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What is Acceptance Criteria? Examples, Formats, & Templates

25th Jun, 2024
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    What is Acceptance Criteria? Examples, Formats, & Templates

    Let’s think of a scenario where your development team is working on a set of user stories for a product. At the end of a sprint, the developer might have marked one story as complete—but the Product Owner thinks otherwise! The story is pushed to the next sprint for further work, and the team velocity is reduced as a result. 

    This misunderstanding could have been avoided if the developers had a clear, unambiguous understanding of what the Product Owner’s expectations actually were. You need not worry! Below is a discussion on why we need user story acceptance criteria, how to format it, and user stories examples etc.

    What is Acceptance Criteria?

    Acceptance Criteria

    Acceptance criteria are the predefined requirements that must be met, taking all possible scenarios into account, to consider a user story to be finished. They describe the conditions that a software product must satisfy to be accepted by a user, customer, or other stakeholders. User stories, on the other hand, are brief descriptions of customer needs, written from their perspective, and focus on the "why" of the work.

    In other words, acceptance criteria specify the conditions under which a user story can be said to be ‘done’. When all the criteria are met, the team can set the task aside and move on to the next story. The best Agile certifications will help you deliver value faster and achieve project success.

    Why Do You Need User Story Acceptance Criteria?

    As our example illustrates, having a properly articulated set of acceptance criteria will remove all ambiguity around the feature that is being developed. The developers will know what the client expects and will be clear about what the expected functionality is.  

    Acceptance criteria are used to: 

    • Manage expectations: Acceptance stories clearly define the boundaries of the task. Usually, acceptance criteria are testable, with yes/no or pass/fail results that leave no room for misinterpretation. 
    • Arrive at a shared understanding with the client: There have been instances where the client might feel that they needed more from the feature, and that it does not meet their requirement in its entirety. Well documented acceptance criteria will address all such ambiguity. 
    • Spell out the functionality for tests: The defined criteria will help to check whether the system is performing in line with the expectations. 
    • Work on estimates: When the team is clear about the boundaries of each task, they will be in a position to make accurate estimates.  
    • Manage scope: Scope creep happens when stakeholders change the requirements midway through the project. One deliverable could suddenly expand to five, and unless the scope is properly defined at the outset the user story will be liable to scope creep, throwing schedules and budgets into free fall. 

    You can also find it interesting to read about the 5 whys root cause analysis in the agile team.

    Who Is Responsible for Writing Acceptance Criteria?

    The responsibility for writing acceptance criteria typically falls on the collaborative efforts of the product owner, and other relevant stakeholders in a project. The product owner, who represents the customer or end-users, often takes the lead in defining acceptance criteria based on the project's goals and user needs. The business development manager may also play a significant role in gathering requirements, understanding user expectations, and translating them into clear and actionable acceptance criteria.

    The writer must be careful to ensure that the acceptance criteria are written from the perspective of the end user, and for this reason the product owner (who is considered to be the voice of the customer) often undertakes this task.  

    However, it is now common practice to make this a shared activity in which everyone, including developers, testers and QA people, take part; so that there is a 360-degree understanding across the team as to what the feature will entail. The more roles that are involved in this activity, the better — as this gives more opportunities for team collaboration and discussions. 

    Many hands make for better work, and there could be some functionality, dependency or scenario that one person has missed out, but the other person has been able to identify; simply because they are coming at the problem from a different angle.

    When Should User Story Acceptance Criteria Be Written?

    The acceptance criteria should be written before the user story is moved from the product backlog into the sprint backlog. This usually happens during the backlog grooming session at the end of each sprint (or for the first time, before the first sprint starts). 

    It is important to write and finalize the criteria before the implementation begins, so that any challenges faced during the actual work do not cloud the definition of the task functionality.  

    Also—and this is a bit tricky—always ensure that the acceptance criteria are not written too early. As is the nature of Agile projects, priorities keep evolving as requirements change, and they may need to be rewritten.

    Examples of Well-articulated Acceptance Criteria
    Acceptance criteria user story example

    This is the user story: 

    • As an Agile trainer, I want to print an assessment report, so I can share the details of a student’s performance on the course with her employer. 

    The acceptance criteria for this story could be: 

    • Display the student’s assessment scores for each of the tests completed. 
    • Choose the scores that must be shared with the employer. 
    • Pick the option to Share the report (other options can be Print or Save). 
    • Choose the person with whom the report should be shared. 
    • If there is an incorrect response, display an error message. 
    • Share the document through email. 

    Here’s another user story: 

    • As an online shopper, I want to view my cart, so that I can make the payment. 

    The acceptance criteria for this story might read: 

    • On clicking ‘view cart’, the cart opens up in a new tab. 
    • Numbers of each item are displayed and can be changed. 
    • Total invoice amount is displayed. 
    • On clicking ‘checkout’ tab, you can select delivery time and address. 
    • On clicking ‘proceed to payment’, various payment options are displayed. 
    • Choose between various payment options. 
    • Set the chosen option as default option, if required. 
    • On clicking ‘place order and pay’, you can enter account details, and are taken to the bank website for making the payment. 

    Tips for Writing Acceptance Criteria with Example

    Acceptance Criteria with Examples

    Source Link: productcoalition.com

    The image above, which needs no explanation, shows what could happen when the acceptance criteria are not well defined! Each of the outcomes has a tree, a rope and a swing; but they are a far cry from the poor customer’s ask. 

    So, now that you have understood what acceptance criteria are, and why they are important, here are some recommended best practices for writing good acceptance criteria!  

    1. Make sure that each and every product backlog item or user story has a unique set of acceptance criteria.  
    2. They should be simple, articulated well, and should be easily testable. Each criterion should answer to ‘yes/no or pass/fail. 
    3. Make sure that the acceptance criteria are defined, and frozen, before implementation of the user story. No tweaking allowed! 
    4. Focus on the end result, not the approach. In other words, think of the What and not the How. 
    5. Wherever relevant, include all the non-functional criteria along with the functional aspects, so that there is a clear and complete understanding of what is needed. 
    6. It would be good practice to set up a process where the team members write the acceptance criteria, and the Product Owner signs off on it. The PO holds the product vision, and this way you can be sure that the overall goals are being met. 

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    Acceptance Criteria Templates 
    acceptance criteria templates

    Acceptance criteria templates are essential tools for ensuring clarity and consistency across Agile teams. They provide a structured format that helps capture all necessary details, making it easier to communicate requirements and expectations.  

    A commonly used template is the Given/When/Then format, which outlines scenarios, actions, and outcomes in a logical sequence. This method helps teams visualize the flow of tasks and expected results. Another effective approach is the checklist format, where each criterion is a distinct, testable statement. These templates standardize the way acceptance criteria are written, reducing ambiguity and enhancing understanding.  

    By using these templates, teams can ensure that acceptance criteria are comprehensive and align with the project’s goals, ultimately leading to more efficient and successful project outcomes. Implementing these templates can significantly improve the quality of deliverables, streamline communication, and foster a shared understanding among all stakeholders. 

    How Should You Format User Story Acceptance Criteria?

    There are two commonly used formats for acceptance criteria: 


    For a user story that typically follows this format: 

    As a (intended user), I want to (intended action), so that (goal/outcome of action). 

    …the acceptance criteria would be like this: 

    Scenario: (explain scenario). Given (how things begin), when (action taken), then (outcome of taking action). 

    For example: 

    User story: As an online buyer, I want to add a book to my shopping cart, so that I can purchase it. 

    Acceptance criteria:  Given that I have shortlisted three books in my wish list, when I click on one book, then it gets added to my shopping cart. 

    Verification List  

    The team makes a verification checklist, defining a list of pass/fail or yes/no statements that will mark the functionality as complete.

    Whatever format you choose, it should be something that the team is comfortable working with. 

    Acceptance Criteria vs User Stories: How Do They Differ?

    The following sections provide a comprehensive overview of their purposes, scopes, roles in development, and their importance as communication tools. 

    ParametersAcceptance CriteriaUser Stories
    1. Purpose and FocusAcceptance criteria focus on technical and functional aspects.  User stories focus on user needs and experiences and are often told from the user's perspective. Usually something as simple as "As [user type], [action or functionality] is required to achieve [benefit or reason]
    2. Scope and SpecificityAcceptance criteria offer detailed specificity, presenting requirements necessary for a complete user story. User stories tend to be broad and high-level, providing the user requirements without delving into technical intricacies.
    3. Role in the development processAcceptance criteria come into play during the implementation phase, providing guidance to developers and testers by clearly defining when a story is ready.  User stories help prioritize the backlog and serve as the basis for discussion and planning
    4. Communication ToolsAcceptance criteria bridge the gap between developers and testers, ensuring that both parties agree on what needs to be accomplished. User stories are a powerful tool for communication between business and technical teams

    Value of Acceptance Criteria to Agile Organizations  

    Acceptance criteria bring immense value to Agile organizations. They provide clear goals for each user's story, enhancing team understanding and efficiency. Effective acceptance criteria reduce ambiguities, leading to better quality outputs and streamlined processes, embodying the core values of "what is Agile acceptance criteria." You can get trained on acceptance criteria by following  KnowledgeHut courses on Agile. 

    Common Mistakes While Writing Acceptance Criteria 

    • Writing acceptance criteria might seem straightforward, but several common mistakes can undermine their effectiveness. One frequent error is being too vague, which leads to misunderstandings and misaligned expectations. Specificity is crucial; acceptance criteria should be detailed enough to leave no room for interpretation.  
    • Another common mistake is focusing on how a task should be completed rather than what the result should be. Acceptance criteria should describe the desired outcome, not the steps to achieve it.  
    • Additionally, neglecting non-functional requirements, such as performance or security, can result in incomplete criteria that miss critical aspects of the user story. Lastly, writing acceptance criteria without collaboration can lead to gaps in understanding. Involving developers, testers, and other stakeholders ensures a comprehensive view of the task at hand. 

    By avoiding these pitfalls, teams can create clear, actionable acceptance criteria that drive successful project outcomes and enhance overall team efficiency. 

    Summing up 

    A user story, on its own, can be interpreted in a hundred different ways. It is only when the acceptance criteria are defined that there is complete clarity on the expected outcomes, and both the customer and the developer are in sync with regard to the functionality that a user story will provide. 

    By setting up a clear process for defining acceptance criteria and making sure that they are taken seriously, Agile teams can make sure that there is no ambiguity, everyone is on the same page, and the customer gets what they have asked for. The best Project Management certification courses will help you get globally recognized accreditations.

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    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    1Are acceptance criteria only applicable to user stories? 

    Acceptance criteria, integral to Agile, are primarily associated with user stories. They specify the conditions under which a user story is completed. However, the concept of "what is acceptance criteria" can extend beyond user stories to larger project elements, reflecting Agile's flexibility.  

    2How do acceptance criteria contribute to the Definition of Done in Agile? 

    Acceptance criteria directly influence the Definition of Done by providing specific benchmarks for user stories. They clarify what successful completion looks like, aligning with the broader project goals outlined in the Definition of Done.  

    3Can acceptance criteria be used as a form of documentation in Agile projects? 

    Yes, acceptance criteria can serve as key documentation in Agile projects. They detail "what is acceptance criteria in Agile" for each user story, providing a reference for the project's requirements and scope.  


    Lindy Quick

    Blog Author

    Lindy Quick, SPCT, is a dynamic Transformation Architect and Senior Business Agility Consultant with a proven track record of success in driving agile transformations. With expertise in multiple agile frameworks, including SAFe, Scrum, and Kanban, Lindy has led impactful transformations across diverse industries such as manufacturing, defense, insurance/financial, and federal government. Lindy's exceptional communication, leadership, and problem-solving skills have earned her a reputation as a trusted advisor. Currently associated with KnowledgeHut and upGrad, Lindy fosters Lean-Agile principles and mindset through coaching, training, and successful execution of transformations. With a passion for effective value delivery, Lindy is a sought-after expert in the field.

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