NOTE: Make sure you read the first three posts (in order!) before tackling the rest, or it could be confusing: Post 1 is Designing the future, Post 2 is Setting up the problem, and Post 3 is Estimating basic requirements.


Friday, August 11, 2006

Acceptance Criteria

Something very critical to your overall design mindset is the concept of Acceptance Criteria. There are the qualities your design must have in order to be considered even a marginal success. Every other design goal can flop, but if the Acceptance Criteria fail then all is lost.

For our example problem, the Acceptance Criteria are things you (literally) cannot live without – food, water, and shelter. [An aside: This points me to another missing goal, Goal 5: “The community will provide shelter.” Seems obvious, but obviousness is no guarantee of success. BTW, I will soon be posting a document containing the goals, objectives, and requirements we’ve developed so far for the example problem.]

So how do you characterize the Acceptance Criteria? For this project we might say that the community must: 1) Provide at least 280 lpd of potable water (see earlier post); 2) Provide at least 8400 calories/day of food (also earlier); 3) Provide at least TBD* square feet of enclosed living space; and 4) Meet the first three criteria by 2009.

Your Acceptance Criteria should be in the back of your mind at every stage in the design. Post them in your work area. Look at them every day. If you start getting bogged down in one area of your design, take a step back and look at what’s really important. Electricity and plumbing are nice, but without the essentials you don’t have anything to put in your wafflemaker nor any way to flush a toilet. Keep the list of Acceptance Criteria small. Stay grounded and don’t let your project snowball to the point where it overwhelms you.

* TBD = To Be Determined. It is okay to leave a placeholder for data you need to look up. Just don’t forget about them and never move on to the next level of design until you fill in the blanks. (In my case, my notes with the information are packed up in a box at work – I’ll give you an update when I track it down.)


At 1:39 AM, Blogger Todd King, Doomsayer said...

As a systems engineer, have you seen folks using technology to review and comment on various aspects? What is the general process to get feedback?

It seems like it's a natural for an outline with lot's of hyperlinks to various places in the document.

I look forward to keeping current on your blog!

At 6:32 PM, Blogger PeakEngineer said...

If I'm understanding your question correctly, there are a lot of good systems engineering tools out there. CORE, a very popular one at NASA (see more at, is very good at linking up all your information and displaying in all sorts of ways.
However, something like Word or Excel can work very well to keep you organized (I'm using Word for the example problem -- I'll have that document on the blog soon). Sometimes, especially if you're working on only a couple small projects, learning a new tool can distract from the systems engineering process. My recommendation for most people, especially those trying to learn Systems Engineering from scratch, is to stay organized using your own devices (hyperlinked documents are a GREAT suggestion) and focus on the design rather than the tool.

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