A friend of mine is an agile coach for a large software product company. When she coaches teams, product owners, and managers she stresses that teams need to feel ownership for their work. She likes to teach product owners and other leaders to lead through the use of questions, and has compiled a list of “powerful questions” they can use to lead through questions.
Recently one of the Product Owners she was coaching asked her about powerful questions that a product owner could use when working with their team to discover acceptance criteria. She asked me what I thought, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to answer a question with more questions.
1. If I deliver this user story what things should I account for?
This is a good question to ask first because it reinforces the use of acceptance criteria to further describe the user story. The way it’s worded also reminds you that backlog items are options, not commitments.
2. If this user story has already been implemented, what would I try out?
This question is a different way of posing the first question, and is trying to position things from the perspective of what you expect the user story to do. It is inspired by the innovation game Remember the Future. A variation on this question is “Pretend that we have already delivered this product; how would you actually test it?”
3. How do we know when we have successfully delivered this user story?
This question reinforces the idea of Acceptance Criteria as a set of statements that tell you whether a user story meets the expectations of your stakeholders.
4. How should we verify that this story is implemented completely and correctly?
This is a variation on question #3 that provides a clearer description of “successfully delivered.”
5. Are there cases with this particular user story that we have not identified how the system should behave?
This question aims to get you to think beyond the obvious conditions and identify obscure conditions that could be very important.
6. What about…?
This question may followup question #5 or may be asked as your team identifies various scenarios. In order for this question to truly be effective, you should follow up with “Is that within scope?”
7. Anything that has not been considered so far?
This is another way of asking “what have we not thought about yet?”
8. What happens when…?
This question, along with “what about…” end up getting asked eventually, but usually fairly late in the process. This question is a good way to spark discussion about behavior the solution should exhibit in specific situations. While your team can discuss these situations when they arise, if you identify them with acceptance criteria, you run a better chance of having a well thought out response.
9. What scenarios are relevant?
This question is a good way to determine if your acceptance criteria meets what you are trying to accomplish or if it is verifying something that won’t happen or is outside your true goal.
10. Are all scenarios necessary (right now)?
This question is a good way to determine if some acceptance criteria represent aspects of the user story that are not necessary to satisfy immediately.
Two bonus acceptance criteria techniques
In addition to the ten questions listed above, here are a couple of technique described in other posts that are also helpful for discovering or working with acceptance criteria.
Acceptance criteria and story splitting
A couple of years ago Chris Sims wrote a series of blog posts discussing different story splitting techniques. One technique he described in the post Splitting User Stories with Acceptance Criteria was how to use questions to identify the parts of new user stories that can be identified from the acceptance criteria of a large story.
- Ask “Who wants this” to come up with As A
- Ask “Why do they want that” to come up with So That.
- The Acceptance criteria itself is the “I want”.
This technique is a good reminder that acceptance criteria can act as more specific descriptions of a user story and can often identify aspects of a user story that aren’t entirely necessary. Splitting stories via their acceptance criteria is also one of the 21 story splitting patterns I cataloged.
Acceptance criteria and mind maps
I included a technique brief on acceptance criteria in Beyond Requirements: Analysis with an Agile Mindset. That technique brief focused on the use of mind maps to guide the conversation surrounding acceptance criteria for user stories. When you match the use of mind maps with the questions listed above, you’ll greatly increase the chances of having a highly productive conversation. I posted the Acceptance Criteria Technique Brief as an excerpt from the book so that you can take a look at it.
What questions do you use?
Those are the questions I use to discover acceptance criteria. I’d love to hear some of the questions you, as would my friend and the teams she coaches. Leave your thoughts in the comments to this post.