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The Definition of Done in Agile

The Definition Of Done

by Jim Bowes

How can the Scrum team and the product owner know when a story has truly been completed? Here, we explore the acceptance criteria for the individual story and the team’s Definition of Done (DoD).

Scrum doesn’t officially recognise different roles within a team; in theory, everyone’s working together to complete each story. In reality, though, most teams I work with do assign particular roles: developer, tester, UX etc.

For a Scrum team, the aim of each sprint is to produce a potentially releasable increment of the product. So it’s important to know at the end of the sprint which features can actually be included in a release and which can’t. A shared understanding of which criteria a feature must satisfy to be releasable is essential if the team is going to work together towards a sprint goal effectively.

How to come up with a Definition of Done

‘That’s all very well’ you say, ‘but how are we supposed to come up with a single Definition of Done (DoD) when our user stories are all so different?’

Which is a fair question. Going back to our criteria of what makes a good user story should give us some clues. A good user story, you’ll remember, is Independent, Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable, Small and Testable.

And those properties hint at two key properties which should be embodied by ‘Done’ stories – they have to provide value and they have to meet a certain quality standard.

While the value that a particular product feature provides is more a call for the Product Owner to make, quality can certainly be enhanced by applying certain standards across all stories and making sure they meet these standards before they’re considered ‘Done’.

Let’s take the following as an example of a set of criteria for the DoD:

  • Code is peer-reviewed

  • Code is deployed to test the environment

  • Feature is tested against acceptance criteria

  • Feature passes regression testing

  • Feature passes smoke test

  • Feature is documented

  • Feature okayed by UX designer

  • Feature okayed by Product Owner

Each of these criteria is about ensuring quality in the development process and minimising the amount of work the team has to do going back and fixing things they didn’t get right the first time around.

The value part of the equation is really encapsulated by 3. and 8. The acceptance criteria will vary for every story and, if well written, will ensure that the story delivers value. The Product Owner, acting as the value gatekeeper for the team has the final say on whether a feature is sufficiently valuable to be considered ‘Done’.

As Mike Cohn says, you can think of the DoD as an extra set of acceptance criteria that are rubber stamped onto each and every user story.

The evolving DoD

A team’s DoD won’t remain the same throughout the lifetime of the project and neither should it. As a team becomes more effective and productive, as they learn to work better together, they will naturally enhance and refine their definition of done to produce more valuable and better quality features. They will recognise patterns in the processes and procedures that are required to produce high quality features and start adding these to the DoD.

It’s therefore important that the team gets regular opportunities to revisit the definition of done and the natural place to do this is in the sprint retrospective meeting (facilitated by the ScrumMaster).

Scrum Guide mature Definition of Done

The aim should be to stretch done – so eventually you’re confidently releasing all the way to production within your DoD.

Potential DoD sticking points

A Definition of Done that no one knows about is next to useless. It should be easily referred to by all members and so I’d recommend placing it on or near the team’s task board.

As noted above, the DoD should also be regularly reviewed and discussed. If a team that works well together isn’t getting a lot of stories ‘Done’ in their sprints it could be due to poor story writing, external dependencies, overly large stories or it could also be due to a defective definition of done.

I’ve seen definitions of done that include ‘sign off’ steps from stakeholders. This shouldn’t happen. The DoD is primarily about product quality, not approval from external parties.

Stories that do not meet the DoD should not be shown in the sprint demo meeting. This helps reinforce the team’s commitment to getting stories done.

On a project where there are multiple Scrum teams working on different features for a single product or platform, you may want a shared definition of done since they’re all working to get features into the same release. However, it’s important all of the teams sign up to the DoD if you take this approach.

The teams need to work out amongst themselves how to refine and develop the definition. This leads to greater consistency but it can slow down new teams that are set up within an organisation. It’s important to revisit the DoD as teams change so that everyone understands and agrees with it.

In the next post, I’ll talk about another useful tool for quality control, the Definition of Ready (DoR).

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Jim Bowes


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