What is the difference between Acceptance & Evaluation Criteria in the context of Business Analysis?
Why as Business Analysts, do we even need to consider Acceptance and Evaluation Criteria..?
The reason we must be able to define this Business Analysis Technique, namely Acceptance and Evaluation criteria is because we need to measure what we are accepting or evaluating in terms of the solutions we deliver as Business Analysts.
Just like you will have your own set of evaluation criteria when choosing a restaurant to go have dinner at, you need to also have evaluation criteria defined before selecting a software solution to implement.
Example of Acceptance and Evaluation Criteria
Let’s look at a more specific example of what could be deemed Acceptance Criteria versus Evaluation Criteria:
Going back to the restaurant example: Let’s say you used 3 value attributes when you evaluate different restaurants to dine at:
- Evaluation criteria 1: They have to serve Italian Food
- Evaluation criteria 2: They have to have gluten free menu options
- Evaluation criteria 3: They have to play live music during dinner
Based on your criteria you evaluated 3 different restaurants in the street and found that only 2 of the 3 restaurants has gluten free menu options and out of those 2 restaurants the one restaurant had more gluten free options than the other so you decided to rank that restaurant higher based on their superior ability to meet the gluten free menu option criteria. However, you then discovered that all 3 of the restaurants have live music during the dinner service and you ended up ranking each based on your personal preference for the style of music they offer.
After adding up all your rankings against each individual evaluation criteria for each restaurant, you ended up choosing the restaurant with the highest overall score.
Now that you have selected a restaurant, you walk into the restaurant to have your meal. You have specific minimum acceptance criteria that must be met in order for you to pay for the meal. The meal must be gluten free, the food must be authentic Italian food and you must be able to listen to live music while you have your meal. If these minimum acceptance criteria are not met, you will simply not pay for the meal and you will walk out.
In our example, the restaurant can be seen as the Solution. Initially you were evaluating multiple restaurants or solutions against your evaluation criteria. Once you chose a restaurant or a solution, you were able to assess the specific restaurant or solution against acceptance criteria. You could then make a call about whether a criteria was met or not met. In the case of a solution, the acceptance criteria would either pass or fail.
Therefore the main difference between Acceptance Criteria and Evaluation Criteria is that with Acceptance Criteria you are assessing one solution against specific minimum requirements, which has a result of either ‘a pass’ or ‘a fail’. Whereas, when you are using evaluation criteria to evaluate multiple potential solutions, you will most likely provide a ranking or scoring against each criteria and then determine which solution meets most of the evaluation criteria.
Typically the solution with the overall highest score will then become the solution to take to the next stage of your initiative or project.
Let’s now talk about the typical format for defining the acceptance and evaluation criteria.
In order to assess a solution against acceptance or evaluation criteria, it must be constructed in a measurable format.
Acceptance criteria are expressed in a testable form. This often translates to atomic requirements, which are written as test cases, which in turn is used to test the solution against the criteria defined. These tests will then either “pass” or “fail”. In Agile projects you will find that User Stories are often defined with acceptance criteria as part of the user story.
Whereas with evaluation criteria, it is about defining the criteria in a way that will evaluate whether the stakeholder needs are met with a potential solution. In real life, the evaluation criteria are often partly made up of stakeholder requirements that may have been defined as part of the solution evaluation stage of an initiative.
In conclusion, you now understand the key differences between Acceptance Criteria and Evaluation Criteria. Next time you are part of a project where the team is getting ready to test the solution, you will know that acceptance criteria is needed for every feature or function being tested. However, if you get involved with evaluating different solutions in the market, you will know that you must define evaluation criteria with clear ranking or scoring guidelines.