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📖 Definition of Done

Demystifying Definition of Done. Learn its essence, pitfalls to avoid, and keys characteristics to crafting a solid standard with our insighful guide. Dive in now!

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Definition of done preview image

What is the definition of done?  

The dictionary definition is specified as an adjective for completed; finished; through (our work is done).


Another definition from is that the ‘‘Definition of Done’’ (DoD) describes the quality standards for the Increment to be considered ‘‘done’’ and in a state that it can be effectively inspected.  

But how will you know when you have reached a point when you can consider something truly finished? If you are competing in a race such as a Formula 1, you know that when you cross the finish line with your car (after completing all the laps) you are done.  Units of measurement, in this case laps, help determine where the finish point is and when you can say you are done, complete the race.  However, the more criteria you set the better you can understand if you are truly done.  An F1 driver may want to ensure they cross the finish line to complete the race and have as well additional criteria to consider the job ‘‘done’’.

For this specific case it is to complete the race under 1 hour 45 minutes and finish in the top 5.

If the F1 driver just finishes the race but does not meet the other criteria, he will likely keep trying until he does so.  Once they meet all the criteria set before, they are done and can move onto the next challenge on a different track.

Definition of Done in agile

What does Definition of Done mean in a project?

Every project needs a clear goal. Once you've got that, it becomes the roadmap guiding everything the team does. To make sure everyone knows what they're aiming for, it's important to set KPIs or criteria that show when the project is finished successfully.

Simply setting or communicating the project goal and success indicators to the team isn't sufficient for a Project Manager. Often, the goal is too broad, making it hard for the team to figure out the necessary steps to reach it.

The Definition of Done or DoD allows a Project Manager, Scrum Master or other project leader to create a clear understanding across the team of what criteria need to be met to consider an aspect of the project complete. In effect it is a checklist of tasks to mark off as the team progresses which will later be able to confirm all work (and related aspects such as reviews etc.) is done. This can apply to the project goal or can be applied to every part of the project breakdown structure.  

definition of done diagram
Definition of Done Diagram

Who creates the definition of done?

The project team should be all in on the process to define ‘done’ for the project, increment (e.g. Sprint), feature, product, or user story.  A Project Manager must ensure that the criteria within the DoD has been collectively agreed with all stakeholders. 

Every team member must collaborate to gather all ideas on the necessary criteria for defining 'done' and ensure mutual accountability to collectively accomplish them.

project manager meme

Is Definition of Done just for Agile Projects?

Using the Definition of Done (DoD) is essential for all projects. While project tasks may have end dates and deadlines, which serve as one way to determine completion, understanding when a task is genuinely finished aids the project manager in effectively managing both quality and time within the schedule.

Traditional or waterfall projects might not incorporate concepts like iterations, a 'shippable product,' or self-managed teams. Nevertheless, they still involve tasks with specified end dates and deadlines to determine completion. Relying solely on time to validate task completion isn't sufficient for a proper project manager. It's essential to establish additional criteria to manage and mitigate the risk of incomplete work extending project deadlines.

The Definition of Done finds greater applicability in Agile methodologies, with certain frameworks like Scrum relying on it and integrating its use into multiple, repeatable processes.

In Agile projects, the Definition of Done (DoD) often serves to determine whether the product delivered is 'shippable.' Collaboratively, the project team, alongside the Product Owner, will go through a checklist consisting of functional and quality prerequisites necessary for task completion. When necessary, organizational standards can be captured in a distinct Definition of Done, enabling the Product Owner to account for both team-specific and enterprise-wide requirements. This approach enhances transparency for stakeholders and facilitates a more standardized approach across the board.

Characteristics of a good Definition of Done

To establish a proper DoD for the project the following steps should be undertaken:

  1. The Project Manager or Product Owner collaborates with the team to define the criteria for a Definition of Done. 

  2. Together, they agree upon and establish a checklist that will serve as the benchmark for validating completion as they move forward. 

  3. This process is consistently applied to every aspect of the project, ensuring that each component, including User Stories and Sprints, has its own Definition of Done. Additionally, the team ensures that all stories or tasks are accompanied by acceptance criteria to aid in quality assurance throughout the project lifecycle. 

  4. The Product Owner conducts checks for organizational requirements for the Definition of Done, such as security, compliance, or brand specifications.

The Definition of Done should contain all of the items that must be checked off in order to consider the product shippable.  These can be at whatever level the team sets but ideally should cover the key items.

Generic Examples

Examples of Product Qualities:

  • Compliant with usability and accessibility standards

  • Compliant with design or style guides

  • Made available or accessible by users/customers

  • Compliant with applicable laws and regulations

  • User documentation is complete

Examples of Development Practices:

  • Quality testing procedures have been followed

  • Work/Increment from multiple teams properly integrated

Industry-specific examples

For a software product, the DoD may include items such as:

  • Integrated into a clean build

  • Promoted to a higher level environment

  • Automated regression tests passed

  • Feature level functional tests passed

  • Non-Functional requirements met

  • Meets compliance requirements

  • Functionality documented in necessary user documentation

For a marketing brochure, the DoD may include items such as:

  • Compliant with corporate branding guide

  • Compliant with grammar and style guide

  • Graphics and trademark check performed

  • Copy edit review

  • Print-ready PDF created

  • Old brochure digital assets and files replaced

  • Old brochures removed

Just as important as meeting the Definition of Done is managing the impact of ‘undone’ work.  Given all undone work returns to the backlog, the more this occurs in each iteration, the more risk is passed through to the release itself.  

To minimize this risk, it's crucial to ensure that all criteria, along with their respective timeframes for completion, are realistic. The Product Owner, Project Manager, or Scrum Master should ensure the minimum checks required to consider the product 'shippable.' By defining these criteria clearly, the team can better focus their efforts and ensure the timely delivery of a high-quality product.

Definition of Done characteristics to avoid

  • DoD is not easily found - We often hear of Developers indicating that they simply couldn’t find the DoD.

  • The standards in the DoD are set too low - if the DoD is too lax, it not only doesn’t serve its intended purpose, but it will feel inconsequential and easily ignored

  • The standards in the DoD are unachievable - many conditions can contribute to an overly ambitious set of criteria. For example, the quality standards may be set too high for the stage of the product development, or items cannot be completed due to infrastructure constraints or other reasons

  • The DoD creates a lot of administrative overhead -  for example, the DoD is simply too long and contains items that aren’t truly necessary

  • The team doesn’t buy in or agree with the DoD - often this is because it was imposed on them without their participation 

When can the Definition of Done be changed?

It is normal for the DoD to be refined as the team's understanding and knowledge about the product and how to build it change. When a team is put in front of a complex problem in the beginning, not all the quality characteristics for the final product could be visible. 

There is no exact answer to when the Dev team can modify the definition of done. This paragraph, which comes from Scrum Guide, gives a bit of guidance on when to do so:

“During each Sprint Retrospective, the Scrum Team plans ways to increase product quality by improving work processes or adapting the definition of ‘Done’, if appropriate and not in conflict with product or organizational standards.”

It is good to be open for discussion during the sprint, however all the changes should be left for either your next sprint planning session or sprint retrospective session.

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