The HeadScratcher Post Archive
July 2006
The Definition of Done

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July  2006               The Headscratcher Post ©  Headscratchers LLC           Edition 15


The Definition of Done … the best we’ve ever heard, although a bit morbid is “You can die the next day, and no one will care!”   What this really means is that when you are “Done”, it is so really Done that you never have to be involved again and things will go on as they should.


Done is absolute …and Done is relative.  The above Definition of Done is absolute.  “Done” to the visionary is a clear explanation of what the future looks like.  The Visionary might be “Done”, but those who have to implement the future are just getting started.   So what is “Done” for one person isn’t necessarily Done for everyone.


And since Done is relative it is critical to understand the members of a team and their definition of Done.   If the team members differ on “Done” relative to a collective goal, the result will be filled with errors, quality problems, missed schedules, poor customer satisfaction, morale issues, and other misses.


Thinking through to Done.  Ask yourself if you went on vacation for a year (without your cell phone or Blackberry), would what you were working on be perfectly fine without you? If that’s the case, you are Done.


Sample “Done” dialog …

Q. Are you Done?

A.  Yes.

Q. Done Done, like you can go on vacation for a year?

A. We’ll I’m waiting on Joe to give me the code insert, and then I’ll be Done.

Q. So after Joe gives you the code, you will be “DONE!”?

A.  Well I have to insert the code, and then do some testing, then I’ll be Done.

Q. What happens if you find a problem with Joe’s code?

A. Joe will have to fix it, and then I’ll have to re-insert and test it again.

Q. Let’s try this again. Are you Done?

A. No.


When are you Done with a vision? The CEO and exec staff have created a vision and given the “vision speech” on several occasions, yet the employee base, when polled, claim they don’t understand the vision.    The execs understand the future (or think they do), and have stated the role of the company in that future (or think they have).  So they think they have communicated the vision, and therefore are “Done”.   The Exec’s were not Done.  Communicating a Vision isn’t the only thing you need to do to get everyone to understand (or believe) in the Vision.   The Exec’s didn’t define what the definition of Done was with respect to a vision.  Done includes the process of getting everyone to understand and align around the vision.


Phase I instead of Done.  When a team collectively believes they can’t be “Done” by a certain time, they invent and create the “Phase I” of a project with the intent of at least one more phase.  In this way then can be Done, without having to be Done.  This is OK, so long as everyone agrees with what Phase I is and what Done means for Phase I.  Phase I, while very useful, opens the door to a slippery Done, because now everything that doesn’t get Done in Phase I is a Phase II candidate.  So as soon as you create “Phase I”, lock down what Done means in Phase I.


Is anything every Done?  Of course.  In fact everything gets to a “Done” state.  Done is in the definition of a deliverable.  So if you define the deliverable with precision, then people can measure their work against the deliverable and declare to be “Done”. 


The Takeaway: Get alignment from your team as to what “Done” is with respect to the goals and expectations.  Understand that each team member will have a different definition; The hand waving visionary will view Done differently than a Details person.   Only together can they define Done and only together can they deliver it. 


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