Done with Definition of Done or Definition of Done Considered Harmful

TL;DR: Definition of Done (DoD) is a checklist-driven project management practice which drives compliance and contract negotiation rather than collaboration and ownership. Its very easy for teams to go down rat-holes and start to gold-plate crap in the name of DoD. It encourages a downstream, service’s thinking mindset rather than a product engineering mindset (very output centric, rather than outcome/impact focused.) Also smells of lack of maturity and trust on the team. Bottom line: Its a wrong tool in the wrong people’s hand.

The Scrum Guide™ describes DoD as a tool for bringing transparency to the work a Scrum Team is performing. It is related more to the quality of a product, rather than its functionality. The DoD is usually a clear and concise list of requirements that a software Increment must adhere to for the team to call it complete.

They recommend that having a clear DoD helps Scrum Teams to:

  • Work together more collaboratively, increases transparency, and ultimately results in the development of consistently higher quality software.
    • Clarifies the responsibilities of story authors and implementors.
  • Enables the Development Team to know how much work to select for a given Sprint.
    • Encourages people to be clear about the scope of work.
  • Enable transparency within the Scrum Team and helps to baseline progress on work items
    • Helps visualize done on posters and/or electronic tools.
    • Aids in tracking how many stories are done or unfinished.
  • Expose work items that need attention
  • Determine when an Increment is ready for release

Also according to them, DoD is not changed during a Sprint, but should change periodically between Sprints to reflect improvements the Development Team has made in its processes and capabilities to deliver software.

According to the LeSS  website– DoD is an agreed list of criteria that the software will meet for each Product Backlog Item. Achieving this level of completeness requires the Team to perform a list of tasks. When all tasks are completed, the item is done. Don’t confuse DoD with acceptance criteria, which are specific conditions an individual item has to fulfil to be accepted. DoD applies uniformly to all Product Backlog items.

Examples

If you search online, you’ll find sample DoD for user stories more or less like this:

  1. Short Spec created
  2. Implemented/Unit Tests created
  3. Acceptance Tests created
  4. Code completed
  5. Unit tests run
  6. Code peer-reviewed or paired
  7. Code checked in
  8. Documentation updated
  9. 100% Acceptance tests passed
  10. Product Owner demo passed
  11. Known bugs fixed

Another example:

  1. Upgrade verified while keeping all user data intact.
  2. Potentially releasable build available for download
  3. Summary of changes updated to include newly implemented features
  4. Inactive/unimplemented features hidden or greyed out (not executable)
  5. Unit tests written and green
  6. Source code committed on server
  7. Jenkins built version and all tests green
  8. Code review completed (or pair-programmed)
  9. How to Demo verified before presentation to Product Owner
  10. Ok from Product Owner

Do you see the problem with DoD? If not, read on:

Problems:

  • Checklist Driven: It feels like a hangover from checklist driven project management practices. It treats team members as dumb, checklist bots. Rather than treating them as smart individuals, who can work collaboratively to achieve a common goal.
  • Compliance OVER Ownership: It drives compliance rather than ownership and entrepreneurship (making smart, informed, contextual decisions.)
  • Wrong Focus: If you keep it simple, it sounds too basic or even lame to be written down. If you really focus on it, it feels very heavy handed and soaked in progress-talk. It seems like the problem DoD is trying to solve is lack of maturity and/or trust within a team. And if that’s your problem, then DoD is the wrong focus. For example, certain teams are not able to take end-to-end ownership of a feature. So instead of putting check-points (in the name of DoD) at each team’s level and being happy about some work being accomplished by each team, we should break down the barriers and enable the team to take end-to-end responsibility.
  • Contract Negotiation OVER Collaboration: We believe in collaboration over contract negotiation. However DoD feels more like a contract. Teams waste a lot of time arguing on what is a good DoD. You’ll often find teams gold plating crap and then debating with the PO about why the story should be accepted. (Thanks to Alistar Cockburn for highlighting this point.)
  • Output Centric: DoD is very output centric thought process, instead of focusing on the end-to-end value delivery (outcome/impact of what the team is working on.) It creates an illusion of “good progress”, while you could be driving off a cliff. It mismanages risks by delaying real validation from end users. We seem to focus more on Software creators (product owners, developers, etc.) rather than software users. Emphasis is more on improving the process (e.g. increasing story throughput) rather than improving the product. Ex: It helps with tracking done work rather than discovering and validating user’s needs. DoD is more concerned about “doing” rather than “learning”. (Thanks to Joshua Kerievsky for highlighting this point.)
  • Lacks Product Engineering Mindset: Encourages more of a downstream Service’s thinking  rather than a product engineering mindset. Unlike in the services business, in product engineering you are never done and the cycle does not stop at promoting code to high environment (staging environment). Studying whether the feature you just deployed has a real impact on the user community is more important than checking off a task from your sprint backlog.

What should we do instead?

Just get rid of DoD. Get the teams to collaborate with the Product Management team (and user community, if possible) to really understand the real needs and what is the least the team needs to do to solve the problem. I’ve coached several teams this way and we’ve really seen the team come up with creative ways to meet user’s need and take the ownership of end-to-end value delivery instead of gold-plating crap.