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Acceptance Criteria: what it is, and best practices 

Just last week, we announced the launch of AI Acceptance Criteria, a new generative AI feature for Issues and Epics in Zenhub. 

But what is Acceptance Criteria, why is it important, and how do I know I’m getting the full benefits of it? Great questions. 

In this article, we’ll go over everything from the basics of writing criteria for acceptance to the more complicated nuances of how it differs from other agile concepts.

What is Acceptance Criteria?

At its core, Acceptance Criteria consist of specific conditions that a software product must meet to be accepted by a user, customer, or other stakeholders. 

Acceptance Criteria ensure that the software development team understands what the end-user expects from a feature, providing a clear agreed-upon list of requirements that must be met for a feature or product to be considered complete. This sets the scope parameters for a piece of work while identifying the elements needed for completion. 

Who is responsible for writing Acceptance Criteria? 

In a software development team, the responsibility for writing acceptance criteria usually falls on the Product Owner or a similar role. This is usually because Product Owners have a deep understanding of user needs and business goals, making them well-suited to specify what considers a feature complete and satisfactory in the eyes of end-users.

Benefits of defining Acceptance Criteria: why it’s important

There are plenty of good reasons not to skip out on Acceptance Criteria. Some of the key benefits it can provide are: 

Enhanced Clarity: They provide a clear understanding of what needs to be achieved, reducing ambiguity.

Improved Collaboration: Facilitate better communication among team members and stakeholders.

Efficient Testing: Streamline the testing process by providing specific, testable conditions.

Quality Assurance: Help ensure the final product meets user needs and expectations.

Reduced Scope Creep: Limit changes and deviations by defining clear boundaries.

Efficient Planning: Aid in accurate estimation and planning of work.

Common Acceptance Criteria Formats

Criteria for acceptance come in a lot of shapes and formats. Here are the most common ones, with their pros and cons:

Checklist Format: Simple bullet points detailing specific requirements.

  • Pros: Simple, clear, easy to understand. 
  • Cons: Lacks context and may not cover complex scenarios.

Given/When/Then (Behavior-Driven Development – BDD): Describes the condition, action, and expected outcome.

  • Pros: Provides context, fosters clear communication, useful for complex functionalities.
  • Cons: Can be verbose–we recommend using Zenhub’s AI Acceptance Criteria to speed up the process since it uses this format. 

Rule-Oriented: Defines specific rules that the feature must adhere to.

  • Pros: Clearly defines boundaries, good for detailed specifications.
  • Cons: May become too rigid and is less flexible for changes.

Scenario-Based: Outlines various scenarios and expected behaviors.

  • Pros: Covers different user scenarios, good for complex user interactions.
  • Cons: Can be lengthy and might require more effort to define every scenario.

How to Write Acceptance Criteria

So, how do you start writing Acceptance Criteria? First, you’ll need to pick one of the above formats. Let’s choose the BDD format since it’s one of the most common and thorough formats. 

From there, you would:  

  1. Identify the User Story: Start with a clear user story to define the feature.
  2. Define the Scenario: Outline the specific situation or use case.
  3. Specify ‘Given’: Describe the initial context or pre-conditions.
  4. Detail ‘When’: State the event or action that triggers the scenario.
  5. Articulate ‘Then’: Explain the expected outcome or result.

Example: 

User Story: As a user, I want to reset my password to access my account if I forget it.

Acceptance Criteria:

  1. Define the Scenario: A user has forgotten their password and needs to reset it to regain access to their account.
  2. Specify ‘Given’: The user is on the login page and cannot remember their current password.
  3. Detail ‘When’: The user clicks on the “Forgot Password” link and enters their registered email address.
  4. Articulate ‘Then’: The user receives an email with a password reset link. Upon clicking the link, they are directed to a secure page to create a new password. After successfully setting a new password, the user should be able to log in with the new credentials.

Sound like a lot? You could skip steps 3-5 by using AI Acceptance Criteria in Zenhub since defining a User Story, and the Scenario should give your AI enough information to generate accurate criteria. 

Best Practices for Acceptance Criteria

Here are some tips to ensure you’re on the right track with your Acceptance Criteria: 

  • Always collaborate: Involve stakeholders and team members with diverse perspectives.
  • Maintain clarity and simplicity: Make AC clear, concise, and understandable.
  • Keep things relevant: Ensure criteria align with the user story and project goals.
  • Ensure testability: Acceptance criteria should be measurable and testable.
  • Keep it realistic and achievable: Set feasible criteria within project constraints.

How Acceptance Criteria compare to similar agile concepts 

What is the difference between Acceptance Criteria and Definition of Done (DoD)?

Acceptance Criteria and Definition of Done (DoD) are distinct concepts in Agile methodology. While Acceptance Criteria focus on the functionality of a feature, DoD is a broader checklist that applies to the project as a whole, ensuring all work is completed to a certain standard before being considered done.

DoD encompasses not just functional requirements but also non-functional standards like code quality, design specifications, and other essential elements for the overall project’s completion.

What’s the difference between a user story and Acceptance Criteria?

A user story in Agile methodologies describes a software feature from an end-user’s perspective, focusing on the type of user, what they want, and why. It’s a high-level definition of a requirement containing just enough information so that the developers can produce a reasonable estimate of the effort to implement it. 

Acceptance criteria, on the other hand, are the specific details that define the boundaries of a user story, describing how the system should behave and what conditions it must satisfy to be accepted by the user. Essentially, while a user story outlines the goal or need, acceptance criteria define the scope and standards to achieve that goal.

What is AI Acceptance Criteria in Zenhub?

Now that we’ve covered everything you need to know about writing Acceptance Criteria, you can throw it all out (well, some of it!). As you may be able to guess by the name, AI Acceptance Criteria is a generative AI feature in Zenhub that is trained to write high-quality, accurate Acceptance Criteria in BDD format. To use this feature, all you have to do is: 

  1. Start by creating an issue in Zenhub and providing a title for the issue. 
  2. Then, start writing a description of the feature. Ideally, this will include a user story and some context around the “scenario” in which a user may use the feature. (See how to write AC above for more info).
  3. From there, you should have the option to “Generate Acceptance Criteria” in Zenhub. This will provide a detailed AC in DMM format for your Issue. 

AI Acceptance Criteria

Final thoughts

Acceptance Criteria is a pretty simple yet critical concept to understand in agile project management, distinct from other similar concepts. Because of this, it’s important to include when writing issues. Otherwise, you may leave out some critical details that could cause developers to build the wrong features. 


Luckily, Zenhub makes generating Acceptance Criteria a breeze. See how this feature and other enhanced Agile experiences work in Zenhub when you book a demo. 

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