What is the Definition of Done (DoD) in Agile?

agile software development definition of done

DoD is a collection of valuable deliverables required to produce software.

Deliverables that add verifiable/demonstrable addition of value to the product are part of the definition of done,such as writing code, coding comments, unit testing, integration testing, release notes, design documents etc. Definition of done helps frame our thinking to identify deliverables that a team has to complete in order to build software. Focusing on value-added steps allows the team to eliminate wasteful activities that complicate software development efforts. It is a simple list of valuable deliverables.

DoD is the primary reporting mechanism for team members.

My favorite agile manifesto value is “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. Would it not be effective reporting to say, “Feature’s done”? DoD is a simple artifact that adds clarity to “Feature’s done” statement.  A feature or Product Backlog Item is either done or it is not-done. Using DoD as a reference for this conversation a team member can effectively update other team members and product owner. Kindly note that by primary reporting mechanism I do not intend that DoD is the only reporting mechanism used.

DoD is informed by reality.

The Scrum framework sets a very high bar of delivering “Potentially Shippable Software” at the end of every sprint. To me, potentially shippable software is a feature(s) waiting on product owner’s discretion to be released to end-users. Teams that are able to release to end-users within a maximum of 2 days can be reasonably said to have their product in potentially shippable state. For such teams: Potentially Shippable = Definition of Done.

For other teams working to achieve potentially shippable state, their DoD contains only a subset of deliverable necessary to release to end users. Such teams have DoD at various levels:

  • Definition of Done for a Feature (Story or Product Backlog Item)

  • Definition of Done for a Sprint (Collection of features developed within a sprint)

  • Definition of Done for a Release (Potentially shippable state)

There are various factors which influence whether a given activity belongs in DoD for a feature or for a sprint or for a release. The most important is for the team to realistically answer:

  • Can we do this activity for each feature? If not, then

  • Can we do this activity for each sprint? If not, then

  • We have to do this activity for our release!

For activity that cannot be included for a sprint/feature: “Discuss all of the obstacles which stop them from delivering this each iteration/sprint”.

Some of the common root causes for impediments that I have observed:

  • Team does not have the skill set to incorporate activities into the definition of done for a sprint or for a feature.

  • Team does not have the right set of tools. (Example: continuous integration environment, automated build, servers etc.)

  • Team members are executing their sprint in mini-waterfalls. Aha! Opportunity to be more cross-functional. Sharing of responsibilities across functional silos.

DoD is not static

DoD changes over time.  Organization support and team’s ability, to remove impediments, enables inclusion of activities into DoD for feature/sprint.

DoD is an auditable checklist.

Task break down for a feature/story happens during sprint planning and also within a sprint. DoD is used to validate whether all major tasks are accounted (hours remaining) for. Also, after a feature or after a sprint, is done, DoD is used as a checklist to verify whether all necessary value added activities were completed. It is important to note that the generic nature of the definition of done has some limitations. Not all value added activities will be applicable to each feature since the definition of done is intended to be a comprehensive checklist. The team has to consciously decide about applicability of value added activities for each feature. For example following user experience guidelines for a feature that provides integration point (eg: web service) to another system is not applicable to that particular feature, however for other features within the system that interface with a human being require user experience guidelines to be followed.

Summary:

Definition of done is orthogonal to user acceptance criteria (functional acceptance) for a feature. It is a comprehensive collection of necessary value added deliverables that assert the quality of a feature and not the functionality of that feature. Definition of done is informed by reality where it captures activities that can be realistically committed by the team to be completed at each level (feature, sprint, release).

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