Establishing clear communications and expectations across software organizations is essential to the success of any project. A company is less likely to experience unexpected delays or other unpleasant surprises if everyone is on the same page. To ensure all team members are synchronized and to eliminate unnecessary ambiguity, engineering teams should create a “Definition of Done” to guide projects.
What is the “Definition of Done”?
In Agile software development, the definition of done is a working agreement between teams that defines a set of standards to identify something as “done.” Because Agile is an iterative approach to software development, sometimes it is unclear when a task is complete. Product managers often report that something is ready for delivery when it’s “Dev done” and not “QA done.” In other words, the code has been written, but no documentation or tests have been created or executed. For other parts of the software organization, code without QA or documentation is not “done.” Intuitively, the definition of done exists to eliminate confusion about what “done” means across an organization.
How to Create a Definition of Done for Your Software Organization
For some software organizations, the definition of done is a static set of guidelines and benchmarks established at the start of a project. For other organizations, including here at Allstacks, engineers have the latitude to amend the definition of done as they go. That approach empowers an engineering team to make decisions that will produce the best possible results.
When establishing a definition of done within an engineering organization, consider these tips:
● Communicate criteria in a way that the whole software organization can universally understand.
● Ensure that the definition of done addresses both tactical and technical requirements.
● Create a living document for alignment that can be amended because of unforeseen circumstances, like losing a team member or a significant market shift.
● Consider that the robustness of the document will vary by team maturity, and specific teams might need an addendum for special requirements. For example, bigger enterprise IT teams frequently need more detailed documentation compared to two-person shops.
● Establish an understanding among all teams that, until all criteria are met, the user story, task or project is not “done.”
A definition of done acknowledges the shared responsibility between the frontend, backend and QA. Beyond those roles, other stakeholders might contribute to defining “done,” like Scrum masters, board members or business analysts, depending on the organization and its structure. Further, the product owner may also define “acceptance criteria” with goals targeted toward the end-user experience that the engineering team must also address as part of their work.
How a Definition of Done Can Help Teams be Successful
The definition of done helps a software organization maintain alignment on projects and keeps everyone on the same page. Misalignment can have heavy consequences. For example, it can initiate premature conversations with customers before a product is really ready, create friction between internal stakeholders and/or risk other go-to-market initiatives. When the definition of done encompasses defined steps for a project down to the task level, Agile teams can create more cohesion across an organization and eliminate unforeseen delays.
A definition of done outlines each task in a software engineering project. Noting the completion of each task can be an indicator of whether a project is on track to meet established deadlines. By noting the time it takes to complete each task, an engineering team can measure the velocity of a project, and that can help protect due dates or raise a warning flag about the need to shift timelines.
The Definition of Done Helps Support Software Team OKRs
Objectives and key results (OKRs) are a goal-setting framework to help senior leadership focus on what matters to the organization. By defining software engineering OKRs, senior developer leaders can keep their teams focused on aligning engineering goals and activities to business outcomes while also giving them room to experiment.
Creating engineering OKRs involves taking the organization’s objectives and crafting actionable, generalized engineering objectives while identifying the metrics and milestones that drive progress. Translating the organization’s objectives for the engineering team helps them to understand exactly how their work impacts the company.
One of the key benefits of the OKR framework is giving the engineering team a shared language and vision for success. However, without an established definition of done, OKRs will have a lot of unintentional gaps (and teams will have a lot of misunderstandings). Start with a definition of done to ensure that each team knows what their part is and when it’s officially ready for handoff to another team. Teams will pass the baton smoothly across the organization and there will be fewer obstacles in the race toward release in the market.
A Definition of Done Can Help Organizations Grow Smarter
In a small startup with a handful of software employees, establishing a shared understanding of timelines and goals is easy. As software organizations grow, casual chats at the water cooler aren’t enough to keep an organization in alignment. All team members must understand and have input on goals and objectives and those goals must be in writing and accessible to everyone. The benefits of establishing a definition of done include creating a shared understanding and unified language for software delivery, ensuring that new employees have access to tribal knowledge and process expectations, and detecting and removing false agreements between teams to create real consensus. By creating a definition of done early in an organization’s history, company leaders can ensure alignment even as more people join.