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Part 1 of 2

"Acceptance" sounds so simple, so what's the big deal?

Acceptance is one of the most important terms in any Consulting Services Project.
        ∙ Most payment obligations are triggered by acceptance, so if it's not accepted it's not invoiced and the             Customer does not pay for the Service;
        ∙ The Customer's warranty rights start on the date of acceptance;
        ∙ The Consultant is allowed to recognize revenue upon acceptance;
        ∙ The Consultant does not reassign project personnel until after acceptance.

The acceptance criteria should be clearly defined within the SOW, this will determine what functionality will be tested.  SOWs typically include a very broad range of functionality and it's just not practical to test everything, under every possible circumstance. However, within any business operation certain functionality is essential to a successful operation, and that functionality should be tested against not only average use cases but also extreme demands and peak usage. Flushing all of that detail out is the job of your acceptance test.  Candidly, it is the due diligence  of talking to your staff and the overall effort of going through the process of defining meaningful acceptance criteria that forces a deep and thorough Customer understanding of the required functionality. Every Customer thinks they understand what they require, but until they are forced to define the functionality in the SOW acceptance test criteria, they never finalize those expectations. Consultants are falling into an age old trap of allowing Customers to change scope by deferring this task until later in the Service Delivery Project.

Would you hop in the car and start driving before you knew your  destination? Of course not, and you should follow the same discipline with your SOW relative to Acceptance; Frankly if you attempt to do this those acceptance criteria will change as the project proceeds as the project unfolds, so it becomes impossible to control.  Do not start doing the work, or if you are the Customer allowing the work to commence, until this critical test is properly defined. Whether you are a Consultant delivering the Project, or a Customer crafting the Project, don't assume the SOW will make it obvious what is expected; take the time to clearly state your expectations. When a contract proactively defines the acceptance test, it reflects a thorough understanding of the Project requirements. That preparation sends a positive message about the skills and professionalism of the Consultant, or if you are the Customer, it demonstrates a detailed understanding of the task at hand. The process instills a level of confidence for both parties, which helps establish loyal business relationships; i.e. you are prepared to execute on the project delivery. (See Acceptance Testing, Part 2 next month.)