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What Exactly Is Definition of Done in Agile?

Agile-based software development focuses on getting your product into customer’s hands in the shortest time possible. Different development teams use different methods to tackle their software project within Agile development.

Nonetheless, regardless of their approach, they all need agreed-upon conditions that measure and mark a project’s or task’s completion. This is where the Definition of Done (DoD) comes into play.

What is a Definition of Done (DoD)?

A definition of done, shortened to DoD, is an artifact in Agile software development that is used to set a shared understanding of what tasks need to be completed before a project, sprint, or feature can be considered done.

In other words, it’s a documented team agreement that outlines all the conditions that must be satisfied before you can consider a project or a feature to be DONE. It can be likened to a to-do list or checklist with all the items you must address before you can move on to another project.

The Scrum Guide, written by the creators of the Scrum Framework (an agile method) explains the role of the definition of done as:

The Definition of Done creates transparency by providing everyone a shared understanding of what work was completed as part of the Increment. If a Product Backlog item does not meet the Definition of Done, it cannot be released or even presented at the Sprint Review. Instead, it returns to the Product Backlog for future consideration.”

Related Reading: What are Scrum Artifacts? With Examples!

Why is Definition of Done (DoD) Important?

In agile, there is a phrase you will hear, “Quality is free.” This means that building a quality product the first time, when you should, will save you a lot of problems and expenses in the future.

For example, if you build a poor quality product in the short term. You will suffer and lose out in the long term due to increased technical debt, more bugs, and slower manual testing. Therefore, ensure quality, through your DoD, while it’s free instead of reworking the project on your own dime and dollar.

Another benefit of using a DoD is that user stories that don’t meet the definition of done’s scope will not be processed or released to your customers. This focuses and streamlines your efforts only towards user stories that add value and further your goals. Consequently, cutting down the time required to complete development.

When you don’t have a proper system for testing new code for errors, you risk releasing a product littered with bugs to users. On the other hand, if you have a checklist, you can run any item through it before release. Whether it’s a small bug or a user story with multiple dependencies, they all go through the same process.

Misunderstandings create conflict. So leaving each person with their unique understanding of what is “done” creates even more conflict. A definition of done remedies this issue by having a clear and shared understanding of what is done. Therefore, everyone becomes aligned to a common vision.

How to Create A Great Agile Definition of Done?

Firstly, a DoD must use a common vocabulary that is easily understood by everyone. The words chosen should be specific and exact, leaving no room for misunderstandings, confusion, and ignorance.

To avoid writing DoDs with double meanings, all the teams should sit down and discuss their conditions that must be met before completion.

Another thing, although the process of drawing up a DoD is led by a Scrum Master, it still is a collaborative activity that needs input and approval from many players such as the engineering team, product owner, quality assurance, support, and other stakeholders. Without this, you risk creating power imbalances within your organization.

Imagine if the engineering team can simply tell other departments that it’s done, without being accountable for their work. It creates a lot of disharmony and confusion within an organization.

A definition of done should be transparent and task-oriented. This way everyone can easily understand:

  • What needs to be done
  • What has been done
  • Approximately how much time it could take

A transparent and task-oriented checklist is also easier to manage and follow rather than complicated narratives. Transparency about the product’s development will help align other departments (marketing, sales, etc) towards a common goal, making your project a success.

Purpose of an Agile Definition of Done?

Although different organizations will have their unique definitions, the purpose remains the same. It does two things:

  • It checks if a project is finished.
  • Whether the completed work interferes with previous work.

Here are some common items you might find in a definition of done:

  • Pull requests are peer-reviewed and approved
  • Code is deployed to the DEV or STAGE environments
  • Code is documented
  • Certain static code analysis criteria are met
  • The feature has been approved by the QA team
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