Agile Acceptance Criteria

Instructor: Stephen Meyer

Stephen has worked as a Project Manager and is PMP certified, as well as certified by the Scrum Alliance.

The value of a project is determined by its completion and whether or not the results satisfy the project objectives. In Agile, acceptance criteria are used to determine if a project has been completed as requested. In this lesson, we will learn about Agile acceptance criteria and how they are applied in judging a project's success.

Purpose and Source

Pablo has recently taken on the role of Product Owner at his company. He is responsible for establishing project requirements with input from other stakeholders and communicating them to the development team. He is confident that he can provide high-level requirements but is concerned about the low-level details, wondering why they are necessary and his responsibility.

In Agile, project work takes the form of user stories, which include desired functionality for a particular user. For example, a user story from a project to create an online job board might say, 'As an applicant, I want the ability to enter contact information so that prospective employers can contact me.' These are high-level requirements that provide direction but do not give specific detail about what is expected. It is the low-level details that give expectations of what is needed.

The low-level details take the form of acceptance criteria, also known as conditions of satisfaction. These are specific requirements that must be met in the user story. They are items that have a pass or fail result. The purpose of acceptance criteria is to define clearly what would be considered the successful completion of a project. If each of the acceptance criteria is met, the user story can be regarded as complete. Without them, the endpoint is ambiguous.

It is important that the Product Owner creates the user stories and the acceptance criteria because they provide the full picture of each aspect of the project. The Product Owner is responsible for casting the vision of the project and takes ownership of what is produced. Once Pablo understands this and the purpose of acceptance criteria, he seeks to learn more about that of which they consist.

Format and Types

Acceptance criteria involve three main components: a preexisting condition, an action, and a result. The most common form is: given some preexisting condition, when I perform this action, this result occurs, best known as given/when/then. An example from the online job board user story would be:

  • Given that all required fields are filled in
  • When I click Save as Draft
  • Then my contact information is saved for my application

It is important that the acceptance criteria define 'what' and not 'how'. In the example, it is clear that data needs to be stored, but it is not specified how this occurs.

While acceptance criteria should be consistent in format, they can vary by type, including functional criteria, non-functional criteria, and performance criteria. Functional criteria are items that involve specific actions that can be measured with a pass or fail. The given example is functional acceptance criteria. Verification can occur of whether or not the data was stored after the user attempted to save. This can occur manually or through automation. It is important that functional acceptance criteria include adverse scenarios in addition to positive scenarios. Or, results that should not happen as well as the results that should.

In addition to functional acceptance criteria, there are also non-functional criteria. These are items that include things like design or user experience. An example would be confirming that the layout of a web page matches the wireframes or mockups provided. Manual verification of non-functional criteria is always performed because it is visual confirmation.

The final type of criteria that can exist is performance criteria. Performance criteria can involve a number of evaluations. Some of the more common ones are bandwidth, which measures how much data can pass through, and response time, which measures the time that elapses between an action and a result. One performance criterium that is growing in importance is security, which involves the ability to protect user data and grant access based on permissions. Verification of performance criteria primarily occurs through automation.

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