What is the definition of done?  

If you want the dictionary definition it is an adjective for completed; finished; through (our work is done).  But how will you know when you have reached a point when you can consider something truly finished.  

If you are running a race such as a marathon , you know that when you cross the finish line (after 42 kilometres or 26.2 miles) you are done.  Units of measurement can help determine where the finish point is and when you can say you are complete.  However the more criteria you set the better you can understand if you are truly done.  A marathon runner may want to ensure they cross the finish line to complete the race however have the following additional criteria to consider the job ‘done’:

  • Complete the run in under 3 hours
  • Finish in the top 3

If the runner just runs the 42km race but does not meet the other criteria, they will likely keep running more marathons until they do.  Once they meet all three criteria, they are done and can move onto the next challenge.

What does this mean in a project?

Every project should have a goal.  Once that goal is set, it should guide everything the team does to that final destination.  To ensure the project team knows exactly what they need to work towards, it is important to set KPIs or criteria that successful completion of the project can be measured against.  

For a Project Manager, simply setting or communicating the project goal and the related indicators of success, will never be enough given it is usually too big for a team to easily know what the steps are that need to be completed to achieve it..

Definition: What is Definition of Done?
What is Definition of done

The Definition of Done or DoD allows a Project Manager, Scrum Master or other project leader to create a clear understanding across the team of what criteria need to be met to consider an aspect of the project complete.  

In effect it is a checklist to mark off as the team progresses which will later be able to confirm all work (and related aspects such as reviews etc.) is done.  This can apply to the project goal or can be applied to every part of the project breakdown structure.  

It is worth noting that it is impossible for a project team to complete ‘undone work’ which removes the risk that things will slip through that create issues later in the project or once in production.  

Who creates the definition of done?

The project team should be all in on the process to define ‘done’ for the project, increment (e.g. Sprint), feature, product, or user story.  A Project Manager must ensure that the criteria within the DoD has been collectively agreed with all stakeholders.

Going back to our athletics example, what if in a 4x100m running relay, with the goal of winning a gold medal, the relay team members could not agree on the DoD?  

To one runner, ‘done’ meant  running the 100 metre leg in the fastest time possible.  To another, ‘done’ meant successful handover of the baton, as well as ensuring the final runner crossed the finish line.  The team coach would need to work with all team members to review what ‘done’ means in the context of the goal (win the gold medal) and align all runners to ensure every one of those criteria were collectively agreed as needing to be completed successfully.  

Each team member would need to collaborate to bring all ideas on the required criteria for ‘done’ together and hold each other accountable to collectively achieve them.

Is Definition of Done just for Agile Projects?

The Definition of Done or DoD should be used in all projects.  Project tasks have end dates and deadlines which are one way to determine completion.  However, knowing when a task is truly done will help a project manager to manage quality as well as time in the schedule.  

Traditional or waterfall projects may lack certain concepts such as iterations, a ‘shippable product’ and self-managed teams, however they will still have tasks with end dates and deadlines which determine completion.  A project manager won’t want to rely on time alone to validate when a task is done and should establish additional criteria to manage as well as reduce risk of undone work pushing project end dates out.

Definition of Done can be applied more readily to Agile and certain methodologies such as Scrum rely on DoD and will embed its use in multiple, repeatable processes.  It might be just a coincidence however use of the word ‘done’ in the English language steadily declined from the beginning of the 20th century until an increase from around the 1990’s which, funnily enough was when Agile came back into wider use.  

In an Agile Project a common use for DoD is to determine if the delivered product is ‘shippable’.  The project team (with the Product Owner) will determine the checklist of functional and quality requirements that must be met in order for a task to be completed.  Where required, organisational standards can be captured as a separate Definition of Done which will also allow the Product Owner to consider team as well as enterprise requirements that must be met.  This also allows for greater transparency for stakeholders and a more universal approach.

An examples of a Definition of Done

To establish the DoD for the project (it can be done at all levels within the project also as mentioned) the following steps should be undertaken:

  1. A Project Manager or Product Owner engages the team to establish the criteria for a definition of done.
  2. The team agrees on the criteria and sets the checklist which will be used to validate completion as they progress.
  3. The team follows the same process for each aspect of the project, making sure they also have a Definition of Done such as the User Stories and Sprints.  The team also ensures all stories or tasks have acceptance criteria to assist with quality assurance within the project.
  4. The Product Owner checks for organisational requirements for the DoD such as security, compliance or brand needs.

The Definition of Done should encapsulate all of the items that must be checked off in order to consider the product shippable.  These can be at whatever level the team sets but ideally should cover the key items of:

  • Design Documents completed and approved
  • Code developed
  • User Guides / Operating instructions are complete
  • Testing complete
  • All defects resolved
  • Release notes are complete
  • Acceptance Criteria met and product accepted
  • Change Control complete
  • Deployed to production environment

Just as important as the meeting the Definition of Done is managing the impact of ‘undone’ work.  Given all undone work returns to the backlog, the more this occurs in each iteration, the more risk is passed through to eventually risk the release itself.  One consideration to minimise this risk is to ensure all criteria, as well as the time in which they must be met, are realistic.  The Product Owner, Project Manager or Scrum Master should ensure they can define what the minimum checks need to be complete in order to have the shippable product.  

Useful tip

In addition to the Definition of Done, consider the Definition of Ready which allows the team to determine whether the work in a story or sprint is worth starting in the first place.  This supports a stronger approach to only starting work that has met a particular test of ‘readiness’ and will ultimately mitigate the risk of the DoD criteria not being met.

Definition of done FAQs

What is definition of done?

The Definition of Done (DoD) is based on the agreed criteria that must be met for a project team to consider an aspect of a project shippable or complete.  The DoD establishes a shared understanding across the team what must be done for a user story, feature or product to be considered finished.

Who creates the definition of done?

Product manager, project manager or product owner engages with the whole team to define the definition of done.

How to create definition of done?
  1. A Project Manager or Product Owner engages the team to establish the criteria for a definition of done.
  2. The team agrees on the criteria and sets the checklist which will be used to validate completion as they progress.
  3. The team follows the same process for each aspect of the project, making sure they also have a Definition of Done such as the User Stories and Sprints.  The team also ensures all stories or tasks have acceptance criteria to assist with quality assurance within the project.
  4. The Product Owner checks for organisational requirements for the DoD such as security, compliance or brand needs.

What is example of definition of done?

Here is an example of the definition of done in agile project. All of these items must be checked off in order to consider the product shippable (and done):

  • Design Documents completed and approved
  • Code developed
  • User Guides / Operating instructions are complete
  • Testing complete
  • All defects resolved
  • Release notes are complete
  • Acceptance Criteria met and product accepted
  • Change Control complete
  • Deployed to production environment