Best practices of acceptance criteria for user stories with examples

In the world of software development, user stories play a crucial role in defining the requirements and features of a product. However, it is the acceptance criteria that truly bring these user stories to life. By setting clear expectations and boundaries, acceptance criteria ensure that the development team and stakeholders are on the same page. In this article, we will explore the importance of acceptance criteria, provide examples, and discuss best practices to effectively define them for user stories.

What are acceptance criteria?

Acceptance criteria are specific criteria or conditions that a product or service must meet in order to be considered acceptable or satisfactory to the client or end user. These criteria are typically used in the context of project management or software development to define the requirements and expectations for a particular deliverable. They help to ensure that the final product meets the desired quality standards and fulfils the client's needs.

Examples of acceptance criteria:

Login Functionality

  • When a user enters the correct username and password, they are redirected to their dashboard.
  • After three unsuccessful login attempts, the user is locked out for 10 minutes.
  • Passwords must be encrypted and not visible in plain text at any point in the system.
  • The login page should load within two seconds under normal network conditions.
  • Users must receive an email notification upon successful password change for security purposes.

Checkout Process for E-commerce

  • The checkout button must become active only when the shopping cart contains one or more items.
  • Users should be able to complete a purchase with a maximum of three clicks after reaching the cart.
  • The system must provide a confirmation number and send a confirmation email to the user after a successful purchase.
  • The checkout process should handle at least 500 transactions simultaneously without any degradation in performance.
  • Users must have the option to save their payment information for future purchases, with all sensitive data encrypted.

User Profile Update

  • Users should be able to update their profile picture, which must support .jpg and .png formats, and be limited to 5MB in size.
  • Changes made to the user profile information must be saved within one second with an appropriate success message displayed.
  • The system must verify and reject any email address that doesn't follow the standard email format.
  • A history of the last three changes to the profile should be visible to the user.
  • Users must be allowed to revert changes to their profile within 24 hours of the update.

Search Functionality

  • Search results should load within three seconds and match the keywords in either the title or body of the content.
  • When no results are found, the system must display a 'No results found' message and suggest related searches.
  • The search must accommodate misspellings and provide suggestions for close matches.
  • Users should be able to filter search results by date, relevance, or type with a single click.
  • The search function must maintain a history of the user's last five searches.

Subscription Sign-Up

  • The sign-up form must not submit if any field is left empty, and must highlight missing information for the user.
  • Users should receive a verification email immediately after sign-up and must confirm their subscription within 48 hours.
  • The system should automatically apply any valid promotional codes to the first billing cycle.
  • Upon successful subscription, users must gain instant access to premium content.
  • The subscription sign-up should be compatible across major browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge.

Best practices for defining acceptance criteria:

Clarity Over Complexity

Every acceptance criterion must be written with unmistakable clarity, acting as a beacon that unmistakably guides the development team's efforts. This clarity prevents costly misunderstandings and ensures that everyone from developers to stakeholders has a unified vision of what 'done' means. When you articulate criteria with precision, you eliminate the fog of ambiguity and lay down a clear path for your Agile team to follow, ensuring the final product aligns perfectly with the users' needs.

Specificity for Accuracy

Generalities are the arch-nemesis of acceptance criteria. Being specific is about drawing a line in the sand, delineating exactly what is expected without leaving room for guesswork. This is akin to providing a GPS-coordinated map in a treasure hunt—the X marks the spot with absolute certainty. When the development team has specific criteria, they can aim their efforts with sniper-like precision, reducing the need for time-consuming revisions and rework.

User-Centric Approach

The heart of any acceptance criterion is the user's needs and experiences. By focusing on the end-user's perspective, acceptance criteria ensure that the product not only works technically but delights users and meets their expectations. This approach solidifies the value of the product in the real world, where user satisfaction is the ultimate test.

Testability as a Touchstone

If you can’t test it, you can’t trust it. Acceptance criteria must serve as a checklist for testers, outlining the conditions that must be unequivocally met. Testable criteria enable a systematic validation process that can be clearly documented and measured, providing confidence in the quality and reliability of the product before it reaches the users.

Collaborative Creation

The best acceptance criteria are born from a melting pot of team input, blending the insights of developers, the vision of product owners, and the desires of stakeholders. Engaging the whole team in defining these criteria not only ensures feasibility and developer buy-in but also fosters a sense of ownership and commitment to meeting these benchmarks, culminating in a product that resonates with its audience. a team working in front of a laptop

Benefits of using acceptance criteria:

Keep It Clear, Keep It Consistent

Clear and consistent acceptance criteria are the compass for our Agile endeavours, ensuring that we don't veer off course into uncharted territories. This clarity and consistency breed predictability, allowing team members to grasp their responsibilities fully and forestall any misinterpretations that might arise. Moreover, involving the entire team in the development of these criteria helps to iron out any kinks early on, setting the stage for a unified journey.

Defining the Finish Line

Acceptance criteria are the benchmark for success in the Agile world, marking the moment a user story is ready to shine in the spotlight. These criteria serve as definitive, clear statements that outline the expected outcomes of a user story, often capturing the user's viewpoint. They establish the specific conditions and boundaries that signal the completion of a task, employing a standard format that includes an initial condition, a triggering action, and the anticipated result. For example, a criterion might state that once a logged-in user adds an item to their cart, the cart should update to show the new item and total cost. This clarity not only sets expectations but also provides essential feedback and fosters communication among all project stakeholders.

Clarity Over Ambiguity

In software development, ambiguity is the adversary of progress, while acceptance criteria serve as the defining beacon of clarity. These criteria cut through uncertainty, ensuring that the entire team shares a common understanding of what 'done' entails.

User stories, crafted from the user's perspective, prioritise needs and eschew superfluous features. They sketch a roadmap for developers, anchoring them to clear objectives and expected outcomes. Without crisp acceptance criteria, however, teams might find themselves lost in an endless cycle of guesswork and costly revisions. Acceptance criteria stand as the checkpoint for when a user story is considered complete, offering unmistakable guidance to the developers.


Acceptance criteria are not just a set of guidelines; they are the cornerstone of successful Agile project management. They bring clarity, focus, and precision to the development process, ensuring that every feature and functionality aligns perfectly with the user's needs and expectations. By adhering to these criteria, teams can avoid the pitfalls of ambiguity and ensure a streamlined, efficient path to project completion.

If you're looking to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of your software development projects, our team of experts is here to help. Contact us at inPositiv for guidance and support in defining robust acceptance criteria that will drive your projects to success. Let's work together to turn your vision into a reality that resonates with your users and stands the test of time.

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