by Leon Rosenshein

Done Done

One of the questions that gets asked a lot when you’re working on somethings is “When will it be done?” Lots of people want to know, for lots of good reasons. Leaving aside all of the questions around how to estimate (story points, blink estimation, bduf, etc), or if you should not even estimate at all, there’s still the question of what Done means.

This is where it gets interesting. According to Scrum, the definition of done is

The Definition of Done is a formal description of the state of the Increment when it meets the quality measures required for the product.

– The 2020 Scrum Guide

which says approximately nothing. Just that you’re done when you’re done, with quality. So let’s break it down a little.

If you’re using User Stories you need to get them sized right. Even then, it’s pretty vague, since a user story is a placeholder for a conversation with the user. You’re not done until the user says you’re done. Then you’re done.

If you have a task list you might be in better shape. At least you likely have a list of acceptance criteria (AC). Your goal is then to meet the ACs with as little code as possible. Meet those criteria and you’re done.

Simple, right? Wrong. You still have lots of problems. In the user story case, you don’t know when you’re done until you get there. There is no definition of done, just a recognition of the fact that you haven’t gotten there until you arrive at done. On the plus side, when you’re done in that case you’ve added value for the user.

In the task list case, on the other hand, you know exactly when to stop. You’ve met the ACs. Unfortunately, just meeting the ACs doesn’t mean you’ve added any value. The task might is probably one small part of the work needed to do something. Updating a schema. Implementing an endpoint. Automating a manual step. None of those on their own add any value. The work you’ve done for the task probably needs to go through a set of deployment steps before it adds value. Those are probably tasks themselves and suffer similar problems. Doing a deployment without changing anything is good practice, but doesn’t add any value.

Which brings us to what I think done really means. You’re done with something when you’ve added value for someone. The definition of value, and figuring out who that someone is, are things worthy of their own posts in the future. For now though, a simple placeholder for value is “This work makes a user’s task easier.” Who that someone is can be anyone. It could be you, or your team, or a partner team, or even a customer. It really doesn’t matter.

That’s how you define done.