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User Story Acceptance Criteria Versus the Definition of Done

The basics of Scrum

11 February 2015

Jipson Thomas
Thomas Tech Services Limited

When I was training to be a Certified ScrumMaster, our trainer, Mr. David Hicks, advised us that when we join a new Scrum team, our first question should be, "What is the Definition of Done to you?" I got a chance to ask this in the real life, and the reply I got was very disappointing. I was told, "We write the Definition of Done on the back of each user story." That was my inspiration to write an article on this basic element.

A well-written user story can be defined this way:
As a Persona
I want to get XXX while the system does YYY
So that I can do ZZZ.

The acceptance of this criteria means that AAA is enabled when an incident BBB is submitted.

Given the above, the final line is the user story acceptance criteria. So the answer I got for my question was actually not the Definition of Done but the user story acceptance criteria. It is true that user story acceptance criteria will be separate for each story, while the Definition of Done will be common for all the items in the backlog. Both the DoD and user story acceptance criteria are musts.

The Definition of Done (DoD) is a clear and concise list of requirements that the user story must satisfy for the team to call it complete. The DoD must apply to all items in the backlog. It can be considered a contract between the Scrum team and the product owner. Simply put, we can define the DoD as a list of requirements for each user story to meet for the project, as defined by the stakeholders. (A stakeholder can be the product owner or the company or the client.) This list can be a combination of technical and nontechnical requirements.

User story acceptance criteria can be modified over the course of the sprint as the user story is further refined. The Definition of Done is set during the Release Planning or Sprint 0 and is not generally modified once the active development sprint cycles are underway. The Definition of Done is often confused with acceptance criteria because, like acceptance criteria, it is used to prove that a story is complete. The difference with the Definition of Done is that it is a list of requisites that determine that a story meets company or project requirements, instead of only technical requirements.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 3.9 (16 ratings)


Manikandan Raman, CSP,CSM, 2/19/2015 3:45:28 AM
Good one.. and often people get confused with these 2 terms. Thanks for clarifying.
Ganesh R, CSPO, 4/15/2015 1:56:34 AM
Are you saying that DoD could include completion of code-checkin/merge, code review sign off, completion of automated test script, performance tuning, etc, like a template checklist applicable to the prject/program wheras story acceptance is purely specific to the use case or business requirement that's being solved in a story?
Jipson Thomas, CSD,CSM, 8/7/2015 9:24:02 AM
HI Ganesh,
In my experience the definition of done could be included with all the business cases such as code-checkin/merge, code review sign off etc. if it is applicable. So this could replace the checklist and process documents etc. (Agile manifesto - Working software over comprehensive documentation)
SREEJITH GK, CSP,CSM, 2/2/2017 1:05:09 AM
Definition of Done need not be static, its like peel of onion layers, we improvise the DoD as the team matures over the period of time .

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