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Why Agile Acceptance Criteria Is So Important

Agile Planning - Part 1: Agile Acceptance Criteria

"I can’t emphasize enough how important acceptance criteria is in planning."

Software testing job postings in the U.S. commonly ask for Agile testing knowledge and skills. That's why ASTQB's ISTQB Agile Testing is among our most popular certifications, with the new Advanced Level ISTQB Agile Technical Tester certification quickly gaining momentum.

"Acceptance" is an important concept in Agile testing, with the word appearing more than 100 times across the two ISTQB Agile syllabi. We're happy to have insight into the concept of "Agile Acceptance Criteria" from a longtime supporter of ASTQB, Phil Lew, in his article below.

The Importance of Agile Acceptance Criteria

By Philip Lew, CEO of XBOSoft

When we start working with a client who is in the process of converting or have converted to Agile from Waterfall, one of the most common questions is “What do testers do in Agile?” The typical consulting answer is that it depends. As much as I hate to give that answer, it really does depend on your Agile implementation strategy, the context of your organization, and the skills of your team.

For now, let’s take a step back and start with Agile planning. Testing should be a critical part of the planning process and two of the most important aspects I’d like to address are acceptance criteria within the user stories, and what should the primary testing tasks be within the Agile process. Let's start with Agile acceptance criteria, and in the next newsletter, we'll talk about Agile testing tasks.

Agile Acceptance Criteria

The availability of acceptance criteria in user stories at the planning/scope level is key. I can’t emphasize enough how important acceptance criteria is in planning. In order to plan, we need to size the work that needs to be done; in order to size, we need to understand the scope (i.e. what should be done as part of that ticket and what not). To avoid over-engineering/under-engineering we use acceptance criteria and set expectations between the Product Owner and the team and among the team itself. We make sure all tickets include acceptance criteria from both a business and technical perspective, so the entire team is engaged. We’ve found it helpful to create baseline non-functional technical acceptance criteria as well, such as unit test coverage standards, instrumentation, logging, performance, etc.

Acceptance criteria does have a bearing on when the user story can be considered complete, both from a development and testing perspective. We use acceptance criteria per user story – that includes everything needed for that user story to be completed such that it can be closed after testing. The definition of “done” should be standardized for every user story across the board (unit test in place, code reviewed, fully tested, deployed, etc.). Most importantly, it’s important to groom user stories so that they cover both development and testing, and have every sub-task cover all defined aspects of development and testing. In the end, each ticket should serve a business value, and getting to “done” with the ticket should serve both development and testing. 

Acceptance criteria is vital to the Agile process. It’s necessary from the start of planning, through development and to the end of testing. Without the presence of acceptance criteria, teams may not have a solid basis to move forward from each user story, putting the project schedule at risk. 

Look for part two - "Agile Testing Tasks" - in our next newsletter.

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