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Acceptance Criteria, Acceptance Tests and Experience-Based Practices

Writing Acceptance Criteria

Specifying acceptance criteria is an important acceptance testing task. It helps to refine requirements or user stories and provides the basis for acceptance tests. Business analysts and testers should collaborate closely on the specification of these criteria. This collaboration ensures high business value from the acceptance testing phase and increases the chance of a successful iteration or product release. 

Writing acceptance criteria forces business analysts and testers to think about functionality, performance, and other characteristics from a stakeholder or usage perspective. This supports early verification and validation of the related requirement or user story and provides a better chance of detecting inconsistencies, contradictions, missing information or other problems. 

The following good practices should be considered when writing acceptance criteria:

  • Well-written acceptance criteria are precise, measurable and concise. Each criterion must be written in a way that enables the tester to measure whether or not the test object complies with the acceptance criterion.
  • Well-written acceptance criteria do not include technical solution details. They concentrate on the question “What shall be achieved?” rather than on the question “How shall it achieved?”.
  • Acceptance criteria should address non-functional requirements (quality characteristics) as well as functional requirements.

As with requirements and user stories, acceptance criteria should be reviewed through walkthroughs, technical reviews, iteration planning meetings or other methods (if necessary).

Designing Acceptance Tests

This section addresses the test techniques and approaches frequently used for acceptance testing.

Test Techniques for Acceptance Testing

In a requirements-based approach to acceptance testing, the tester derives test cases from the acceptance criteria related to each requirement or user story using black-box techniques such as equivalence partitioning or boundary value analysis.

Acceptance testing may be augmented with other test techniques or approaches:

  • Business process-based testing, possibly combined with decision table testing, validates business processes and rules.
  • Experience-based testing leverages the tester’s experience, knowledge and intuition.
  • Risk-based testing is based on risk types and levels. Prioritisation and thoroughness of testing depends on previously identified product risks.
  • Model-based testing uses graphical (or textual) models to obtain acceptance tests.

Acceptance criteria should be verified by acceptance tests and traceability between the requirements / user story and related test cases should be managed.

Using the Gherkin Language to Write Test Cases

In ATDD and BDD, acceptance tests are often formulated in a structured language, referred to as the Gherkin language. Using the Gherkin language, test cases are phrased declaratively using a standardised pattern:

  • Given [a situation]
  • When [an action on the system]
  • Then [the expected result]

The pattern allows business analysts, testers and developers to write test cases in a way that is easily shared with stakeholders and may be translated into automated tests. 

The “Given” block aims to put the test object in a state before performing test actions in the “When” block. The “Then” block specifies the consequences that can be observed from the actions defined in the “When” block. Test cases written in Gherkin do not refer to user interface elements but rather to user actions on the system. They are structured natural language test cases that can be understood by all relevant stakeholders. 

In addition, the structure “Given – When – Then” can be parsed in an automated way. This allows automated test script creation using a keyword-driven testing approach. 

Initially, Gherkin was specific to some software tools supporting BDD, but it is now synonymous with the “Given – When – Then” acceptance test design pattern. 

Experience-based Approaches for Acceptance Testing

All experience-based test techniques described in are relevant for acceptance testing. This section is focused on how exploratory testing can be used for acceptance tests, and on beta testing as a source of feedback on system usage. 

Exploratory Testing

Exploratory testing is an experience-based test technique that is not based on detailed predefined test procedures. In exploratory testing, all activities are carried out within an uninterrupted period of time called a session. The testers are domain experts. They are familiar with user needs, requirements and business processes, but they are not necessarily familiar with the product under test. 

During an exploratory testing session, the tester accomplishes the following:

  • Learns how to work with the product
  • Designs the tests
  • Performs the tests
  • Interprets the results

It is a good practice in exploratory testing to use a test charter. The test charter is prepared prior to the testing session (possibly jointly by the business analyst and the tester) and is used by the person in charge of the exploratory session (either a business analyst, tester or another stakeholder). It includes information about the purpose, target, and scope of the exploratory session, the test setup, the duration of the session, and possibly some tactics to be used during the session (such as the type of user that shall be simulated during the exploratory session). Time-boxed sessions help to control the time and effort dedicated to the exploratory session. It is also good practice to perform exploratory testing in pairs or as team work. 

In Agile development, exploratory test sessions can be conducted during an iteration by the product owner and/or the testers for acceptance testing of user stories assigned to the iteration. 

Exploratory testing should be used to complement other more formal techniques in acceptance testing. For example, it may be used to provide rapid feedback on new features before methodical testing is applied. 

Beta Testing

Beta testing is a form of acceptance testing that is often used for Commercial Off-the-Shelf Software (COTS) or for Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms. It is conducted to obtain feedback from the market after development and in-house testing are completed. 

Unlike other acceptance testing forms, beta testing is performed by potential or existing users at their own location. Beta tests neither impose predefined test procedures nor a test charter. Apart from the observed findings, the test activities are usually not documented at all. 

Because the product is tested in various realistic configurations by actual users in their business process context, beta testing may discover defects that escaped during the development process and previous test levels. Resolving issues found by beta tests helps organisations avoid costly hot-fixes or product recalls on a larger scale. 

Acceptance testing should not be limited to beta testing. Beta testing is not systematic or measurable. There is no guarantee that all requirements or user stories are covered by the tests. Moreover, beta testing is performed late in the development process whereas tests based on acceptance criteria support the “Early Testing” principle.