The importance of Done in Scrum

In the last Scrum Guide (July 2011) the definition of Done was given considerably more attention. Rightfully, as “Done” is crucial in Scrum.

The Importance Of Done

The definition of Done is essential to fully understand the Increment that is being inspected at the Sprint Review with the stakeholders. The definition of Done implements the expectation of an Increment to be ‘releasable‘, so ideally it is comprised of all activities, tasks, qualities and work that allow releasing an Increment in production. The addition ‘potentially‘ to releasable refers to the Product Owner’s accountability to decide over the actual release of an Increment; a decision that will likely be based upon business cohesion and functional usefulness. But the Product Owner’s shipping decision should not be constrained by ‘development’ work.

The definition of Done should be clear and concise for the Scrum Team as it will determine how much work a Development Team can reasonably take in into a Sprint during the Sprint Planning meeting.

The empiricism of Scrum only functions well upon transparency. That includes the definition of Done. Transparency means not only visible, but also understandable. Besides being available, the content of the definition of Done should be clear by just reading it.

A New Scrum Artefact?

Should we make the Definition of Done an official Scrum artefact?

It would seem like adapting Scrum to reality, a mere formalization of an existing practice; because it is extremely important to put quality even more at the heart of what we do; because we want to clear out that little grey zone in the base Scrum framework allowing some people to doubt the formal need of a definition of Done. With regards to the latter, it would provide additional guidance for people and organizations to improve, and investigate the next steps on the cobblestone path to Agility, although probably not the guarantee hoped for by making it a mandatory artefact.

All existing Scrum artefacts support the ‘inspect & adapt cycles of Scrum; they provide accurate, up to date and transparent information to be inspected and adapted at the rhythm of the Scrum events (or sooner). In that sense, Done is already an artefact; it is in the Increment, making the state of the Increment transparent.

I suggest to formally include inspection of the Definition of Done at the Sprint Review, along the inspection of the working Increment, which it is a characteristic of. This pair-wise inspection serves to get feedback and input from the stakeholders that goes beyond mere functionality and business requirements. It will invoke a collaborative conversation over quality, and requirements with regards to the quality of working software in the organization.

The Sprint Review is also the time to inspect the current state of Product Backlog, i.e. what is now Done, what was left undone in this Sprint, what was additionally turned Done. From this current state, including the latest Velocity measurement, the actual product progress is available to the stakeholders.

I suggest to lay ownership over the definition of Done with the Development Team. A definition of Done can’t be forced upon a Development Team. Neither can it be cut short by forces outside of the Development Team. The Development Team will obviously include functional quality expectations from the Product Owner. The Development Team will obviously include general, organizational expectations and compliance (e.g. from the development or engineering organization). But it’s up to the Development Team to process it in the definition of Done. Decisions over the definition of Done will depend on the presence of skills, authorizations and availability of external systems, services and interfaces. Probably a Development Team would include stubs and simulators for non-available systems, add this to their definition of Done and make the impact of these dependencies clear to the Product Owner for ordering the Product Backlog. The effect on the planning horizon will no longer only be clear to the stakeholders by inspection of the Product Backlog at the Sprint Review, but also via explicit inspection of the definition of Done accompanying the working Increment.

The inspection of the working Increment and the definition of Done at the Sprint Review, and the related collaboration of the Scrum Team with the stakeholders, will provide the Development Team with important information to sustain, evolve and grow the definition of Done. They will probably have a deeper conversation over it at the Sprint Retrospective. The self-organizing drive of the Development Team will include all that’s actually possible, dig deeper, taking into account the feedback from the stakeholders, and evolve it as part of their continuous improvement of quality.

This ownership is comparable to the Product Backlog ownership. The Product Owner has accountability over it. But it won’t withhold the Product Owner from taking into account the technical and development input from the team. It won’t withhold the Product Owner from taking into account dependencies, non-functionals and organizational expectations. And after all, the frequent inspection of a working Increment provides information on reality to all involved so they can incorporate that in their work via their accountability.

A Desirable Side-effect

Although the goal is not to promote the Definition of Done to a Scrum artefact (as shown that is not needed), I do see an optional side-effect in explicitly inspecting it at the Sprint Review: additional transparency to the overall agile adoption.

Obviously the definition of Done will not always immediately, from day 1 of the adoption of Scrum, hold every possible task, activity or requirement to render every Increment completely production-ready. There will be a gradual evolution in applying Scrum. This is good as it helps all players continuously exploit the possible to a maximum extent.

Promoting inspection of the definition of Done with the stakeholders will help identify improvement areas in capturing enterprise agility. The finding of what is/is not included provides an indication on involvement of the broader organization in agile product development, even of organizational impediments. And stakeholders, in consultation with Product Owner and Scrum Master, might want to act on these from a management change perspective.

In a transformational period, including the definition of Done as an explicit artefact in the Scrum framework will help people and organizations in the software industry to… improve from better and more realistic insights.

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