Acceptance Criteria
Best practices Management
21 mins read
June 27, 2024

Acceptance Criteria in Testing: Complete Guide for Testers

Have you ever had a project fail in software testing, because stakeholders had different expectations? The main reason is often unclear, subpar acceptance criteria. Now, if you aligned your team with crystal-clear requirements, that would guarantee everyone is on the same page and give you completely different results. So, how do you achieve this? Welcome to the only guide you need for acceptance criteria in software testing. We’ll explore what acceptance criteria are, the various types, real-world examples, and best practices. Ready to transform your project management approach and ensure every project hits its mark? Let’s dive in.

Stefan Gogoll
Nurlan Suleymanov

What is the acceptance criteria?

Acceptance criteria are the specific conditions that a software product or feature must meet to be considered complete and satisfactory by the stakeholders. It can be applied at different levels, from the entire project or module level to an individual, granular requirement. They are a set of predefined requirements that the project must fulfill to be accepted by the client, customer, or end-user. When followed correctly, these criteria bridge the gap between the development team and the stakeholders, ensuring that the final product meets the expected standards and functionalities.

However, what’s also important is to know what acceptance criteria is not, and how it differentiate from some close terms that often get mixed up. Let’s give you three of them. 

Acceptance Criteria vs Definition of Done 

Definition of Done (DoD) refers to a set of general requirements that must be met for any user story, feature, or task to be considered complete. It is a standardised checklist used across all stories and ensures consistency and quality across the development process. 

Acceptance criteria, on the other hand, are specific conditions or requirements that a particular user story or feature must satisfy to be accepted by stakeholders. They are unique to each user story and provide detailed guidelines for the expected outcome. 

Key Differences: 

  • Scope: DoD applies to all user stories or features, while acceptance criteria are specific to individual user stories. 
  • Purpose: DoD ensures overall quality and consistency, while acceptance criteria ensure that specific functionality meets stakeholder expectations. 

Acceptance Criteria vs Test Cases

Test cases are detailed steps and conditions under which a tester determines whether a software application works as expected. They include specific inputs, execution conditions, and expected results for each scenario being tested. 

Acceptance criteria are the predefined conditions that a software product or feature must satisfy to be accepted by stakeholders. They define what needs to be built and serve as the basis for creating test cases. 

Key differences between acceptance criteria and test cases: 

  • Detail Level: Acceptance criteria are high-level requirements, whereas test cases provide detailed steps for testing. 
  • Purpose: Acceptance criteria guide what needs to be built; test cases verify that what has been built works correctly. 

In the following paragraphs, we will mention how a test case management tool can also help you streamline acceptance criteria management, so stay tuned.

Acceptance Criteria vs User Story 

User stories are the descriptions of a feature or functionality from the perspective of an end-user or customer. They focus on the value and outcome desired by the user and usually follow the format: “As a [user], I want [feature], so that [benefit].” 

Acceptance criteria are specific conditions or requirements that a user story must meet to be accepted by stakeholders. They provide detailed guidelines on what the user story should achieve and how it will be validated. 

Key differences between user story and acceptance criteria: 

  • Content: User stories describe the desired functionality and benefits, while acceptance criteria specify the conditions that must be met to meet stakeholder expectations. 
  • Purpose: User stories communicate the user’s needs and desired outcomes; acceptance criteria define how to measure the completion of those needs.

Now only if there was a solution that would tackle your acceptance criteria concerns… Wait, there is! 

Did you know that a powerful Test Management Solution (TMS) can bring so much ease to how you manage your acceptance criteria efforts in testing? Bringing you aqua cloud, a powerful, AI-powered TMS that might just be your lifesaver. 

So, as we have mentioned before, acceptance criteria are a part of user stories and requirements in software testing. And that is where aqua cloud excels. aqua can help you create structured and comprehensive requirements in a few seconds, which is where your story starts. Whether you start with a draft idea or a voice explanation, aqua transforms it into a structured requirement aligned with acceptance criteria in seconds. From there, a single click covers your user story or PRD with a complete set of test cases, and another click prepares your test data—everything you need to start test execution instantly.

aqua further empowers you with tailored boards for Kanban, Waterfall, and agile methodologies, enabling effective backlog prioritisation and organisation within sprints or dedicated QA cycles. Its smooth Jira sync integration ensures seamless synchronisation and workflow enhancement. aqua also excels as an all-in-one hub for team collaboration, allowing centralised discussion, review, feedback, and approval of acceptance criteria. You can experience the ease and efficiency of transforming requirement management into a streamlined, successful delivery process with aqua. So what are you waiting for?

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The main purpose of acceptance criteria

As mentioned, the main purpose of acceptance criteria is to ensure that a software product or feature meets the expectations and requirements of the stakeholders. Acceptance criteria provide a clear and measurable set of conditions that must be fulfilled for a project deliverable to be considered complete and acceptable. Here are the key purposes: 

  1. Clarify Requirements: Acceptance criteria provide a clear and detailed understanding of what needs to be built, reducing ambiguity and misunderstandings between stakeholders and the development team. 
  2. Guide Development: They offer developers precise guidelines on what functionality and features should be implemented, ensuring that the development process aligns with the stakeholders’ expectations. 
  3. Facilitate Communication: Acceptance criteria serve as a common language between stakeholders, product owners, developers, and testers, promoting effective communication and collaboration. 
  4. Ensure Quality: By setting specific conditions that must be met, acceptance criteria help ensure that the final product is of high quality and meets the desired standards. 
  5. Aid in Testing: They provide a basis for creating test cases and scenarios, making it easier for testers to verify that the software meets the required specifications and performs as expected. 
  6. Define Scope: Acceptance criteria help define the scope of a user story or feature, ensuring that the development team understands the boundaries and limitations of what needs to be delivered. 
  7. Drive Acceptance and Approval: They establish the benchmarks for stakeholder approval, making it clear when a feature or product can be considered complete and ready for release.

A well-written acceptance criteria helps prevent misunderstandings, reduce rework, and improve overall project quality and satisfaction.

Who writes acceptance criteria? 

The responsibility for writing acceptance criteria can vary from company to company, but mainly, acceptance criteria are crafted by individuals who have a deep understanding of the project requirements and stakeholder expectations. Here is a list of key roles typically involved in writing acceptance criteria: 

  1. Product Owners: Typically responsible for defining acceptance criteria as they have a clear understanding of the product vision and stakeholder requirements. 
  2. Business Analysts: Often collaborate with stakeholders and product owners to write detailed and accurate acceptance criteria based on business needs and objectives. 
  3. Stakeholders: Provide input and feedback to ensure the acceptance criteria accurately reflect their expectations and requirements. 
  4. Developers: May contribute to writing acceptance criteria to ensure technical feasibility and clarity, and to understand the specifics of what needs to be built. 
  5. QA/Testers: Assist in writing acceptance criteria to ensure they are testable and to create corresponding test cases for validation.
  6. Agile Teams: In Agile methodologies, the entire team may collaborate during sprint planning or backlog refinement sessions to develop acceptance criteria collectively, ensuring shared understanding and agreement.

Engineers write AC in my org. To avoid these “20/20 hindsight” discussions, we try to:
1. Break the work up into the smallest testable chunks possible
2. Push pieces of functionality as they are “completed” to feature branch preview environments and solicit feedback throughout development
3. Capture anything that isn’t obvious based on the scope of work docs and designs on the ticket under “assumptions”. Anything that’s under assumptions is a sub task on the PR.
4. Write a lot of tests

classicalteacher Posted in Experienced Devs Reddit thread, 24 days ago

When to Write User Story Acceptance Criteria?

Writing acceptance criteria for user stories is a crucial step in Agile and iterative development processes. So if you are in Agile, you will probably face the challenge of when to create these acceptance criteria. It ensures that the development team and stakeholders have a shared understanding of what a successfully completed user story is. Here’s when you should define and refine acceptance criteria throughout the project lifecycle:

  1. During Backlog Refinement: Collaborate with the product owner and team to define acceptance criteria before sprint planning begins. This early involvement ensures that the team understands the expected outcomes and scope of each user story.
  2. Before Sprint Planning: Finalise acceptance criteria to clarify expectations and guide the selection of user stories for the upcoming sprint. Clear criteria prevent misunderstandings and ensure that the team focuses on delivering value.
  3. As part of User Story Definition: Integrate acceptance criteria into the user story itself during initial creation. This practice helps refine the story’s details and aligns the team on specific functionalities and features to be implemented.
  4. With Stakeholder Input: Incorporate feedback from stakeholders during acceptance criteria definition to ensure alignment with business goals and end-user needs. Their insights help validate that the criteria accurately reflect desired outcomes.
  5. Iteratively Throughout Development: Continuously refine and update acceptance criteria as understanding evolves throughout the development cycle. This iterative approach allows for adjustments based on new insights or changing requirements.
  6. Before Testing Begins: Finalise acceptance criteria before testing to guide test case creation and validation processes. Well-defined criteria facilitate thorough testing and ensure that the developed product meets expectations before release.

By applying these practices, your team can effectively manage expectations, enhance collaboration, and deliver products that align closely with stakeholder requirements.

Examples of acceptance criteria

So what are the real examples of acceptance criteria? Below, we give you some standard acceptance criteria you have or will probably come across in your QA experience: 

1. User Authentication Feature

Criteria 1: The system should allow users to log in using a valid username and password. 

Criteria 2: After three unsuccessful login attempts, the account should be locked for 15 minutes. 

Criteria 3: Users should receive a confirmation email upon successful login. 

2. E-commerce Checkout Process: 

Criteria 1: Users should be able to add items to their shopping cart. 

Criteria 2: The checkout process should include fields for shipping address, billing address, and payment information. 

Criteria 3: Users should receive an order confirmation email after completing a purchase. 

3. Search Functionality: 

Criteria 1: The search bar should return relevant results based on keywords entered. 

Criteria 2: Users should be able to filter search results by date, category, and relevance. 

Criteria 3: Pagination should be implemented to display search results across multiple pages. 

4. Mobile App Performance: 

Criteria 1: The app should load within 3 seconds upon opening. 

Criteria 2: Scrolling and navigation should be smooth without any lag or delays. 

Criteria 3: The app should support offline mode, allowing users to access previously viewed content without an internet connection. 

5. Software Bug Fix: 

Criteria 1: The reported bug should no longer occur after applying the fix. 

Criteria 2: The fix should not introduce any new issues or errors in the software. 

Criteria 3: Regression testing should confirm that the bug fix has resolved the reported issue.

These examples show how acceptance criteria define specific conditions for various features, processes, and fixes in development projects. Each criterion provides clear guidelines and expectations to ensure that stakeholders’ requirements are successfully implemented and validated.

Best practices for writing acceptance criteria

Mastering the art of writing effective acceptance criteria is crucial for ensuring that software development projects meet stakeholder expectations and deliver value. Below are key best practices to guide you: 

  1. Define criteria clearly and specifically: Ensure acceptance criteria leave no room for ambiguity and detail precisely what needs to be accomplished. 
  2. Make criteria measurable: Define criteria in a way that allows for objective verification, such as specific functionalities, behaviours, or outcomes. 
  3. Align criteria with user stories: Tie acceptance criteria directly to user stories to maintain focus on delivering value to end-users. 
  4. Ensure criteria are testable: Define criteria that can be validated through testing, enabling QA teams to create corresponding test cases. 
  5. Use simple language: Communicate acceptance criteria clearly and straightforwardly to ensure all stakeholders understand them. 
  6. Prioritise requirements: Rank acceptance criteria by importance to guide development efforts and ensure critical features are addressed first. 
  7. Include edge cases: Consider exceptional scenarios to ensure acceptance criteria cover all possible situations comprehensively. 
  8. Avoid specifying implementation details: Focus on describing what the user needs and expects, rather than how to achieve it. 
  9. Regularly review and refine: Collaborate with stakeholders to review and refine acceptance criteria throughout the development lifecycle. Treat criteria as living documents: Evolve acceptance criteria based on project understanding and stakeholder feedback to ensure relevance and accuracy.

These best practices ensure that acceptance criteria not only guide development efforts effectively but also align closely with stakeholder expectations, contributing to the successful delivery of high-quality software projects.

Main challenges and solutions for writing acceptance criteria

Writing acceptance criteria is not always smooth sailing: it has its own challenges. Here are the ones you will probably face when creating one: 

1. Ambiguity and Lack of Clarity 

  • Challenge: Unclear requirements lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations. 
  • Solution: Collaborate closely with stakeholders, use examples, and clarify expectations through detailed discussions. 

2. Overly Technical Language 

  • Challenge: Using technical jargon that is not easily understandable by all stakeholders. 
  • Solution: Communicate in plain language, avoiding technical terms to ensure clarity and comprehension across the team. 

3. Lack of Testability

  • Challenge: Acceptance criteria that are difficult to verify through testing. 
  • Solution: Structure criteria to include clear, measurable outcomes that can be objectively tested and validated. 

4. Scope Creep 

  • Challenge: Additional requirements are added during the project without proper evaluation. 
  • Solution: Define acceptance criteria early, prioritize requirements, and manage scope changes through effective change control processes. 

5. Inconsistent or Changing Requirements 

  • Challenge: Requirements that evolve over time without clear documentation or communication. 
  • Solution: Establish a robust change management process to document, communicate, and track changes to acceptance criteria. 

6. Missing Edge Cases 

  • Challenge: Overlooking rare or exceptional scenarios that could affect the software’s functionality. 
  • Solution: Conduct thorough reviews and brainstorming sessions to identify and incorporate edge cases into acceptance criteria for comprehensive coverage. 

7. Alignment with User Needs 

  • Challenge: Acceptance criteria that do not fully align with end-user expectations or business objectives. 
  • Solution: Regularly engage with end-users and stakeholders to validate acceptance criteria against actual user needs and expectations. 

8. Documentation and Accessibility 

  • Challenge: Acceptance criteria are not well-documented or easily accessible to team members. 
  • Solution: Use a centralised tool or platform for documenting and managing acceptance criteria, ensuring clarity, accessibility, and version control. 

9.Resistance to Acceptance Criteria 

  • Challenge: Stakeholders and team members may not fully understand or appreciate the importance of acceptance criteria. 
  • Solution: Educate and involve stakeholders in the benefits of well-defined acceptance criteria, emphasising their role in ensuring quality and meeting project goals.

Addressing these challenges with proactive solutions ensures that acceptance criteria effectively guide development efforts, enhance communication, and contribute to the successful delivery of software projects.

Facing challenges like ambiguity, technical complexity, or changing requirements? aqua cloud offers a robust solution with AI-powered capabilities that streamline requirement traceability, ensure clarity and testability, and deliver seamless collaboration. From managing scope changes to aligning criteria with user needs, aqua cloud empowers you to define, track, and validate acceptance criteria effectively, ensuring smoother software delivery. Discover how aqua can transform your acceptance criteria management with a few clicks today.

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In this guide, you learned about everything you need about acceptance criteria from its definition to challenges, solutions, best practices, and acceptance criteria examples. As you already know, clear, measurable, and aligned criteria are essential for meeting stakeholder expectations. By addressing challenges like ambiguity, scope creep, and changing requirements, and using best practices such as simple language and prioritising requirements, teams can enhance their effectiveness. What you also learned is an all-around solution like aqua cloud might turn your acceptance criteria concerns into past struggles. So what is keeping you from trying the most advanced QA tool of 2024?

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Who is responsible for writing acceptance criteria?

Acceptance criteria are typically defined collaboratively by product owners, business analysts, and stakeholders to ensure alignment with project objectives and end-user needs.

What are acceptance criteria examples?

Acceptance criteria examples include specific conditions or functionalities that a software feature must meet to be considered complete, such as login functionality, search capabilities, or checkout processes.

What are the acceptance criteria in UAT?

Acceptance criteria in User Acceptance Testing (UAT) define the conditions under which end-users will accept and approve a software system. They ensure that the system meets their business requirements and operational needs before final deployment.

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