Requirements Elicitation Techniques Part 2 – Acceptance Criteria

Planning

If you search the Internet for “Acceptance Criteria” you will see definitions like this: “Acceptance Criteria are the conditions that a software product must satisfy to be accepted by a user, customer or external system.” There are no shades of grey, the condition either satisfies the criteria or not. There are no “90% satisfies”.

Acceptance Criteria should be established before development begins. The reason for this is that the criteria needs to guide the development. If you write them during or after the development, you will just be verifying what was built and not the customer intent.

Like all good business requirements, the criteria should be “what” not “how”. For example, you might state “Upon submission of the completed application a notification is sent to the Director”. You don’t want to state “Upon clicking ‘Submit’ an email is sent to the Director”. Avoiding implementation specifics opens up new possibilities for a design solution.

In many ways, the “Event/Response method” (see my prior posts on this topic) and “Acceptance Criteria” are very similar. With Event/Response, we document a triggering event, the data sent and who sends it, what we do with it, the outputs and who receives them. With Acceptance Criteria, many use the format “Given some precondition, when I do some action, I expect some result”. These are essentially the same things although Acceptance Criteria can be at a lower level (the Use Case and Functional Requirements level).

You do not approach your user or customer and ask “What are your acceptance criteria?”. This will mostly elicit blank stares. You will want to use other elicitation methods such as Event/Response and Use Cases, and the derive the Acceptance Criteria from there. You can do this by prioritizing your requirements (e.g. “priority 1 = must have or cannot go live, priority 2 = can go live without it but must have within 1 month of go live, priority 3 = nice to have if it fits within the budget and schedule”). In this case, priority 1 requirements are the acceptance criteria for go live and priority 2 requirements are the acceptance criteria for project completion.

Some examples of Acceptance Criteria:

  • If I am a System Administrator, I can add, update or delete accounts.
  • I can search for users by last name and can enter a partial string and receive the results of all that qualify
  • I can filter my staff by availability for a given shift
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