories require acceptance testing. AC helps verify the story via automated tests since every item on the checklist must be independently testable and thus have a clear pass or fail scenarios.

Conducts feature evaluations

It is a lot easier for the team to know what exactly must be developed because of the details that an acceptance criteria provides. When the team has precise requirements, they can split user stories into tasks that can be correctly estimated.

Who is Responsible for Writing Acceptance Criteria?

It is common practice for the product owner to write acceptance criteria, but depending on the project or organisational structure it could be done by any member of the project team members handling requirement gathering or product management. 

Some figures whose contributions are essential to an effective AC are QA personnel, developers, business analysts, and the stakeholders. Incorporating feedback from all these perspectives helps to eliminate oversights and cover all possibilities or challenges.

When do you need Acceptance criteria?

Acceptance criteria should be created during the early stages of a project and before the commencement of the development process, while the specifics of the product are being defined. Acceptance criteria in agile development is not set in stone so it can be updated with new iterations. It is best to review AC from sprint to sprint.

Tips for Creating Effective Acceptance Criteria

Creating effective acceptance criteria is a critical step in the software development process. Here are some tips for creating effective acceptance criteria:

Involve stakeholders

It is important to involve all relevant stakeholders, such as customers, business analysts, developers, and testers, in the creation of acceptance criteria. This will help to ensure that the criteria are comprehensive and accurate, and that they meet the needs of all users.

Define testable scenarios

Acceptance criteria should be defined in terms of testable scenarios. This means that each criterion should be specific enough that it can be verified using a test case. For example, instead of writing "The system should be easy to use," write "The user should be able to complete the following tasks in less than 5 minutes: 1. Create a new account. 2. Add an item to their cart. 3. Checkout and purchase the item."

Be precise

Acceptance criteria should be written in clear and concise language. Avoid using technical terms that may not be understood by all stakeholders. For example, instead of writing "The system should use a distributed database to store user data," write "The system should be able to store and retrieve user data in a secure and reliable manner."

Prioritise requirements

Not all requirements are created equal. Some requirements are more important than others, and some have a greater impact on the overall project. When writing acceptance criteria, it is important to prioritize the requirements based on their importance and impact. This will help to ensure that the most critical requirements are met first.

Review and revise

Acceptance criteria should be reviewed and revised regularly throughout the software development process. This is because the requirements may change as the project progresses. For example, new requirements may be discovered, or existing requirements may need to be modified.


An acceptance criteria is a critical component of software development that helps ensure the successful delivery of software products that meet customer needs and expectations. By defining clear and testable requirements, acceptance criteria help improve collaboration, reduce project risk, and enhance quality assurance. An effective acceptance criteria helps development teams ensure that software solutions are delivered on time, within budget, and meet the desired outcomes.

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