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How do testers influence acceptance criteria?

What's the tester's role in establishing user stories and acceptance criteria? Expert Amy Reichart discusses how much influence a tester should have.

A tester's role is to influence, experiment with, and define user stories and acceptance criteria. As an influencer,...

a tester needs to establish a strong working relationship with the team's product owner or whoever represents the customer. The tester defends the needs of the customer and fosters understanding among team members about what is being developed and how it must perform to be accepted.

To influence a product's outcome, a tester experiments with the product owner's thoughts and ideas and provides feedback. The tester knows the technical side (development) and the customer side (end user) better than any other team member. Being in the middle is the perfect place to influence and define user stories and acceptance criteria.

User stories explain what a new feature does for the end user and include the basic workflow from the viewpoint of a user, as specifically as possible. Often, user stories are like the old-school business requirements -- too high-level to be useful to the development team. It is frequently left to developers to fill in the details as they see fit. To avoid this situation, the product owner and tester should work together to develop a strong user story that includes enough depth and details for developers to know precisely what to code.

There's always room for change based on how early coding goes, but it's beneficial to the team to have specific detail in the user workflow. It is possible for a tester to influence user story creation to keep it simple and still valuable to development. Otherwise, the story may be pushed aside and the code written to the acceptance criteria, which may not match the intended end user workflow.

Testers influence the acceptance criteria by providing detailed reviews and experimenting with the results. In this way, testers provide the product owner critical information on the breadth and depth of the acceptance criteria. Testers need to experiment to verify that the acceptance criteria are testable. Testers also need to ensure that the acceptance criteria are specific and represent both positive and negative scenarios. The tester needs to influence the acceptance criteria's depth of detail to keep customers from finding defects without having to dig deep into the functionality.

Next Steps

Learn about the differences between user acceptance testing and acceptance testing

This was last published in February 2015

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How do you believe testers influence acceptance criteria?
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Testers can influence Acceptance Criteria i a lot of ways.

  1. They can ask early how they are going to be able to test for the change that is involved
  2. Secondly, they can look at AC and ask for what sorts of error handling, exception handling, logging, or other monitoring will be provided to give a peak into the service as it runs.
  3. They can ask about performance criteria.  
  4. They can ask what if any security concerns or vulnerabilities may need checked.
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Additional to the fine list that Veretax has supplied, we can actually question the validity of the acceptance criteria in the first place. The focus of having a tester involved in the process of developing and gathering acceptance criteria is to offer a window into how something will be used, and to provoke questions and comments to see that the feature can and will actually do that. This is why I am personally a fan of the Three Amigos model of story development and early involvement of testers in the process.
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The responsibility of a tester is to influence experiment as well as define user stories in relation to the acceptance criteria. The influencer is determined to establish strong working relationships with the team that works on the product or service being tested as an entity that represents and protects the customers. Defending these needs clears the air on whether the product at hand is worth selling in comparison to the competition in the market industry.
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I think testers have one of three roles to play in acceptance testing:

  1. No involvement at all.
  2. An advisor.
  3. An active participant in software testing.
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I prefer to be involved in user stories and acceptance criteria as early as possible. I almost always bring up things that others have not thought of, so we talk about those issues and modify the story and/or acceptance criteria as needed. 
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