Defining the Word “Done” The Phoenix Way


By Rob Smith, SPC, PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM, PPO, ICP-ACC, Senior Practitioner and Lean Agile Coach, PhoenixTeam

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines done as “no longer happening or existing.” It seems straightforward until you look at it from a situation or project, such as software development with numerous moving parts and ever-moving targets. The simple definition of “done” does not apply to delivery, program, and portfolio teams, which all define “done” differently. The term can be subjective according to the project, the company’s standards, and a laundry list of other variables that pose a challenge when setting expectations to achieve the desired outcome for the client. With so many evolving goals and moving pieces, how do teams of tech experts deliver valuable solutions for their clients, company, and community?

Senior Practitioner at Blue Phoenix and Agile Expert Robert (Rob) Smith credits implementing an Agile-based strategy for Blue Phoenix teams’ successful delivery of world-class, customer-centric technology solutions. Blue Phoenix specializes in shredding through problems and churning out solutions to deliver impact and value to its clients. “Our disciplines require our practitioners to be adaptable and quick on their feet due to the fast-paced nature of what we do,” said Rob, “We understand that the only constant in our work is change, so our practitioners always embrace and anticipate it—so much so that we even have a company-wide saying—pivot or die! This strategy ensures we think ten miles down the road, consider all obstacles, expertly adapt to change, and get things done.”

The Definition of Done (DoD) is a fundamental element of Agile that ensures every member of the Scrum Team knows precisely what is expected of them to deliver and when. Establishing a clear DoD at each level of the organization is vital and should be agreed on before any work begins on a project. Be clear. Be consistent. Have a shared understanding. This approach creates transparency, ensures quality aligns with the product and purpose of the organization, and avoids repeat processes by providing everyone a shared understanding of what work was completed as part of the increment. “We must integrate quality into our development processes by meeting the definition of done to prevent user stories that don’t meet the agreed upon standard from being promoted to higher level environments. It will prevent features that don’t meet the definition from being delivered to the customer or user,” advised Rob.

Keep in mind business and technology must be aligned to strike a balance between quality, risk, and speed of delivery. For instance, a manned spacecraft will require much more rigorous testing than an unmanned recreational drone. If the DoD demands exhaustive testing, it may slow down the delivery of the project. While the scope may change, it is important to maintain a consistent level of quality and effort unless a conscious decision is made to prioritize speed over quality. The bottom line is that the scope of the work may be impacted by the team’s DoD.

Rob took on the challenge of defining what it means for a project to “be done,” the Blue Phoenix Way, implementing an Agile-based strategy for outcomes that delight their clients. “The Phoenix definition of done (DoD) is when all conditions, or acceptance criteria, that a software product must satisfy are met and ready to be accepted by a user, customer, team, or consuming system. There are three steps to defining something as done,” says Rob:

  1. Start with the end in mind. What do we want our product to be like in production? What are all the things that must happen before a quality product or feature gets into the users’ hands?
  2. Determine the items the team has the capability and the capacity to complete during the given sprint or timebox. This becomes the team’s definition of done.
  3. Assess the tasks that fell off in the second step to determine how to accomplish them “now” and create a consolidated list of items the team can use to improve the efficiency and quality of their process and product over time.

These fundamental steps allow teams to align on what “done” means right now and what further development is needed to improve the process. The DoD for an increment is part of the organization’s standards that all Scrum Teams must follow as a minimum. If not clearly defined, the Scrum Team must create a DoD appropriate for the product. The Developers must conform to the DoD, and if multiple Scrum Teams work together on a product, they must mutually define and comply with the same Definition of Done.

“A team aligned on the ‘definition of done’ is a team that can identify improvement opportunities and build in greater quality and efficiencies. As impediments are removed, the team improves, and built-in quality improves,” said Rob. Phoenicians continuously collaborate and strategize to determine where they can build quality into their process while completing different tasks and corresponding criteria for assignments to be considered done. The team creates checklists for determining the completion of stories at the end of a sprint and releasing a code to production. The resulting checklists allow for a more efficient, streamlined sprint and product delivery. Just as Rob’s team redefined what it means to be done, Blue Phoenix redefines industry standards and practices daily through unwavering value delivery.

Rob Smith is a retired military officer with over nine years of experience as a Lean-Agile Trainer and Coach. He is a Senior Practitioner and Lean Agile Coach at PhoenixTeam. His distinct and adaptive international experience, combined with his military service and ethos, give him a unique perspective that applies to anyone who desires to succeed. Rob is passionate about sharing how his experiences in the service translate to success as a civilian. Please stay tuned for more articles on Veterans in the Workplace and how Blue Phoenix can help you leverage the power of our Nation’s Heroes!  

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