How to Write Good Acceptance Criteria

Updated: Feb 14

Acceptance criteria should be in every contract you put out. Why? Well it described what you and your customer accept as the definition of done for each of your deliverables. So often I see contracts put out with no acceptance criteria which leads to both vendor and customer having different understandings of when the deliverable is actually completed which can then lead to much more challenging situations of who is financially responsible for what. Plus not to mention that having acceptance criteria in your statement of work gives your project manager an edge in they are able to definitively understand exactly what needs to be delivered and as such can plan for it accordingly. Here are some tips to writing good acceptance criteria into your statements of work.

Nothing will add confusion to your criteria more than unclear language. When defining acceptance criteria. If your deliverable is to provide training to your customer, your criteria should be stated simply that your deliverable is accepted when training is delivered. Don’t try to complicate it by adding subjective measures into your criteria (ex. “students understand the concepts presented” or “high level of knowledge retention”). Be specific on what it is you are delivering and be clear (ex. “3 2-hour training sessions have been delivered”). If there are multiple items that should be considered as your criteria, you can simply just build a bulleted list to say when each of those items are done then your deliverable is considered accepted. If your deliverable is a set of time-based services you can specify that after X weeks (or whatever timeframe you prefer) that the services are considered delivered and you can invoice for them.

Another item to pay attention to when developing your criteria is to keep it as brief as possible to avoid the possibility of inadvertently adding language that could be ambiguous and leading to issues of acceptance with your deliverables. This can be a challenge in that you want to make sure that it is very clearly understood what the finish line is for your deliverable but you also do not want to remove clarity of what it is that is the definition of done on these items.

Acceptance criteria in your contract is a great way to help generate that common understanding of what it is that you will be providing for your customer and what the customer expects of you and your team’s products and services. By having clear and concise language in your acceptance criteria you are helping set your project up for success.

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