What are the INVEST criteria for evaluating projects?

by Daniel J. Power
Editor, DSSResources.COM

In general, the main criterion for evaluating proposed and completed projects is the value generated for the enterprise. Projects have intended outcomes, results, and features that are perceived by decision-makers and stakeholders. These outcomes should be assessed and evaluated prior to investing.

The Agile Alliance ( glossary states "the acronym INVEST helps to remember a widely accepted set of criteria, or checklist, to assess the quality of a user story. If the story fails to meet one of these criteria, the team may want to reword it, or even consider a rewrite. A good user story should be:

"I" ndependent of all others items or projects
"N" egotiable
"V" aluable
"E" stimable
"S" mall (so it fits within an iteration)
"T" estable.

The INVEST checklist for quickly evaluating user stories originated in an article by Bill Wake (2000), which also repurposed the acronym SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-boxed) for tasks resulting from the technical decomposition of user stories. Wake argued INVEST was a good reminder of the characteristics of a good quality product/project backlog item.

In 2004, the INVEST acronym was among the techniques recommended in Mike Cohn's book User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development. Cohn argued "The best way to build software that meets users' needs is begins with "user stories": simple, clear, brief descriptions of functionality that will be valuable to real users." He discusses means for gathering stories, including user interviews, questionnaires, observation, and workshops. For a software project, user stories document desired requirements and features.

A Product Backlog is a list of user stories and product features. It is different than a simple to-do list. First, an item in the Product Backlog must add value for the customer. Second, the entries in the Product Backlog are prioritized and ordered accordingly, Third, the level of detail of an item depends on the position in the Product Backlog, higher priority items have greater detail. Fourth, the Product Backlog is a living, changing document.

Evaluating a project makes sure it is on course for satisfactory completion. So a team lead or manager should monitor and evaluate a project using criteria like INVEST before, during and after its completion.

Once a project is completed or "good enough", then it is important to determine if goals and objectives were obtained to determine whether the project produced planned results, delivered expected benefits, delivered value, and/or resulted in desired change.


Cohn, M., User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development, 2004.

Last update: 2020-01-20 11:32
Author: Daniel Power

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