Demonstrating Acceptance Criteria

I have found myself reading a lot of Agile books over the years.  I aim to take 2 or 3 pointers, minimum, away from each book to help challenge the way that our teams work with a view to making improvements.  I have found that this has taken me a little time, often rereading chapters to put things into context and then breaking things down into scenarios that I can use to demonstrate what I have learned practically.

I find that acting things out using scenarios is the best way for me to learn things and put things into action with my teams and I bet it is the same for a lot of people too!  There are a few demonstrations that I have encountered in Agile like the ball game that most of us will be familiar with from our CSM training or the Penny Game that Ian Carroll demonstrated at his Kanban talk during Lean Agile Scotland this year.

I find these type of exercises useful as there is always a scenario, an action that someone can take to improve things and a subsequent consequence of implementing the improvement that makes people think about how they do things.  These can then be compared to the way that teams currently work and improvements suggested.  I have always seen these exercises for teams in terms of improving estimation and velocity but had never seen a practical exercise for actual work items.

Tom Reynolds has created a blog post that got me thinking about Acceptance Criteria and how I can promote to my teams the importance of making their Acceptance Criteria meaningful and challenge themselves to push for improvements.  It is a simple method that explores the power of acceptance criteria by drawing a house.  Tom begins by asking everyone to draw a house whilst he draws his own house out of sight of everyone else.  Once everyone has drawn their house he will go around and inspect each house.  He notes that on the first pass everyone has drawn a house that does not meet his expectations as a stakeholder.  He then gives a set of detailed acceptance criteria regarding door placements, number of windows etc that allows each person to then go and redraw the house.

Once each person has redrawn their house he inspects them again, most are identical and some with slight differences but ultimately pass the acceptance criteria set, whereas the ones that are off spec are rejected.  This shows that when given detailed acceptance criteria, the likelihood of delivering what is needed is greatly improved.

In general, if a team are given acceptance criteria that is open to interpretation, the delivered item may not be exactly what is expected to be delivered by the Stakeholder.  We must encourage our teams to review acceptance criteria and challenge it as part of our refinement sessions if there is not enough detail there.  That way we can make sure that we are delivering exactly what is needed consistently.

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